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Driving on Commission

Apr 21st, 2014 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick KemperHere’s why commission tow truck drivers are so happy: freedom. Now, you can’t make a whole lot of money being a commission anything if you can’t set goals, devise work strategies, hone your efficiency and exercise complete disregard for helping anyone unless it makes you money, but you always have the freedom of doing what you want when you don’t have a call to run. If you are a commission driver and your boss is making you do a lot of things you don’t get paid for, find another place to work. That’s called uncompensated labor and it’s illegal, not to mention unwise.

Here’s the deal: if you employ commission drivers and you get three out of every four dollars your drivers generate, then the more they generate, the more you make. Times three. You would be a fool to not do everything in your power to help them generate as much money as possible, even if that means shuttling your own trucks back and forth to the fleet shop for repairs, or running errands for the office girls, or washing the trucks, or whatever wasteful activity you can dream up that keeps them from generating money. Commission drivers are mercenaries, and they need to be able to focus on their primary function: generating income.

When I did impound work, we “patrolled” a lot of properties for parking violations. So, say a business closed at six p.m. and they had a problem with trash and vandalism in their parking lot at night because it was close to some sort of club. They would contract with us to come in after hours and periodically check the lot and tow away any vehicles that were parked there. Or perhaps an apartment complex wanted their fire lanes patrolled. Whatever their parameters were, we would follow them. Each truck had a binder with a list of properties to patrol — account name, address, patrol times, violations — probably over 300 properties at one time.

Some accounts produced a lot of impounds. Some never did. Some nights all of my work came from patrol properties, so I generated 100 percent of my income proactively. If I had just sat on my butt and waited for a call to come in, like some drivers, I would have gone home broke. At one point we would check a local athletic club’s parking lot during Rose Festival, a very busy time of year in Portland, that was only two blocks from our impound lot. I came in to work at 3:30 p.m. one afternoon for a swing shift, and one of the drivers was reading in the office trailer. I left and towed in three cars from this lot two blocks away in 30 minutes while he never even moved.

If you’ve ever hunted, then you know what patrol work is like. I think it’s the same general feeling that a police officer gets cruising around looking for bad guys. You have prey, and you’re looking for it. When you get it, it’s satisfying. Some people like to hunt. Some like to nap. Or read.

But even then, sometimes you go hunting and you come up empty. Some of my most tiring nights at work were spent driving around in search of a patrol PPI, and not finding any, or maybe one or two. I used to keep track of how many miles I drove in a shift, and how much I generated per mile. Some nights when we were busy and I was finding patrols, I’d put 30 miles on the truck and generate $800 — $1,000 for the company. Some nights when I couldn’t find any violators, I’d put 200 miles on the truck and generate $100. You can see why that is more tiring than hooking and unhooking eight to 12 cars in eight hours. It’s a different kind of tired.

So on the slow nights, sometimes it is a good idea to just relax and feed the psyche. I ran a lot of personal errands while on-duty, especially on swing shift when we had little supervision. I also did a lot of coalescing. I did some reading of my own, but usually outside on a park bench over in the university park blocks, and usually it was actual college reading because I went to school during the day. I would sometimes go up to the city library and look at topographical maps, planning real hunting trips. I ate at by-the-slice pizza joints and delis and coffee shops. I got out of the truck and walked around to enjoy the warm summer nights. I would even lie down on the truck seat and take a nap every now and then. I generally did not go home. If I did that, it disrupted my work rhythms for some reason. The thing is, when you’re productive and when you’re only getting paid for actually working, it’s a little easier for your boss to accept that a little relaxation can help you be more productive. It helps if you work swing and your boss works day shift, too.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper