Optimizing Shop Layout for Peak Performance

Shop layout is something that if you brought 10 companies together and asked for their ideal layout you would get 10 different answers.  This is because no two bus companies are the exact same with the same fleet size, makeup or territory.  What will work for a regional school bus fleet that has every vehicle back most nights will not be optimal for a cross-county motorcoach operation that has buses leaving every day of the week.  That said, every shop will have some similar guiding principles – safety, an ergonomic working condition, improved productivity and energy savings.  However, there will be a large degree of variation on how fleets accomplish these objectives.

To start there are two basic configurations for bus fleet – a drive-through shop and a pull-in structure.  Both have their strong points depending on your geographic locale. A drive-though bay tends to be safer through the elimination of the need to back a vehicle either into or out of the work bay.  A drive-though layout also increases ventilation as both bay doors can be opened to allow for a cross-breeze and disburse any heat.  However, in a colder climate a pull-in structure allows for doors to be installed at only one end making heat retention much easier in the winter.  For a pull-in layout, additional forms of mechanical ventilation will be needed to keep temperatures comfortable in the summer months.

The number of bays is also important.  One issue some fleets run into is having the same number of technicians as there are bays.  The National Association of Fleet Administrators recommends a ratio of 1.5 to 2 bays per technician.  This is to remove the need to pull a vehicle out of a bay while a technician is waiting for parts to arrive.  Any unnecessary shunting is a waste of time and an avoidable cost. This also keeps your techs working on vehicles and staying productive by doing the skilled labor you are paying them to for.

The size of the bays is another critical factor.  Obviously, it needs to be long enough to accommodate whatever equipment you will be working on.  What may not be so obvious is the width of each bay.  It needs to be able to accommodate the maneuvering of buses of all sizes, technician work areas and storage for parts and tools.  Finally, keep the height of the shop as high as possible.  Workers will need the space to work on top of buses so things like overhead cranes and fall arrest systems need to have sufficient overhead space for a technician to safely work.  If you build it high enough that the space can be converted into warehouse space, then you have made your building more valuable if you outgrow it and need to repurpose it.

The overall design of your shop should be directed at maximizing technician productivity.  One expert recommends building workbenches between each bay and equipping them with common tools such as grinders and vices, instead of only providing them in centralized locations.  This will reduce the amount of time spent looking for an available workspace or tool.  Additionally, look at having your bays designed for cleanliness.  Have the floor painted and provide cleaning items such as shovels, mops and brooms at each bay and make the technician responsible for keeping them clean.  A clean floor reduces slips and falls, making the facility safer for everyone.  Keeping the floor clean will also reduce any losses caused by vehicles running over tools or parts that have been left sitting on the bay floor.

While we are looking at safety, ensure that there is adequate lighting within the bays.  Begin by allowing for as much natural lighting as possible through either skylights or windows.  Next pick a lighting technology that provides a relatively white light.  High pressure sodium lighting gives off a yellow hue, which can make faded wiring look like the same colour.  There are a lot of modern LED lights that provide a white light and are significantly more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs.  They may cost a little more up front, but they tend to have a lower life-cycle cost.  Painting the walls white will also help to reflect the light and make your shop have a brighter interior.

Another common theme when building or reconfiguring a shop is to plan for the future.  Avoiding the use of load bearing walls will make a future expansion easier to manage.  Also remember to leave enough physical land space to allow for future building.  Putting your wall ten feet from your property line is not going to help you add usable shop floor space in the years ahead.  Having enough space in your electrical panel for future growth is also important.  While you are considering it, ensure that your utility room is large enough to handle things like a larger air compressor, a larger air dryer or just more circuits.  While it will cost more to put that capacity in up front it is generally more expensive to retrofit later.

