And yet, remove these 18-wheeled behemoths from the roads and the vehicle of consumerism comes to a grinding halt. Enter Sam Hough, Chief Operating Officer of Covenant Transport, one of the nation’s leading truck carriers, who talks about why, in face of an increasingly fast-paced market, the key to continuously satisfying and exceeding customers’ needs comes from a healthy presence of modernization within their trucks and an expansive team of talented, hardworking professional drivers at their helm. Steve Engelhardt reports.
It’s been twenty years since the company went public, and today, Covenant Transportation Group (“CTG”) comprises six divisions, split equally between three asset-based trucking companies and three non-asset-based units which all come together to provide a comprehensive set of transportation services for their customers.
“Covenant Transport is the largest of the three asset-based companies within CTG. We are based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with a fleet of about 1,400 seated trucks, 800 of which are used by our team drivers, and our regional terminals create a delivery zone that extends into the major markets in Canada and Mexico,” Hough says.
Investing in the Future
For him, Covenant Transport’s current position as one of the most trusted truckload carriers in North America has been the result of fostering deep-rooted partnerships through a commitment to safety and on-time delivery, and more recently, has been solidified further through a number of investments into both its vehicles and its professional drivers.
Specifically with regards to their semi-tractors, Hough says in the last few years they have completely revamped their fleet by creating a convoy consisting primarily of new models. “We have been extremely aggressive in buying new trucks, and as a result the average age of vehicles in our fleet is 16 months.” Having an arsenal of modern trucks goes beyond just the flair, as Hough says the performance versus older trucks is unbeatable. “As a truckload carrier delivering products over long distances, fuel is our greatest cost,” he says, adding, “Fortunately, fuel economy in trucks has advanced greatly recently, as you look at a truck that was sold 36 months ago versus a unit produced today, and the difference really is night and day, and we have seen huge benefits from a large scale investment into such.”
In fact, the improvements in fuel economy have been so significant, that the company has started looking at other aspects of their trucks where savings could be enhanced even more. “We’ve had skirts on our trailers for the last few years, and this year we have actually begun testing ‘Trailer Tails’ for the first time, identifying their aerodynamics and impact upon the tractor-trailers’ fuel economy, as well as testing manual versus automatic transmissions,” he says, adding, “and what we’ve found is that there are a numbers of factors at play in our trucks ability to run efficiently, and we have developed a strong grasp of how to achieve such efficiency on a consistent basis.”
Strength of Safety
In addition to fuel savings, the company has also made significant investments into upgrading the overall safety of their trucks on the road. Hough says all of their trucks currently being purchased have undergone the integration of a number of new cutting-edge automotive safety technologies, which include lane departure warning systems, which aid the driver in maintaining his lane position in the midst of long distance drives, and roll stability control, which automatically shifts down the trucks’ engine torque when moving too fast around a bend in the road, and front-collision mitigation systems. “We really put our money where our mouth is when it comes to ensuring the safety of our drivers, the products, and other vehicles travelling on the road as well.”
And he’s right, as going beyond just the implementation of automated systems within their trucks, the company also has an extensive team of meteorologists and service providers on the ground in many states across the country that work together to update the company and its drivers of relevant weather patterns, road conditions, and traffic predicaments that could impact their ability to deliver their customers’ products safely and on time.
“We have an Incident Response Center (IRC) where a team of individuals work full time to, amongst other functions, provide our professional drivers with visibility in upcoming weather patterns and road conditions that lay ahead, and offer alternate routes to take as a way of avoiding them,” he says, adding, “To add to this, we have employees in many cities and regions around the country who collaborate with this effort by providing real-time, on the ground information as well.”
Prioritizing the Professional Driver
Efforts like these are why Covenant Transport has won a number of logistics and supplier awards in just the last few years. But Hough is adamant that while safety and on-time delivery is what defines their reputation, none of it would be possible without their extensive team of experienced and dedicated professional drivers. “Everything starts with the professional driver, because without them, nothing would get moved in the first place,” he says, adding, “In fact, we view them with the same kind of significance that we place upon our customers.”
He says that given the decline in the number of professional drivers in North America, building a team of talented drivers and retaining them over the years has been a key focus for his company. “We’re very family-oriented here at Covenant Transport, as well as across CTG, and our relationship with our professional drivers reflects that,” he says, continuing, “Our drivers bring us our success and we repay them by making sure that for all the time out on the road, they’re being compensated with money and quality-of-life considerations such as time off that reflects our appreciation for such efforts.”
For example, Hough says that Covenant Transport offers its driving employees a corporate guarantee that they will be able to get home when they need to, should they request it. “We know life is more than just about being behind the wheel for them, and maintaining a strong family life is a part of our culture,” he says, adding, “So we tell our professional drivers, if they give us at least seven days notice, then we will ensure that they are able to get home, no matter their schedule.”
The relationship between Covenant Transport and its drivers has only continued to blossom, with the company’s team of drivers winning a number of “Top 100 Truckers” awards just within the last two years and building upon Covenant Transport’s reputation for safety, quality, and on-time delivery. “Our trucks often carry high-profile items, particularly within the e-commerce market, and the ability to provide the presence of skilled responsible drivers in charge of getting them to their destinations is what sets us apart from the rest.”
Covenant Transport is a company that, despite it’s expansive fleet and nearly 3,000 employees, operates with the care and dedication of a small business. “Outside of technology investments into our vehicles, we like to keep it simple, with the focus being on a strength and safety of service, and ensuring the recruitment and retention of skilled drivers to provide such.”
Looking ahead, it’s an open road for Covenant Transport, as with an established reputation and commitment to the customer, the company should continue to power along the highway of success for many years to come.