Editor’s Note: Welcome to View From the Top, a new series for Truckers News. In each feature, we’ll talk with one of trucking’s leaders about how their company and the industry are dealing with the unprecedented challenges and changes wrought by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
Tim Aschoff is the president and COO of Crete Carrier Corporation, which is headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, and has some 5,500 drivers. He joined the company as its general counsel in 2002, and over the years assumed other roles. He was named chief operating officer for Crete Carrier in 2011, president of Shaffer Trucking in 2015 and president of Crete Carrier in 2017.
We spoke with Aschoff recently about how Crete is doing business in these days of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Truckers News: First of all, how are you doing in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and the changes it’s brought on? How’s life out your way?
Tim Aschoff: We’re trying to get into somewhat of a new normal or hopefully temporary normal. We’ve been working hard to ensure that we can continue to operate and first of all, ensure the safety of our team members as well as the needs of all our customers and then essentially the needs of all Americans out there.
Truckers News: Then on the topic of that new normal, how is the company doing? How are you guys meeting all of these demands?
Tim Aschoff: Well, first off, you know, we’re fortunate that some years ago we focused our business on hauling consumer goods and food, essentially those two main products. So our business has been strong. In fact, it’s been stronger than normal and we’ve seen things peak at above Christmas levels here. So from that perspective, we’re fortunate as a company that we are really busy. So we’ve been working with our various team members from our drivers — who are certainly out there in the field, out there on the front line, so to speak, — and our terminal, team members out across the country, from here in Lincoln to all of our 20 plus facilities across the country. And then, our other office and shop (employees) out there continuing to support our team members to keep our trucks moving, picking up and delivering the goods that the country’s needing during this unique time.
Truckers News: What kind of adjustments have you had to make? Have you been trying to do things differently or to respond to this unique situation?
Tim Aschoff: Trying to keep operations, meaning the day to day pickup, safely transfer and safely deliver freight as normal as possible. But what it takes to do that, we’ve had to change some things. So first off, we always want to focus on the safety of our people.
So, the first thing we did is we went out and did a lot of training, particularly with our drivers and our shop personnel on, “Hey, you’re out there on the front line. You have a little bit more difficult time …” so some things on social distancing, training on COVID symptoms, good hygiene procedures, making sure that we have sanitation supplies at our facilities.
In our shops we’ve gone to what we call split shifts so we are, we’re not overlapping one group of workers with the next and in between, we’re having a shift separation so our team members aren’t interacting face to face. And we’re doing extra cleaning of all common areas.
And, then for our office folks across the country, certainly we’d gone down to having those in the office who are really essential, in essence, that have to be there in order to support our drivers coming in out of our terminals. Again, our shop folks have to be there in order to service their equipment. And then many of our team members we have set up and are working from home. Thankfully the technology these days has made that somewhat seamless. We have our drivers support teams that are still communicating with our drivers via the phone, and then our customer support teams doing the same with their customers. So that transition has gone relatively smooth.
But one thing I really want to say is for, for all of our teammates out there, and particularly drivers and for those that may be working in distribution centers or at the terminals that still have to be out there in the office or out there in the field, we do appreciate the extra efforts that they’re making to ensure that they remain safe, and also what they’re doing in order to keep the trucks moving and goods moving.
Truckers News: Then tell me about your drivers. How are they doing? What are they telling you about life on the road these days? How have their jobs changed?
Tim Aschoff: The drivers are a very hardy bunch and we’re so proud of all of them. For the most part, the drivers are, are positive. They’re reacting to what’s going on. We have a lot of great experienced drivers. They said, “Look, we’re drivers. We’ve been out on the road for years. We know what it takes to pick up and deliver. We know how to be safe.”
Safety has always been something we focus on. So we just know that we have to take that (outlook) to not only on the road but also inside the cab. So we’re making sure that we have cleaning supplies, we’re cleaning, we’re social distancing, we’re washing our hands, we’re limiting our interaction with others. We have great shippers and receivers that have changed some practices as far as when (drivers are) checking in at a shipper or a receiver. They’re really trying to limit contact, personal contact as much as possible, but at the same time still providing those amenities that those drivers need.
And then their lives changed a little bit. Truck stops as well. We’ve been in contact with all of our fuel providers, and they’re doing extra cleaning at the pumps. They’re keeping the showers open for our drivers, but they’re doing extra cleaning and those showers and common areas. Most of them don’t have their restaurant seating area open anymore but are providing food for drivers to take out to the truck. And, we have a lot of drivers that have the refrigerator and their inverter in their truck and are cooking in the truck. So life’s a little bit different for them, but man, they’re a hardy bunch, and they’ve been very positive. In essence, they’re stepping up in this time of need for our country and, and continuing to humbly do their jobs.
Truckers News: Then what are you hearing from customers? How are they feeling in these times and how is the market for freight?
Tim Aschoff: So, as I mentioned before, most of our customers are (companies) that you would see their products on the shelves at a Walmart or a Target or Kroger. So actually they’re doing very, very well. In fact, they’re almost too busy in many ways. So we’re really working with them. We’re doing as much drop and hook with them in order to get flexibility on pickup and delivery and managing their daily load counts with our daily driver availability so we can maximize the productivity of our drivers so that they’re available for the next load.
But at the same time, they’re doing some things differently as far as receiving and shipping practices. As I mentioned, trying to limit interaction with drivers. They may be coming out to the truck at some places versus the driver having to go inside, and just really adapting because they know the importance of the drivers to their business continuing. So it’s in their interest to ensure that they keep drivers healthy as well. It’s really been a collaborative effort with our shippers and our receivers on ensuring we can continue to operate as smoothly as possible during this time.
Truckers News: Then on a broader scale, what about the trucking industry as a whole? How do you think it’s responding to this unprecedented situation? How are truckers doing?
Tim Aschoff: I think as a whole, as we always do, the industry is stepping up. Whether it’s been after hurricanes, after flooding, after storms, after other sorts of uncontrolled events, we step up, and we perform, and I think in general that that’s happening and it’s positive. At the same time, I feel for those drivers and those companies that are in a portion of our industry that’s really being negatively impacted. I know that with auto manufacturers closing down for a few weeks and other manufacturers closing down with, and foodservice companies have closed. So that business has gone very quickly. And, that has had a hard effect on those companies and I do feel for those drivers in those companies.
So it’s a spectrum across our industry, but certainly, as a whole, I know our industry is stepping up and making sure that where we can in those critical infrastructure areas, we are supporting those and we’re ensuring that they’re performing and they’re there for all Americans.
Truckers News: Finally, Tim, what do you see down the road? What do you see happening in the next few months for the company, for your drivers and the marketplace?
Tim Aschoff: I wish I had that clear crystal ball. I think what we’re doing is we’re sort of playing it day by day, and hour by hour and trying to anticipate what could happen next. I think we’re going to face a few more challenges. Again, maybe it doesn’t impact us directly because we are critical. We’re still out there moving. Ultimately it’s going to be when we can start, as a country, take steps to move back to normal. And certainly getting back to normal as soon as possible is obviously great for everybody, but certainly in trucking that will mean freight in all sectors getting closer to going back to normal. How long that will take. I think that’s hard to tell right now.
Truckers News: I know that you’re on the road an awful lot. I’m guessing you’re pretty much sticking close to home these days.
Tim Aschoff: Many of our customers have travel restrictions and visitor restrictions, but I do intend to get out there on the front lines with our drivers. I want to get out and visit some of our facilities, certainly see our shop members and otherwise support them. This is a unique time. There’s a lot of unknowns and we certainly want to support our team, provide them with as much information as we have, let them know we’re here to take care of them. We have adopted different leave policies that give some additional sick time for those may be impacted and that let them know we’re here to take care of them. So, I do think it’s important for me and for other leaders here at the company to be out with our people and showing them that support.