The last thing to look at is the IT infrastructure that you provide your technicians with.  Are you providing computers for them to put in their work orders in a centralized location or are they closer to the bays?  To properly outfit a computer and a suitable cart or stand you are likely looking at around $2000 per machine.  That might seem like a lot to spend on a computer that is being used to enter in work orders, clocking onto job lines, entering comments and billing out parts.  However, let’s use an internal cost of $1 per minute for your technicians’ time and they spend 10 minutes a day just walking back and forth to a centralized computer that $2000 has a 200-day payback based on lost productivity – less than 1 year of working days! There is starting to be a trend towards outfitting the technicians with a ruggedized tablet that allows access to your shop management software as well as having some of the OEM diagnostic software available.  This will allow the technician to enter jobs, notes and parts in real time as well as pulling ECM data at each service to allow for predictive and proactive maintenance.  Your ROI will not only be based on the avoidance of unproductive time spent walking to a computer but also in the reduced inventory shrink caused by missing to bill all parts out to a job.

Not everyone will be able to do all these ideas – either because of budget or space restrictions.  However, it will be a good exercise to compare your shop with these suggestions and do a payback and ROI for each of them.  It’s possible that some of these items could free up enough time to either reduce headcount or having the ability to redeploy employees to a different shift – perhaps offering an evening or weekend shift to take advantage of when equipment is sitting idle.  You may just find out that a reasonable investment now could result in an improved bottom line going forward.

Using Video As a Recruiting Magnet

Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been reviewing best practices with the use of Social Media.  If you were on the fence, hopefully you’ve now bought into the idea of using social media strategically. We’ve mentioned video a lot – mainly because it gives the audience a first-hand look at your operations and your culture. To reiterate, the whole purpose of using social media is to achieve scale, and produce a network effect – reaching an audience you would never be able to reach without. Once you’ve reached those people, nurturing them over time to the point where, if conditions are right, they come to you for a job instead of the other way around (inbound marketing).  Today, let’s dive deeper into video. When most people think about video, they equate it to massive budgets, production, editing, scripting etc.   How can you use video, in an affordable manner, while also capturing a genuine and professional glimpse into your company’s culture, work environment and ambitions?

First, a Demand Gen survey found that 70% of respondents prefer an inexpensive format that pretty much any of us can produce with something that’s likely in your pocket or on your desk.  We’re talking about that smartphone that all of us carry.  Most phones manufactured in the last 3 years are capable of recording 1080p, high definition video.  If you have a little bit larger budget then invest in a digital SLR camera, such as the Nikon D3400 or Canon Rebel T5 – both priced under $500 – and a tripod to keep things steady (see this great article on some equipment suggestions).  You will get a better product and have more options with a decent digital SLR camera.

The next thing to consider is having the proper lighting.  When in doubt, face your light source.  If the light is behind you it will cast you in a silhouette and make it hard to see the images that you are trying to present.  In addition, if you are outdoors and have the sun behind what you are recording, they will get washed out.  So, a few other tips.  One – the sun is free so use it as much as possible.  Two – make sure to do a few test shots if you are using artificial lighting as many bulbs can give a yellow tinge that may not be visible to the naked eye but will show up on the camera. The better the lighting, the more professional the video will look.

Third is invest in a good microphone.  Poor sound quality will quickly chase your audience away.  The one on your smartphone will be ok if your subject is close to the phone and the filming is done in a quiet room with no background noise.  If you are shooting outdoors in a windy or noisy location, then the background noise will likely drown everything else out.  If you don’t use an external microphone, expect to spend more time with your video editing software and doing voice-overs that may or may not match up to your video.

Next, set up a professional looking background.  This could be as simple as a nice bookcase, the awards case in your office or even a nice park that is nearby (check out this article on backgrounds).  It is usually much better to not complicate things (see this vidyard.com post for some more tips).  If you decide on a backdrop, be sure to have it professionally printed.  And avoid having your branding if it will not always be visible – more on that later.

Spend the time to investigate what video editing software is best for your needs.  There are a number of free or open source options, such as Handbrake (for Windows, Mac or Linux), iMovie (for Apple products) or the free version of HitFilm among others so don’t assume that you need to get something expensive, especially to start.  Make sure that you can add in graphics so that you can show your branding throughout the video.  Software like Canva, or SnagIt ($49.95 one-time cost)  as well as free photo sources such as Unsplash, LibreStock, Gratisography, Pixabay or Pexels will help you create professional looking graphics that will increase the credibility of your finished product. We use Camtasia from TechSmith at inGauge. It allows you to edit, screen record, and comes stocked with lots of additional media resources to add to your content.

