Things appear to be coming together for the National Private Truck Council, but president John McQuaid is worried. McQuaid says the trade group representing more than half of the nation’s trucking operations has never been better positioned for growth.
“But if it doesn’t happen in the next 12 to 24 months, there won’t be an NPTC in three years,” he adds.
His concern arises from the nature of his organization: The people who run private fleets are transportation professionals who work as mid-level managers in their companies. They run a cost center, not a profit center, and their decisions about membership in trade organizations can be second-guessed by their corporate bosses.
That puts pressure on NPTC to provide irresistible services at the right price. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but McQuaid is betting that with a new organizational structure, a new board and a revised dues package – and maybe even a new name – he’s got the right combination.
The association began laying the foundation for change a year ago with a restructuring plan that created three divisions intended to represent the major vocations of private truckers.
The Heavy Duty Division is for fleets with Class 7 and 8 trucks in local and line-haul distribution. The Medium and Light Duty Division is for fleets under 26,000 pounds GVW in local distribution – including driver-salesman services and walk-in vans. The Third Party User Division is for fleets that have been outsourced to leasing or dedicated contract carriage. In addition, NPTC has three divisions for allied members.
A year ago McQuaid was predicting that this structure would add as many as 150 new fleet members to by the end of 1999. That turned out to be over-optimistic. Fleet membership rose from about 850 to 877. But he is putting other pieces in place that he believes will make up the difference.
NPTC has a new, smaller board – down from 58 to 16. “New blood,” McQuaid says about his leadership team. “A working board of activists who are willing to take risks.”
The board took its first big risk this week when it announced a new, one-size-fits-all dues schedule for fleet members.
Dues formerly varied from $350 to $1650, based on the fleet’s size. Now all dues are $650 per year. That amounts to an increase for 41% of the association’s members – but as McQuaid is quick to point out, it’s the first increase in many years.
The bet, McQuaid admits, is that the association can add enough members to cover the loss from the drop in larger companies’ dues.
That won’t be easy. “Our market research effort has shown that people don’t know who we are,” McQuaid said. “We need to raise awareness.”
To raise awareness among potential members, you need a gimmick. NPTC’s for-hire carrier counterpart, the American Trucking Associations, is betting that it can attract members by being the trucker’s lobbyist on Capitol Hill. McQuaid is focusing on “the other L word – learning.”
NPTC will continue to advocate its members interests in Washington, but McQuaid has his eye on the smaller fleets that join associations other reasons.
“We continue to see our members being asked to do more with less,” he explains. “The guy who runs the fleet has many other jobs. We can help him by serving as his safety department – answering questions, providing information on how to stay up to date, training for a reasonable fee. Compliance with the regulations is exceedingly important.”
There is a strong need for the service, McQuaid says. “The level of ignorance among some about safety responsibility is breathtaking.”
He says NPTC will add staff as necessary, and intends to employ the Internet as a tool in the process. He also plans to take his message to organizations representing vocational truck users, such as distributors of snack food and bottled water, via direct mail and direct contact.
McQuaid from time to time employs overstatement in his role as an industry spokesman, but he is serious about the challenge NPTC faces. The association must deliver valuable services at a reasonable price, or its days are numbered.
His sense of urgency is leading him toward another risk. He is thinking about calling on his board to take a leap: change the name. “National Private Truck Council” is a leftover from the days when the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled trucking, and it is not appropriate for the modern industry, he says.
What works better? Here’s what he’s trying on these days: The Business Trucking Association.