And the winner is …

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I don’t do anything different than anyone else does. I just work it hard.” –Jason Swann, technician from Rush Truck Center Dallas, TX, the Grand Champion of Rush’s 2008 technician skills rodeo

It’s been a packed few days here in Nashville, TN, watching 54 technicians competing in Rush Enterprises’ 3rd annual technician skills rodeo get whittled down to 12 finalists and then down to one Grand Champion.

[Below you can see some of the finalists as they begin their final round. Apologies to Randy Hughes of Texarkana – he’s NOT a first timer at this competition; that’s my error. He’s competed before in this rodeo in several divisions.]

It comes as no surprise to many here that the Grand Champion is a repeat winner from the contest’s inaugural year – Jason Swann, out of Rush’s Dallas, TX, location. A veteran technician, Jason won second place in the Eaton division to qualify for the final round, and then beat the 11 other finalists for the top prize as the top “all-around” technician.

[Plainspoken and humble, you can see Jason’s reaction to his win below – as well as some thoughtful comments from Rusty Rush, president and CEO, and Marvin Rush, chairman, as to why technicians are so critical to the success of Rush Enterprises …]

Both Rusty Rush and Marvin Rush believe this contest is one of the best things their company has ever done in terms of demonstrating the important role technicians play in the trucking business – as well as helping their company hold on to as many of them as possible.

“The proof is in the turnover numbers,” Rusty Rush explained in a roundtable interview with reporters here. “Six years ago our turnover was as a high as 70% to 80%. A technician would leave over a 50 cent per hour raise. Today, turnover is down around 20% to 30% -- one of the benefits, we believe, to putting on this rodeo every year.”

Good technicians are hard to find and retain in this business, noted Marvin Rush, but something else is true as well: Good people get to be loyal people and stay with you if you treat them right.

[Jason Swann, center, receives his Grand Champion award from Marvin Rush (left) and Rusty Rush (right).]

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“We should have done this 20 years ago; it’s pretty much a no brainer,” Marvin said. “In two years, we’ve doubled the number of our technicians participating in this rodeo. It’s feeding on itself – that’s what we want it to do.”

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It also drives Rush Enterprises corps of 700 technicians to keep improving on their knowledge base and skills, Rusty added. “It takes commitment on their part to prepare for this,” he explained. “On average, they spend a minimum of 100 hours a year of their own personal time studying just to get ready for this competition alone.”

The reason for the laser-like focus on technicians, though, is twofold, he notes. “The first is that trucks don’t sell service – service sells trucks. Brands don’t make a difference; service does, and if you can’t service the customer, you don’t have a customer,” Rusty noted.

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The second is that today, more of a dealers gross profit comes from the technicians – not the truck sales department. “The average technician makes $65,000 to $70,000 a year, but pulls in $200,000 to $250,000 in gross profit per year,” Rusty said. “That’s another reason we’re making a concerted effort to raise their status in our organization and our industry.”

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