Ok, so now you have gathered the equipment to use.  But how do you create a great video?  Like most things, it takes a bit of planning.  First, what is the goal of the video?  Remember that with social media you are looking to gain trust and open conversations, so going for the sale (or at all)  is just going to put them (your audience) off. If you go to the pitch right away, it is now different than playing a video ad – all credibility is lost. The best videos don’t pitch anything. Always think storytelling as opposed to marketing. Speaking of them, what is your intended audience?  The more targeted you get here, the more effective your video is going to be.  Finally determine what resources you will need to bring this all together. This will form the basis of your production document which will act as your road map to pull this all together.

Once you have a goal and a target audience, craft your story to capture their attention (see this short video by Alan Alda discussing telling better stories).  Make it interesting and ensure that the target has something to take away (and even better, give them a reason to share your video).  If you are using this to recruit drivers, find one of your enthusiastic drivers and let them tell their story of interesting situations during their life on the road.

Pay attention to the pacing of the video and of the speaking.  Keep it at a conversational pace.  Look towards the camera – you want the viewer to feel that you are talking to them.  Most importantly just be yourself.  If you are a family run business that is in a rural setting, you don’t want to come across like you are a Wall Street firm in your video as people will see through that and you will lose credibility very quickly.  Tell them how you came about – put in any hardships the business has had to overcome – that makes a good story that people want to hear.  And have some fun.  That sort of infectious energy is what will convince people to not only watch your post put to share it with their social media friends.  The more people who see it, the more mindshare you are going to get.  Just remember that you are not going to hit a home run n the first try.  Expect to have to put up a few videos before you gain enough attention that people will start coming to you and sharing what you have to offer.  And that is how you are going to leverage a small investment into a great ROI.

Next week, we’ll discuss the ideal skill sets, and traits of the next generation marketing professional for your organization. Here’s some hints, they understand content creation, scale, and social media. They are light on degrees, and buzz words (and may have a couple tattoos).

Storytelling Your Way to Better Results

To get the next driver in the seat, most bus companies rely primarily on some firmly entrenched tactics: 1) Advertise in various recruiting publications (print and web), 2) Attend job fairs, and 3) Put up roadside signs. These are time-tested ways to solicit new employees, but they can be costly and time consuming. These are also rather passive ways to get your message out, and passive doesn’t cut it in today’s environment.  Some larger bus companies have the luxury of resources to promote and incent potential recruits using all of the above media outlets. This coupled with sign-on bonuses, streamlined onboarding and structured orientation, you would think the deck is stacked against the small and mid-sized companies. I would argue the opposite is true. Most of these larger companies have been doing much of the same for decades – their tactics and strategies have stayed the same. Enter Social Media. The whole purpose of Social Media is to amplify a message, reach people you would never have reached via traditional media, and most importantly make a connection with the person on the other end. In short – a Network Effect.

Throughout this article, I would encourage you to keep the following in concept in mind. The best marketers and recruiters are effective Storytellers. Although this label may seem a bit fluffy to you, when each of us think of the most effective and charismatic leaders, without fail they are all great storytellers. You know, the ones that can convince us to do something we’ve never done before or consider a new way to think about an old problem. To reinforce the value of storytelling in recruiting and business, here is a great article by Peter Gruber on “The Four Truths of the Storyteller”.

Social media is now used for just about everything in life by many people.  It offers you a way to build both a relationship and trust with many prospects that would be otherwise hard to connect with.  Media agencies like Ideas That Evoke uses the following strategy – “Meet your audience on their platform of choice” – Forbes Nov 21, 2017.  This was originally how they handled B2B marketing, but with the large number of millennials using social media every day, it has now become the best way to meet your next associate.

