Curt Reitz knows trucking. His father was a driver, his uncles were drivers—his entire family was involved in different aspects of the trucking industry from repair to operations. After college, Curt returned to the trucking industry, working for large carriers in a variety of markets. Finally, in 2012, he became president of CTS Trucking, a smaller carrier with around 150 trucks. Reitz came to CTS with a vision—to flip the traditional driver/carrier/customer relationship and create a company culture that truly puts the driver first. After everything Reitz had seen in the trucking industry from the perspective of the driver, which he gained as child, to the perspective of a large national carrier, he knew that the smaller scale of CTS would allow him to make significant positive changes.
In an evolving industry landscape, treading the same ground as always has led to fewer and fewer people entering the driving field. The trucking industry has traditionally been one that incentivizes high turnover and discourages employee loyalty. While the demand for drivers is higher than ever, the supply of drivers is distressingly low. The future looming on the horizon of driver recruitment and retention is bleak. In order to provide for today and prepare for an uncertain future, Reitz knew it was imperative to forge a new path—one that focuses on creating a positive workplace culture. Recruit and Retain host Chad Hendricks sat down with Reitz to discuss the steps Reitz and CTS have taken to achieve this goal.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fire the Customer
In the past, the needs and demands of the customer have come first—even when that customer shows little concern or courtesy for your drivers. Reitz recognizes that the industry standard of treating drivers as a disposable commodity held hostage by the ever-changing whims of the customer must change. That’s why he has become much more selective with customer relationships. According to Reitz, “My motto has always been, if I don’t have customers that value my driver’s time and want to do business the way we need to do business to be successful [then] I need to fire that customer.” Too often, carriers are afraid to hold customers to a higher standard of driver treatment and pay because they fear that the customer will refuse to meet the new expectations and walk away from the relationship. This fear is unfounded, says Reitz, because maintaining a relationship with a problematic client is much more difficult and stressful than making a clean break and finding customers that see the value of what you do. When carriers are ready to cut ties with customers who mistreat their drivers, that’s when you know that the carrier is really putting the driver first.
Empower Drivers to Write Their Own Stories
One major change Reitz made as president of CTS was instituting a pay-for-performance program. This puts the driver in control of their own earning potential and cuts down on the time and effort carriers traditionally have devoted to eradicating poor driver habits. CTS rewards desirable driver behaviors such as showing up on time, avoiding accidents, taking good care of equipment, and conserving fuel with a bump in pay. When the question of pay increases arises, the answer is simple—the driver controls his own increase. According to Reitz, “The minute you [give drivers] skin in the game, [they] start to execute for you.” The habits encouraged by the pay-for-performance program ultimately saved CTS money, allowing them to once again reinvest those profits back into the company.
Build Drivers Up to Decrease Breakdowns
As Reitz points out, many drivers in the industry today are used to being knocked down. They are expected to wait without pay for unloading, sometimes for hours. They are bombarded with bad news, with sudden drops in pay, in miles, in benefits. Their livelihood is unpredictable; their families left vulnerable to a sudden downturn in the market, or even inclement weather. It’s no wonder that driver turnover is so high. In order to boost driver retention, Reitz has found that the key is to build drivers up instead of constantly breaking them down. One part of building drivers up is finding the jobs they want to do. As mentioned previously, CTS chooses customers whose values align with their own—that is, truly putting drivers first. They also put in the time to cherry-pick the best jobs for their drivers, rather than artificially driving up sales with low-quality jobs and customers. CTS shows its concern for their drivers’ quality of life. For example, they created a day shift and a night shift and differentiated pay between the two, which kept their trucks running while cutting down on individual driver shift lengths. Reitz counts it as a source of pride that CTS drivers get home each night to spend time with their families. Another way to build up drivers is to encourage a feeling of community within the workplace. CTS fosters this feeling by involving all employees in charitable giving and community service opportunities. CTS contributes significantly to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and encourages all employees, including drivers and office staff, to attend large charitable events. CTS employees donate new bikes for needy children during the holidays, and drive police, fire department, and military wrapped trucks in community events, donating two cents of every mile driven toward veterans’ charities. According to Reitz, “We have really changed the environment here, both internally and externally with drivers that are out the road every day, to where they’re saying, ‘Wow, I’m proud to work for CTS.’”
Invest in Today to Safeguard Tomorrow
Reitz credits much of the success of CTS to its commitment to reinvesting back into the business. Since Reitz took over as president in 2012, CTS upgraded its operating technology, significantly added to office support staff, hired a CFO and two market analysts, along with a social media expert, purchased additional trailers, and is in the process of converting all of their trucks to compressed natural gas (CNG). Reitz is spending money on all of these things now to ensure success later. CTS also works to safeguard the futures of its drivers. Reitz looked around at the many older drivers who had to keep working because they had no retirement savings and decided to change that. For example, CTS began contributing 3% to every driver’s 401K, whether the driver chose to enroll in the 401K program or not. CTS also offers profit-sharing to its employees.
Finally, CTS provides a Driver Pay Guarantee. According to this guarantee, as long as drivers make themselves available to work five days a week, CTS will guarantee them a certain level of weekly pay, even if the miles are not available. CTS pays out of pocket to make up the difference to get their drivers through the harder times and retain them through the good times.
Pay Attention to the Big Picture Because It’s All Connected
Lastly, Reitz reminds us that to just change one aspect of the business alone is not enough to make large-scale positive transformations they have seen at CTS. As Reitz puts it, “It wasn't that we just had to start treating the driver differently. We had to also pay the driver differently. We had to hold the customer accountable differently. We had to build the infrastructure, you know, we had to get the staffing right. It all had to happen at once.” The main takeaway is this—in order to forge a new path, there is no other way to begin except with a single step. However, always remember to keep the big picture in mind if you want to arrive at your intended destination.