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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingFebruary 14 - February 20, 2018

Hiring Drivers Can Be a Crapshoot

dreamstimemedium 12740982-300x260 ae117By Don Archer

Forgoing team sports and nights out on the town, a successful guitarist sacrifices as he practices day and night with a goal. Maybe it's to be on stage in front of thousands as the next Joe Satriani, or simply to play death metal with his buddies in the basement. He may have gravitated to the guitar because he's the shy, introverted sort, or it may be because he loves not being dependent on anyone else for his success.

Many who've landed in the towing business can relate to that last bit. Boot-strapped and self-reliant, towers must count on themselves to get things done. Alone on the roads they're completely responsible for their own success. Some days they make a good living and others they're happy to walk away with money for fuel.

Towers and guitarists both work alone—and all eyes are on them if they make a mistake.

But the reality is no one does it alone. The guitar player couldn't be successful without fans and some sort of support from friends and family (even if it is just room and board). If he's in a band he's going to need a venue, as well as lights and other band members.

Likewise, a tower can hardly get by without a dispatcher and a mechanic. He needs referrals, customers and friends at repair shops ... not to mention the sporadic schedule his family must endure.

A business has two options: grow or stagnate. Of course you're not going to do anything to harm what you've worked so hard to establish, so you take the plunge and decide to hire help.

The fear is getting the right help.

Every business owner has these fears, even your competition. More difficult than obtaining financing for trucks and facilities, hiring and retaining good employees is the biggest obstacle to growing a business.

It's a balancing act. You want employees who'll think on their feet and have the ability to rely on themselves. At the same time, you want someone who'll always do what you ask—someone who listens, trains themselves during lull periods, and cares about your business when you're not standing over them. Once in a blue moon, you'll stumble across a person who embodies all of these qualities. Unfortunately, many times this is the one who jumps ship.

When I interview for drivers I'm looking for someone with confidence. My applicants aren't required to have a background in the towing business (sometimes it's best if they don't), but they should be confident enough to tell me what they've done well in the past.

But know this: you can't judge a book by its cover, and the interview is where they shine. They're going to tell you what you want to hear—in order to GET THE JOB. Your job is to choose someone based on your needs.

Choosing the right person can be hard, but if it's any consolation there are no magic bullets. Hiring employees is akin to what Tom Hanks' character, Forest Gump, said in the movie of the same name: "You never know what you're going to get."

I've hired drivers who had experience, had a great personality (during the interview) and seemed to work out well. That is, until they believed their value to the company to be much greater than the reality. When an employee believes the business needs him more than he needs the job it's time for him to go.

While it may seem that sometimes the hiring process is a crap-shoot, it doesn't free you from the responsibility of conducting proper interviews, running background checks and calling references. Your job is to provide quality service to your customers, so you'll want to do the best that you can to hire and retain good people.

Once you're finished hiring, you have the job of determining who's going to work out and who's not. I've made mistakes here as well. I once trained a new-hire for more than a month. Keeping him on when it was obvious he wasn't getting it. I encouraged the other drivers to help him, asking that they provide continuous support, stuff that was outside the norm. In doing so I thought I would come out ahead. I thought, "With all the time and effort we've put in, we're bound to have a great guy on our team."

But the person did not step up, he came to expect the help in most every situation, and eventually I had to let him go.

It's hard to say exactly at what point you should stop training and cut your losses. And I wish I could tell you that you need to steer clear of certain personality types—but it's not that easy. Just know that if you want to grow you're going to have to hire employees. This requires change on your part. Your ego must take a back seat and you'll be required to compromise in areas you never thought you would.

(This article originally appeared in the April 8, 2015 edition of Tow Industry Week.)

American Towman Field Editor-Midwest Don G. Archer is also a multi-published author, educator and speaker helping others to build and start successful towing businesses around the country at Don and his wife, Brenda, formerly owned and operated Broadway Wrecker in Jefferson City, Mo. E-mail him direct at
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