Most companies have a favorite platform, and essentially ignore most others. This is a common error, and is typically the result of a perceived lack of resources. The Hightower Advertising Agency has listed (not ranked) the most important media sites for the trucking industry and these are also applicable to buses (see article here).  First is LinkedIn.  When it comes to recruiting, LinkedIn is hard to beat as it is made for job seekers and businesses to connect.  You can create a large professional network without having time or geographic restrictions.  Next is Facebook, because it is the most popular social network.  It’s ability to let you target very specific demographics allows you to have your message reach the right people.  Third is Twitter as it allows you to present your message to people outside of your own network of connections.  The sharing or re-tweeting of messages allows you to get a large reach with only 140 characters.  You do need to make sure that you are offering valued content that is relevant to your audience.  Finally, there is YouTube.  This platform allows potential recruits to connect visually with your people, places, equipment and culture. To see how other industries use these social media platforms for recruiting, see this article on L’Oréal here and how Deloite uses it in a tight Dutch labour market here.

You are probably looking at this list and are saying – so what? How are these going to help me put drivers in seats?  The Society for Human Resource Management recently found that 84% of organizations use some form of social media to recruit.  This is because passive job candidates (ones who are not actively seeking to change jobs) use social media as a way to become open to new opportunities (see this TCI Business Capital article for more information).  There is not a lot of bus industry specific research, but these findings make a pretty strong case that they will work.

The new skills bus companies need within their walls are content creation and marketing.  Most companies think nothing of loading up on more admin people and would never think about hiring a graphic designer or social media expert on a full time basis. These companies will eventually this has a strategic flaw. Content creation and marketing is not making a job posting – it’s telling the company story visually and audibly – with consistency and honesty.  With social media traditional “push” messages just are not effective.  The point is to build relationships and give people a reason to interact with you.  Let your people create! Let them tell their story. Let your people create! Give them a reason to come back to you – just throwing up a “we’re hiring” post will only attract the people currently looking for a job – your ideal candidate is not currently looking.  If you engage them and get them to interact with all your social media platforms as well as your website, you start to gain mindshare with them.  They may not be currently looking to leave their current job but if you show them why you are better and provide them with interesting content that they come back for more you will start to have them begin to question why they are not driving for you.  Now you have an engaged candidate who will give you a much higher candidate to new hire ratio!  Recruiterbox.com offers this short article on using social media to hire.

Regardless of which platform(s) you use, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  1. Just like anything else, discipline is key. Make a structured publishing schedule – and stick to it!
  2. Make sure your people are trained on effective Social Media and Inbound Marketing. Udemy is a favorite with the inGauge team for learning new skills. There are currently 960 online courses on Social Media / Digital Marketing. Take one, take many! Get better!
  3. Find out what platforms your targets prefer and interact with them there. Sounds simple enough?
  4. Offer content that is valuable to your audience. Create items that not only bring people to your content but keep them coming back for more and participating in conversations with you.
  5. Do not just blast out job postings and nothing else. It may be a ‘check’ on a to-do list, but it won’t get you the people you need.
  6. Use the content to draw positive attention to your company. Monitor your media platforms for negative comments and engage those users (ignorance = acceptance).  Find out why they feel that way and offer an alternative point of view without trashing their point of view.  Ensure that responses are done in a timely fashion and aren’t just automated and canned responses.
  7. It’s all about mindshare – give drivers a reason to seek you out instead of the other way around. At the end of the day you will cut down on the tire kickers and retreads and get more applications from the kind of driver you want and who also wants to drive for you.
  8. Get scientific about lead capture and tracking. Ensure you have a mechanism to capture leads throughout your social media channels – targeted ads, and urls with ‘calls to action’. Further, once you capture those leads, you then need to nurture them over time (newsletters, micro quizzes, and follow requests are all great ways to keep you on their mind).
  9. Finally, like any other business strategy, you need to test and iterate. If something isn’t working, change it or stop doing it. Although this may sound like a ‘catchall’, it is the most important point listed here.

Where Do Leaders Go for Advice?

Effective leadership in business, politics, a family, or in any situation or organization is a critical success factor. I have seen, and been involved in many situations at many trucking companies, non-profit organizations, and community efforts that would not be suffering but for one missing element, effective leadership. Someone with dedication, vision, and a strong moral compass who walks the walk can fix almost any issue in any circumstance; I know this to be true!
 
