Celebrating Wins From A Tumultuous Year: Lessons Learned

by Patrick Gaskins

Patrick Gaskins, Senior Vice President Fleet Solutions at Corcentric Fleet Solutions, oversees both sales and operations for fleet offerings. Gaskins has grown the fleet services area by implementing an asset management database and a data-driven approach to providing clients with visibility into all areas of their fleet spend. He joined Corcentric in 2010, bringing over 30 years of experience as a financial services professional in the transportation industry.

Although 2020 threw many curve balls, the trucking industry rose to the challenge. Patrick Gaskins of Corcentric reflects on the bright spots, key takeaways and lessons learned throughout the year.

2020 was quite a year, and much of the talk surrounding the events center on COVID-19. That said, even with all of the heartache, there were some bright spots that need to be celebrated.

Let’s start with the fact that trucking and truckers finally got the recognition they deserve. Considered essential workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, truckers received praise for keeping goods on the shelves and delivering the much-needed PPE supplies to hospitals, nursing homes and other essential businesses.

The general public experienced firsthand just how vital trucking is to the economy. Not since the days when truckers were considered “knights of the road” have we heard so much good publicity surrounding trucking and truckers.

Now with the approval of COVID-19 vaccines, we are again seeing fleets rise to the challenge to get the vaccine out to health care workers and other front line employees who have been designated as the first groups to receive it. Trucking’s efforts will continue throughout the distribution of the 300 million vaccine doses.

We also saw a shift in buying patterns for not only consumers but for businesses as well. E-commerce sales skyrocketed as states issued shelter-in-place orders and much of the workforce shifted to working from home. This led to a focus on regional haul, and last-mile delivery constraining capacity and increasing spot rates.

We’ve also seen a surge in vehicle orders. OEM order boards are out into July for trucks while trailer manufacturers’ slots are filled for the entire year, meaning no build slots are available until 2022. New vehicle purchases to replace existing assets and add to fleets all need to be financed so there is opportunity out there for smart lenders who can help fleets choose the proper financing for their assets as we continue to navigate uncertainty, especially in light of a new White House administration.

In 2020 there was continued development of some of the emerging technologies — specifically electric and autonomous trucks — that will be coming to the market in the next decade.  Interestingly, we also saw a lot of partnerships develop among some unlikely sources. Existing OEMs got together with tech developers, each realizing that they could achieve more together than separately.

Another big change came about in how we share information, whether that was training or product information. Industry events moved to the virtual environment and we all became used to Zoom and Teams meetings that allowed us to stay connected and learn. Hats off to the manufacturers and suppliers who were able to provide virtual training so that technicians could continue to receive the support they needed to keep trucks on the road.

While 2020 was a tough year with many curve balls, the trucking industry rose to the challenge. There were some casualties, however, as carriers serving non-essential businesses saw their business drop off precipitously.

There are lessons to be learned from the difficulties we all faced because of COVID-19. The first is the importance of being an agile organization that can pivot as market and economic conditions change — even if those changes are cataclysmic.

We also learned that it is possible to grow and develop relationships without being face-to-face. Maybe it takes a little more work to nurture relationships via a computer screen, but we powered through the awkwardness of virtual meetings to continue to affirm that trucking is a relationship business that needs to be fostered regardless of market conditions.

The final lesson is the importance of choosing the right partner. Businesses that were willing to work with fleets and be flexible in responding to their needs are the big winners because they are likely to retain that fleet business when business conditions return to more normal levels. A good partner is in it for the long run and is willing to make adjustments in the short term to help a customer over a rough patch. Regarding equipment financing, that often meant shortening lease terms or extended them, and or adjusting payment terms depending on what made sense for the fleets.

Although 2020 threw all of us for a loop, there were some bright spots for trucking and trucking-related companies as well as some key takeaways. Perhaps the most important of these is that working together we can adapt to anything that comes our way and still see that new trucks and trailers get ordered, manufactured and purchased so that products continue to get delivered and trucks keep on rolling down the roads.

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