The 800lb economic gorilla: insights from the 2024 Best Fleets to Drive For

Published on February 26, 2024

Over the past 16 years of the competition, the Best Fleets to Drive For has had a front-row seat for everything the industry has gone through—the highs when the economy was booming, the whipsaw effects of the COVID years and the strains of the driver shortage. This year, we got to see how fleets navigated the choppy waters of the freight recession. Although it was a tough year all around, we ended up gaining some very interesting insights into how companies were managing it.

In the 2024 edition, we had 117 nominees, with 67 becoming Finalists and advancing to the scoring round. All of the Hall of Fame recipients from last year requalified for this year, and our Top 20 winners were a mix of previous recipients and brand-new faces. Here are a few things we found between the interviews and analyses we conducted as well as the over 5000 driver surveys collected.

The 800lb gorilla

Normally, “the elephant in the room” is something that’s obvious, but no one is talking about. The 800lb gorilla, on the other hand, is the issue that pounds on everything in its path, and there’s nothing you can do about it (and everyone is talking about it). This year, that gorilla was the freight recession. But did it affect everyone equally? While we’ll be getting into more detail about how the Best Fleets handled the economic headwinds in our next post, here is one surprising result—not everyone had a hard time. Some companies were struggling to keep the lights on, but others were not only holding steady, they were actually expanding. Now, a lot of factors went into those differing outcomes, but among our Best Fleets, leveraging communication emerged as a consistent theme.

Communicate and connect

It doesn’t seem like there would be much to talk about when the economy is pounding on your door. But quite a few Best Fleets saw an opportunity to strengthen their position just by getting more actively involved in communicating with their drivers (and you’ll note that that doesn’t cost a lot). So, what were they talking about?

  1. Straight talk
    Even if there isn’t much else to talk about other than the freight recession, that alone can pay off. This year, a lot of the Best Fleets were having honest conversations about the state of the business and the economy, so that drivers could better understand the decisions that were being made.
  2. Straight listening
    Among the finalists, many were also spending more time figuring out how to communicate important information to their drivers and include driver feedback in their decision-making. An increasing number of fleets were using driver liaisons or advisory boards, or some other way of communicating through driver representatives. And did it work? According to the driver survey results, 85.4% of drivers agreed that their company cares about driver opinions on topics that directly affect them.

What’s more, there was something common to these and other approaches that Best Fleets were taking this year—they focused on high-impact, low-cost investments. We’ll be talking about that in even more detail in the months to come.

Driver Satisfaction

With everything else that was going on this year, what were drivers saying about their companies? Interestingly, the big story here is that… there wasn’t a big change! The issues that came up for drivers (in both the positive and the negative columns) remained largely consistent from last year.

But drivers were most positive about:

What’s new with Best Fleets?

There are a few exciting changes to note this year, the first of which is our brand-new Education and Awards Conference. Every year we honor our overall winners, Top 20, and Hall of Famers up on stage, but this year we’re also putting in something special: a series of education sessions where we’ll tell you all of the insights, secrets and best practices that came out of the data this year. We also wanted to make sure that where we held the event reflected the excellence we’ll be discussing, which is why we’re inviting you to join us at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina on April 8 and 9, 2024.

And let’s hope this year’s freight market won’t be so bananas.