Leadership used to be tied to that person being a role model but that idea is suffering badly in the public eye. I have been fortunate in my lifetime, along with many of you I’m sure, to be exposed either through teachings or first hand witness to many great leaders that were in the public purview. Folks like Tommy Douglas, father of the Canadian Health Care System, Winston Churchill and his heroic stand during World War 2, JFK and the unfolding of the civil rights movement, Terry Fox, Mike Hanson and the list goes on and on! These were and are great role models, and these were folks that knew the price of leadership whether they sought it out on purpose or it came to them as a result of a heroic effort, they rose to the occasion for all to see and stood proud.
 
Of course today’s scrutiny is much more of a micro lens than the macro lens of just a few decades ago, but even so when these folks were elevated to their pedestals by “we the public” it seemed that all we did was shine a light on what was already there. Their style and class was not contrived or manufactured, what we saw was nothing more that what already existed and it was class and it gave us all something to aspire to. The world seemed a better place because of the folks that were our role models of the day.
 
I’m confident that these same types of role models exist today and these same types of folks are walking in our midst as I write this piece. That Micro examination of today’s media though shows every freckle, wart, and hiccup that ever existed in ones past, and regardless of ones character you will be vetted in the public eye to that situation or circumstance. Let’s face it, who needs that type of scrutiny. Even if you were prepared to endure the focus on yourself, all of those around you will suffer the same level of scrutiny and should they have a skeleton in their closet, condemnation by association will be swift.
 
Where big business and the mainstream media direct their spotlight and whom they place on a pedestal these days is of course the youth of North America, the trendsetters, and the consumers. Look at what’s happened in just the past 3-5 decades, during that period our elders who were once upon a time invaluable advisors to our youth, have been transformed from role models, knowledge givers and resources of a life of experience they were willing to share, into a burden on society. The very infrastructure that they built for us to live in now is turning on them and blames them for the high cost of supporting them in their advanced years and the cost associated with health care and other social infrastructure. 
 
I am no conspiracy theorist but I believe what’s happened is that the mainstream media’s focus has lead us down a path that is directly pointed at the youthful consumer, and the advertising dollars that come with selling products and services,. In doing so, they have discounted our elders in today’s society. The focus today is on youth and future possibilities not accomplishments of the past and calling on that wisdom to offer opinion on today’s reality. 
 
Direction is given and taken from advertisers trying to solicit young consumers by portraying them as the chosen generation, the folks who will evermore carve our trek into the future, new is better, old is bad. It was just a few short decades ago that seeking advice from one’s elders was common practice, and always looked upon as a prudent thing to do. How often do you hear of that today, typically the elders among us are uninitiated in the world of technology, and are made to feel left out of the loop and disconnected from the rest of the world, discounted in their value as people! I think young leaders in our industry would be wise to consult and listen to the successful people before them who made our industry so successful.
 
Nothing takes the place of experience and common sense; it was explained to me this way by an acquaintance that has a PhD in education, he says that young people have what is referred to as liquid knowledge. Which is the knowledge that comes from studying a particular subject or learning as they move through a situation? Mature people have liquid knowledge and have crystal knowledge, which is the additional knowledge that comes from having worked through a particular subject or situation once or many times. It is additional knowledge that comes from experience, trial and error, getting better and better at something, minimizing the scares, bin there done that, know the drill!
 
So whom do you call on when you need advice whether you’re a Driver, an Owner, a Department Manager ? We all from time to time should have an experienced confidant to bounce things off of and to act as a sounding board. Those industry topics that keep bubbling to the top, despite some slight changes in appearance, are the same ones that those elders encountered 3-4 decades ago. A shortage of qualified drivers, fuel issues; congestion; government regulations; tolls and highway funding; tort reform and legal issues; truck driver training; environmental issues; etc. See anything new? I don’t, and remember “A wise man learns from the mistakes of others while fools learn from their own mistakes.

Getting Strategic about Social Media

With all the choices we have for social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, LinkedIn, etc. – how do you ensure that you are getting a good ROI, while reaching your target audience with a message that resonates with and influences them?

