“We’re no different from any other carrier,” says CEO Ken Johnson. “We do a little better than average. But we still need to recruit and retain drivers, just like everybody else.”
U.S. military veterans make up almost half of Leonard's employees.
"This was something that was already well understood and very important for us," Johnson says. "We’d always made a point to honor our veterans on Veteran’s Day, giving each eligible employee a signed card thanking them for their service, regardless of their role in the company.”
As Johnson and his staff considered their options, the human resources office came up with a winner of an idea. What if, they asked him, they presented a truck with a unique graphics wrap to veterans from each branch of the armed forces as a way of commemorating and honoring their service?
Leonard had a long-standing relationship with a local graphics shop, Ewing Graphics, and the fleet had recently done special wrapped trucks to raise cancer awareness and awareness of Parkinson’s disease. Johnson green-lighted the idea at once.
Key to the success of veteran’s recognition trucks would be carefully selecting drivers who would be willing and enthusiastic spokespersons for Leonard’s Express.
“We drew up our criteria for the selected drivers and started an interview process for candidates,” Johnson says. “And we really stressed to them that this was about more than just driving a cool-looking wrapped truck.”
Ambassadors for the Fleet
Duties for drivers include being an ambassador for the fleet and participating in various community functions such as driving the trucks in parades and displaying it at public events.
"They know they’re going to get a lot of attention at truck stops, and they’re going to get to share their stories with other veteran drivers out there," Johnson says. "And they really appreciate it.
"In fact, our first driver to get presented with a wrapped truck, Bob Williams, out of our Idaho terminal, is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam. He told me that being presented with his own, specialized truck was the first time he felt appreciated for his service since the end of the war.”
A key aspect of the program is that each truck is unique. Each driver meets with the graphic design team at Ewing to share memories and photographs about their service. Those personal elements from each driver’s life are incorporated into the final design of the truck.
Today, Leonard's Express has five military themed trucks on the road. Two honor U.S. Marine Corps veterans. Three other trucks honor drivers who served in the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. An opening remains for a truck honoring a U.S. Army veteran, Johnson adds.
The program has been an unqualified success for Leonard’s Express, Johnson says.
“I’ve had veterans in my neighborhood who have nothing to do with trucking come up and thank me for honoring our servicemen and woman. And our drivers love it. It makes them feel good. Potential drivers who are veterans see the trucks and view us as a company they’d like to drive for. So we’ve had nothing but success with the program and we’re actively discussing ways to expand it in the future.”