One National Carriers driver couple nears a milestone while highlighting the company’s focus on building an “Elite” fleet
Fifty-three years ago, in June of 1968, National Carriers was founded by John Jacobson. We’ve chronicled this business’s evolution in a previous newsletter, but the “Elite” fleet in those days consisted of three trucks and trailers leased from individual owner/operators.
Today, National Carriers has 1,000 employees, with over 650 trucks and 1,200 trailers, carrying for Hershey, Nestlé, Anheuser Busch, ConAgra, and of course, National Beef – to name a few.
In addition, National Carriers has a livestock fleet of about 120 trucks in Southwest Kansas.
A far cry from June of 1968.
Sure, the products NCI hauls are important, the end customers are critical, but it’s the drivers of NCI who are the most prized asset.
The “Elite” fleet.
“We work extremely hard from the first call we have with a potential driver, all the way through retirement day, to make our company a place driver want to be,” said Rick Ham, Director of Recruiting at NCI. “Drivers are a top priority for us, and they always will be.”
In an industry where turnover is high and employee satisfaction is as well, the statistics tell the story.
Once a driver emerges past the 90 day check-in, NCI retains nearly 80% of its drivers.
“It’s not unusual for us to see drivers who have worked for 15-20 companies in the last three years,” Ham added. “But then when they get here, join this family environment, enjoy consistent loads, they stick around and have success. We keep them busy, we keep them running, we treat them like family, and that’s what they want.”
With the boom in e-commerce and the increased shipping across the country, there’s never been a more critical time to employ an Elite Fleet. But we’re not the only ones looking for these valuable employees.
“It’s hard work, and it takes the right mentality, but we’re seeing more carriers play some games trying to attract drivers,” Ham said. “For us, it’s always been about clarity and honesty. It’s a hard business, but for those with the willingness to persevere through the hard times, they also get to take advantage of the good times.”
One such story of perseverance belongs to Sandra and Alan Smith, NCI drivers for the last 33 years. We caught up with them, on the road, of course.
Think about it this way; they’ve driven for NCI for 62% of the company’s 53 years in business. And over that period, they’ve put 5,800,000 miles behind them.
“We started in 1982…” Allen Smith. “NCI was prestigious in those early years; we still are. I’d already been driving for five years when I came to work here, and they were always the big boys.”
As Smith described it, NCI had the fancier trucks and a good reputation, so he knew it had to be an excellent place to work.
“When I came to work here, I thought ‘if I can stay for five years, I’ll be doing pretty good,’ and here I am now, 33 years later,” Smith exclaimed.
Those 33 years have seen millions of miles, and they’ve also seen many industry changes.
“I used to call headquarters, or home for that matter, from a payphone,” Smith remembered. “There’d be times when a load was canceled, but I had no way of finding out until I got there. So I’d just turn around and go back.”
But now, with the technology features, communication devices, and location tracking, the real-time nature of trucking looks almost nothing like it did when the Smiths first started.
Yet, one thing remains the same.
The Smiths’ love (and sometimes frustration) of the open road, displayed through their tireless work ethic and commitment.
“In the beginning, it was an adventure. I was just a kid from Oak Hill, West Virginia,” Smith said. “But yeah, it’s turned into a job, and that’s OK. It’s hard work, there have been lots of tough times, but there have been even more great times.”
In these 33 years, the Smiths have kept on trucking through recessions, terrorist attacks, a technology explosion, extreme weather, and now, a global pandemic.
And through it all, they kept climbing up into the cab of that NCI-branded truck and went to work.
“We’ve always appreciated National Carriers. I always felt like there was someone I could go to, whether it was the President or anyone else on down the line, we felt that they listened to us, and we trusted them,” Smith said.
“They never beat me out of a dime, and whenever there were issues, they took care of them. They always went beyond the halfway mark.”
These two-time NCI Drivers of the Year, and Owner/Operator of the Year, the Smiths have made this journey in the most significant way…together.
“We hit the road 90-95% of the time together. Sometimes, we’re gone for 35 days at a time, home for one or two, and then back out on the road,” Smith said.
“But I just love being with her, and it makes all the difference in the world. We’ve seen some incredible sights together. She’s here with me right now, actually…”
You could feel Smith smile as he said his thank-yous and goodbyes, about to push off from a stop near New York City… off to the next stop of that trip…which leads to the next stop of their bigger story.
“We’ll get to 35 years with National, and then see what happens. We’re getting up there in age, and it’s taken a toll on us. The industry has changed so much. But we’ll see 6,000,000 miles in this blue truck…” Smith concluded.
When anyone asks us why we say we’re the Elite Fleet, we don’t have to say much; we just point them to the story of the Smiths, who have just kept moving forward.
Almost 6,000,000 miles worth.