To start, do you have a social media strategy?  Likely you have a website and marketing materials that present a consistent brand image (and if they do not then that needs to be dealt with before you even get into social media).  That branding will guide you through your social media strategy.  The strategy needs to make sure that the content you provide aligns with your overall business and marketing goals.  Make sure that you create specific KPIs that measure against the business goals.  If you can’t connect a social media activity back to one of those metrics, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it (see this recent Forbes article).  For a short video of how to create a social media strategy, click here to see this video created by the Moz Academy.  For a more detailed discussion on social media measurement, please see this Social Media Examiner interview with Dave Fleet of Edelman

As part of the strategy, determine which audiences you want to reach (see this MavSocial article for some tips).  The recruiting of drivers will likely use a different platform than trying to generate leads for your sales force.  Determine what you want to do and then be on the online platforms that your target is spending time on.  As an example, to reach drivers you will probably want a Facebook presence but if you are trying to generate leads for your truckload van division LinkedIn may be a better place to focus on.

Keep in mind the age of your target.  This is also going to influence which platforms to use.  If you are focusing on Facebook to help drive your recruiting efforts you may not be reaching enough younger candidates as they don’t spend as much time on Facebook as they do on something like Instagram.  One additional note – if you are looking to engage millennials, take the time to talk with a few twentysomethings (or at a minimum use a consultant who is familiar with them) to determine which social media outlets they are using and expect to have to change those platforms on a regular basis (for more information see this MIT article here).   The Moz Academy has another short video on identifying social channels here.  Leading Results offers 3 platforms that have been shown to be effective for business-to-business marketing – click here.

Be prepared that how you perceive your image and how the public sees it may be two different things.  You need to go out and ask people how you are positioned.  Do not just sit around a table and think that you know how people see you unless you are actively having those conversations with your target audience.  Otherwise at best you may be putting out content that does not engage your audience and you get ignored.  However, you may be putting up things that alienate your audience and you end up harming your image.  If you want people to understand or position you in a different way, it is very hard to do if you only look at your business’ perspective.  Often you will get it wrong or it just won’t work.

Along this theme is the necessity to be yourself online.  One of the goals of social media involvement is to build trust with your audience.  If your posts just sound like generic pitches that have no context then it will not come across as authentic.  Develop a narrative that explains why you are different and where you want to go.  Consider things like what charities your business sponsors as a way of showing who you are.  Whatever you do, make sure that it ties back to your goals.  As an example, if you are targeting businesses in a large city like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, then posting that you support the local 4H club (even though it is a worthy cause that means a lot to the business) probably is not going to mean a lot to your audience on that specific platform.  Also, mix up your messaging.  If you overuse a similar message, then it will appear scripted and will detract from your trust building.  This Post Planner article by Ben Sailer can help you write better posts.

Remember that at first it is better to spend a lot of time on one or two platforms than spreading yourself out across many them.  Gaining an effective digital presence takes time.  Spend your time on platforms that are relevant to your strategy and spend time on them daily, especially as you are building your presence.  Having consistent and engaging content is the key here.  The use of some automated tools can be helpful but do not rely on them as your audience will quickly pick up on the fact that you really are not there.  In an ideal situation you will be adding content in the times that your audience is using these platforms.  Ensure that you have some sort of coverage to monitor and engage with comments and messages in real time or close to it.  Your window to engage with those users may be as short as a few minutes.  This is especially true of negative comments that people post.  Every second that you are not engaging and interacting with that user, other people are seeing that negative message that you are not responding to.  Negative comments are just an opportunity to have a conversation that ultimately should strengthen your brand.  Keep your responses respectful and remember that if one person felt strongly enough to make a complaint, there are likely many others who feel the same way but might be just keeping it to themselves and just not considering your business to fulfill their needs.  See this The Financial Brand article for some Dos and Don’t on responding to negative comments on social media.

Finally, social media is NOT the place where people go to be sold to.  Much of your time should be spent having conversations, showing what you are about and what your values are.  Just putting out sales pitches will cause your audience to lose attention to you.  It’s much better to be an influencer that puts you at the top of your audience’s mind space.  The key is to have a respectful and supportive two-way relationship with a genuine value exchange – very much like doing value proposition sales.  It’s all about building online relationships that can lead to face-to-face conversations that will get you to your goals (see this MIT Sloan Review article here).  It’s not going to happen overnight, and it will take a sustained effort so make sure that you do the upfront planning and align it with a strategy to ensure that your stakeholders get the maximum return on the time and money you invest in social media.

Take advantage of social media

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