Best Fleets vs the industry: who was sustaining, streamlining or slashing?

Published on March 25, 2024

As we discussed in a previous blog, it was a tough year in trucking. The freight recession led to all sorts of contraction, and countless businesses ended up on the chopping block. Between the collapse of some big players and the squeezing of just about everyone else, there were a lot of stories of re-trenching, ‘buckling down’ or just plain keeping your head above water. What’s more, those decisions had a direct effect on drivers, from paycheck-to-paycheck reliability right up to job security.

And yet, some of the most interesting stories came out of how companies responded to those economic headwinds. And what’s even more interesting is how Best Fleets winners tended towards certain kinds of responses rather than others. In general, moves that companies were making across the industry fell into three categories: slashing, streamlining and sustaining.


Slashing costs is a reactive move, where a less prepared company is madly looking around, trying to find some way of easing the economic pain. It's not a great strategy, but it’s understandable--if your company is struggling, you want to do whatever you can to keep it going. Note though, that the term used is 'slashing' rather than 'cutting', to emphasize the panicked nature of it. It’s reasonable to look at ways you can cut costs, but in this category, companies are just wildly swinging around, trying to find any place where costs can be reduced. As you might imagine, Best Fleets tended not to fall into this category (but it’s still a reality for a lot of companies elsewhere in the industry).


When revenue drops, running an efficiency analysis makes sense—looking at your processes and assessing how well they are working, and then making decisions about where you need to adjust. This is much more proactive than slashing, but even within this category, there are more and less sophisticated versions of it (maybe a company is just looking at which drivers are working efficiently or which lanes should be dropped, or they're doing something more advanced that gets into the nuts and bolts of the business). In terms of Best Fleets winners, we saw a number of different approaches here, but the successful execution of it was connected to how well a fleet executed the third strategy: sustaining.


This is about companies leaning into their processes: fleets that were well-situated before the real economic heat came were able to rely on the processes they already had in place, and they felt like they could weather what was happening by doing what they were already doing, but methodically. By ‘well-situated’ we don’t mean turning out massive profits year over year—we mean that during the good times, these companies had taken the opportunity to experiment with, refine and engage the processes underlying their business and their relationship to their drivers. Then, when the tough times hit, those companies settled in to focus on simply executing what they already knew was working. So what sorts of things were they doing?

The point here is that while the Best Fleets to Drive For competition celebrates companies that think hard about serving and supporting their drivers with specific programs and practices, there’s something else. One of the best ways to support your drivers (or any employee, for that matter) is to run a stable business especially when times are hard. And given the headwinds the industry has faced this past year in particular, what our Best Fleets winners have shown is an attitude and a level of preparation that has allowed them to avoid panicked reactions like slashing, and instead focus on streamlining and sustaining the systems and processes that were already working for them.