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How to be More Productive as a Commissioned Driver

Jun 14th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

For the first several years I was in a tow truck I did not train any new employees. We had veteran drivers with more experience, and I worked swing shift — for some reason it seemed like they wanted training to take place in the daylight, and under management scrutiny. I was not interested in training others. For one thing, they weren’t hiring any attractive college girls to run impounds. And then there was the extra work involved, and sharing a truck cab with another human being. Not for me.

I was a relatively social kid the first couple of years I was in a tow truck, and then someone flipped a big switch called commission. I went from earning $8 an hour to earning 25 percent of all the money I brought in. The first month, my production doubled. From that point forward, anything that deterred or distracted me from making money was the bane of my existence. I was so focused that no one even broached the subject of training new drivers, even though my level of productivity was certainly something you would have wanted to duplicate throughout your company.

Oh, I think it was mentioned a few times, but the “bonus” paid to trainers was $25 per day and I could make that in 15 minutes with one extra tow, so I could barely afford to even laugh at that. My feeling was, and still is, that you get what you pay for. If you were to ask most tow company owners if they wanted their new hires to get $25 per day worth of training they would object, but that’s what the owners of the company I worked for were getting. I’m not saying they weren’t learning the mechanics of the job well — how to work the equipment, where the fuel dock was, whether the macaroni salad or the potato salad was better at Lovejoy Deli. And I’m not saying the trainers weren’t qualified. It’s just a fundamental law of business — you get what you pay for.

At one point a manager from one of our sister companies decided he didn’t want to manage anymore and he transferred to our company as a driver. He was assigned to a swing or graveyard shift and he didn’t really need any training because he’d been doing the work for several years. However, my boss knew that I knew “the ropes” better, so he begged me to spend one or two work shifts sharing all of my secrets. I told him I would — for a $100 per-shift bonus. He declined.

My feeling at the time was that I had learned the most efficient ways to make money in that job primarily through trial-and-error. Therefore, it was my intellectual property and it was worth a heck of a lot more than $100 per shift for one or two work shifts. If a new driver was only five percent more effective as a result of learning my ways (which I could have accomplished with a simple casual suggestion, in most cases) we’re talking something like $7,500 more in revenue annually for the company, probably about 80 percent of which would be profit, considering that it wouldn’t result in additional expense. And it would likely have decreased turnover as well. One-hundred dollars per shift — oh the humanity.

Now I’m out of the truck and way less militant, so let’s spell out some of the ways that I was able to be more productive as a commission driver.

1. Be prepared when you get to work. Have your equipment ready. Travel light. I had my work gloves, my invoice books and my lockout kit. I kept it all in a locker or in my personal vehicle. Our trucks were equipped with everything else we would need. If I got to work and a call was holding, I could be in the truck and gone in 30 seconds.

2. As soon as you’re ready to work, let the dispatcher know you’re ready, and ask them if they are holding anything. I can’t think of how many times I asked this and was given a juicy high-dollar impound that had been holding for 10 minutes because the dispatcher was overworked and harried and remembered they were holding the call when I asked.

3. Have a plan. If there are ways for you to generate revenue without running dispatched calls — impound lots to patrol, low-priority “anytime” calls pending, etc. — figure out how you’re going to work that in. Pay attention to what times of your shift are busiest and where the call activity seems to be centered during those times, and then center yourself there.

4. Have a goal. We had a monthly guaranteed salary (which I always exceeded). I broke that down into a 20-day month (even though most months have 22 work days), and aimed to exceed that daily goal every day.

5. Exceed the goal. If I had a great shift and hit my goal within a few hours, I rode the wave as far as it would take me. In fact, if I was having a great shift, I always pushed harder, because those huge commission days make up for a lot of slow days. If I could triple or quadruple my daily goal, not only did I feel great at the end of my shift, I usually felt tired and the shift went quickly. And if you’re going to be tired, having a lot of money to show for it always makes it a good kind of tired.

6. Don’t get sucked into doing things that don’t generate revenue. Don’t make food runs for office personnel. Don’t do “freebie” tows. Don’t shuffle trucks around for the fleet maintenance department. You might be asked or even forced to do these things, but if you are, resist. Complain. Make it a bigger pain for your boss to force you to do it than it’s worth for him.

7. Develop efficient routines. Find the most efficient way to hook up a vehicle, unhook a vehicle, do your paperwork, etc., and do it efficiently every time, even if it seems like a slow workday. When you arrive at a tow destination, tell the dispatcher you’re unhooking and then tell them when you’re clear.

8. Don’t let people you work with waste your time. If you work with some long-winded talkers, be rude and alienate them early in your tenure there, so that they avoid you and tell everyone what a jerk you are. Then they’re too busy wasting someone else’s time to waste yours, and if you’re competing with others for calls, you’re taking two people out of the mix simultaneously. Seriously, work is for work. Invite them over on your off-day to chat, if you feel like being friendly.

There’s a lot more to it than this of course, but these ideas might help you or your drivers.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper