Precious cargo
Forklift operator loading bareroot nursery stock onto a truck for shipping.
Bailey Nurseries

Precious cargo

Departments - Leadership Playbook

Drivers should know they’re a valued part of your organization and there are several ways of making them feel appreciated.

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May 3, 2022

Don’t underestimate the relationship impact you can have with your drivers and freight providers.
Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

Do you ever drive down the interstate riding in the passenger seat and look at all the truck drivers, wondering where they are going and what they are hauling? How far away from their home are they, or when was the last time they were even at home? I always found this profession interesting, and when I worked on the dock loading trucks, I always made sure to strike up some sort of conversation about their lifestyle, challenges, families, or the things they have seen traversing across the country. I really didn’t do this because I had long-range aspirations of being a long-haul truck driver. I did it because I knew that if I showed interest or developed a connection with these drivers, they would leave our farm knowing we really cared about them and that we valued them as a vendor and a service provider. I knew that if they had a good feeling about us, they would hopefully convey a positive attitude at each stop delivering our products. After all, they are the last interaction our customers would have as an extension of us.

As my professional roles have changed over the years, from dock supervisor to national sales manager to West Coast General Manager, one thing has remained consistent in our approach to freight in every position. It’s really important! There are so many contributions that must happen in any organization to get trucks to the dock and get plants on them. Don’t underestimate the relationship impact you can have with your drivers and freight providers. Adding value to your drivers may just give you the edge you need when trying to procure trucks in times of high demand. Below is a list of expectations given to our dock and shipping personnel.

  • Greet the driver, introduce yourself. Getting their name, remembering, and using it makes a person feel good. A smile and a “hello” go a long way.
  • If they’re cranky or having a rough day, your attitude can turn that around. Once again, a kind word and a smile can make a difference.
  • Tell them where to park, what dock number is theirs, where the facilities are, approximately how long you think it will take, when you’ll start loading, how they will get their paperwork, and where the coffee is. Make them feel comfortable.
  • A box of dog treats can come in handy and go a long way.
  • Talk to employees about the importance of treating the drivers with respect and being courteous to them.
  • Remember the drivers are away from home, usually by themselves. They have interrupted sleep schedules, no kitchen, probably don’t get consistent meals, and don’t always have easy access to a place to clean up.
  • If you are running over your allotted time, send a runner for some sandwiches or drinks. I can’t tell you how many times a Subway sandwich has turned around an impatient driver.
  • Respect drivers’ equipment and walk them through what your loading process looks like; soil, mud, side, and chute protections, as well as ramp safety, are always recommended discussions.
  • Giving a driver something is a great way for them to remember their experience. A pair of gloves, a notebook and pen, a hat, a snack, etc., are more than worth the cost.
  • Have a good set of directions and memorize them. When they call for directions, a clear step-by-step helps them get there in a timely manner. Give them the best possible directions for a truck. Getting stuck in unnecessary traffic is frustrating and costly.
  • If you have a place to park overnight, offer it. Let them know if you have shower facilities and/or cooking amenities.
  • If there are delays while loading, let them know. Communication is key. Talk to the broker or dispatch and keep them in the loop, as well.
  • Give them organized paperwork with a clear set of instructions on temperatures, continuous or cycle, drop sequence, and how important communication to their drops is. Always thank them for their service.
  • When a driver leaves your company, they become an extension of it. If they leave happy, they will be more likely to take care of your freight, follow your expectations, and be respectful to your customers.
If you have a place to park overnight, offer it. Let the driver know if you have shower facilities and/or cooking amenitites.
© dell | Adobe Stock

As we all start our freight seasons, take a moment to have a dock meeting. Let those who arrange your freight and those who load your freight know your expectations and review your core values. Make sure they know that those expectations extend to your vendors, drivers and brokers, as well as to each other. Shipping is a stressful and hectic time. Focusing on the small details that have hardly any cost can make a huge difference in your shipping season and ultimately getting your product to market. If you get drivers that request to come back, and if they leave with a smile and appreciation of how you handled your interaction with them, you will know you did it right.

Jason Bizon has a wide range of experience in horticultural production, shipping, and sales management. As West Coast General Manager for Bailey Nurseries, he oversees all operations at Bailey’s West Coast facilities in Washington and Oregon.