April 18, 2020
From high fuel costs to talent retention, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with business vehicles face unique challenges to profitability. For many entrepreneurs, creative problem-solving is the only thing keeping their businesses afloat.
We asked a few women SMB owners how they boost their bottom line while still keeping their drivers happy. Read on for five pieces of wisdom applicable to almost any SMB with business vehicles, whether they’ve got five or 50 drivers.
Sherri Garner Brumbaugh became President and CEO of Garner Trucking, a Findlay, Ohio-based trucking business started by her parents, during the 2008 financial crisis — one of the worst economic times in the history of the country.
“Fuel in the spring of 2008 was close to $5 a gallon for diesel, and the economy went to a grinding halt,” recounts Brumbaugh. “It was tough, but I learned the business quickly. I knew where every penny was coming in and going out. Looking back on it now, I was scared to death, but I appreciate every win, every success, and every profitable month.”
Before becoming CEO, Brumbaugh — who has a music education degree — spent 15 years working throughout the company, in accounting, sales, IT, and marketing. This approach helped her learn how all parts of the overall business functioned.
“My parents believed you don’t start in the corner office,” she says. “That’s what makes you a better leader, when you learn every facet of your business.”
“I read everything,” says Joyce Sauer Brenny, the President and CEO of Brenny Transportation. She founded the St. Joseph, Minnesota-based trucking and logistics company in 1996. Two years ago, it won the Minnesota Business Ethics award.
Even though Brenny is an industry veteran, she stays up-to-date on developing technology trends — an important area for the company — and she says that she recently invested $250,000 in a software upgrade for her fleet. “When we started our business, the internet was just becoming a thing, but the technology that semi-trucks have now — it’s hard to stay up to date on,” she says. Making the effort and the investment has helped her company weather market changes over the years.
Brenny gains a lot of valuable industry news and insight through her membership and active participation in the Minnesota Trucking Association. She also makes a point of watching for different educational classes that she or a manager could take and benefit from.
For Brumbaugh, staying current means being a member of the Women in Trucking Association. “It’s been a great resource for networking and building connections with women who may have the same challenges,” she says. “The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you are to deal with those challenges.”
Brumbaugh says she was able to help insulate her business from market swings by diversifying her customer base and adding industries such as groceries and food, knowing they were less susceptible to a dip in the economy than autos, for example. Even though some of her peers went out of business, she says she didn’t lose a customer.
“My father always said that when times get tough, people don’t buy cars, but they still eat,” she says. “I learned that you shouldn’t have too much business with one customer. Make sure you don’t have too many eggs in one basket.”
For Brumbaugh, staying profitable meant always discerning between a “need” and a “want” when looking at her budget. By doing so, she was able to focus on what was important. “Making payroll was my #1 priority,” she says.
Even though there’s a lot of turnover in trucking, Brenny’s investments in her talent retention and acquisition efforts have earned her an impressive 87% retention rate. She gives each job applicant who walks through the door the Myers Briggs personality test to see how they score.
“We found that there are two types of personalities that fit well with us,” Brenny says. “Those who fit these profiles are high-integrity people who value family and tradition. They are also determined, focused, hard-working, and patient.”
Brenny also asks her drivers to call in once a day, just to check in. “Humans need human contact,” Brenny says. “When you talk to your drivers, you get to know them. You can tell if they’re having a good day or a bad day.”
The stress of managing a fleet — especially in the truck-driving business — is a lot easier to do when you really love it day in and day out. Brenny grew up on a farm and started driving tractors at an early age.
“I took what I thought would be a summer local job delivering railroad ties, and that job turned into my forever career in trucking,” says Brenny, who also has a college degree in organizational behavior and psychology. “People have always been my passion.”