Photo: Tribe Transportation

Photo: Tribe Transportation

Founded in 2010 with five trucks as logistics provider Tribe Transportation’s asset-based arm, Tribe Express now has over 235 trucks and it plans to be running 350 by year’s end. But the truckload carrier recognizes it can only field more trucks if it can find and keep qualified drivers.

While the driver roster boasts many veteran truckers, between 50 and 60 years old, the carrier is seeing significant growth in both the number of younger (age 28 to 35) and female drivers it employs. Most importantly, its turnover rate is “generally as low as 33%,” says Matt Handte, executive vice president. He credits that success to “showing our employees how important they are to us and how much we value their efforts.”

Helping in a big way to express that appreciation is Tribe’s premium equipment. The fleet is currently buying Kenworth T680 tractors with 76-inch sleepers, which Handte credits with both finding and keeping drivers. The trucks are powered by Paccar MX-13 engines, rated at 455 hp and driven through Eaton Fuller Advantage automated manual transmissions.

Given that Tribe drivers run a lot of miles – about 250,000 on average for teams and 125,000 for solos — the company believes it’s crucial to provide them with a comfortable truck. The sleepers boast a drawer-style refrigerator, rotating table, and room for a microwave. The cabs feature the OEM’s SmartWheel steering wheel, Driver Performance Center, and radio with high-performance speakers as well as SiriusXM satellite radio and enabled Bluetooth.

Tribe recently also opted to outfit its entire fleet with EpicVue in-cab satellite TV and its DirectTV programming packaged with truckers in mind. After ordering 200 EpicVue systems in late 2015, the company has committed to buying another 100 in-cab satellite TV systems for new tractors being added this year.

The fleet is installing the satellite TV systems in existing trucks based on driver seniority and expects to complete that work in six months. EpicVue will be installed in new trucks as they are placed into service.

“EpicVue offers the kind of value and comfort we try to provide drivers by giving them the ability to watch a game, movie or program they might watch at home,” says Handte. He figures the investment will quickly pay dividends in driver retention. “It can cost us $2,000 to recruit, train, and orient a new driver,” he says, “and an empty seat can cost $5,000 per week in lost revenue. 

“That makes the payback on EpicVue for installation and subscription costs very fast,” he continues. “Based on how positively our drivers have reacted to our decision to equip the entire fleet with satellite TV, we believe the systems will lower our turnover rate even further.”

Fleet Snapshot

Who: Tribe Express

Where: Gainesville, Ga.

Fleet: 238 tractors (mostly Kenworth T680), 400 Great Dane refrigerated trailers

Operations: The asset-based truckload carrier specializes in hauling temperature-controlled freight, including refrigerated and deep-frozen goods as well as pharmaceuticals.

Fun Fact: The fleet is a division of Native American woman-owned Tribe Transportation, one of the fastest-growing minority carriers in North America.

Challenge: Recruiting and retaining enough drivers to keep pace with its rapid service growth.

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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