Life on the road

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This survey gives us an inside look at our van operators and their motivations, likes and dislikes. They also know the country‘s interstates, restaurants, and rest stops better than anyone.” -Greg Hoover, president and chief operating officer, Atlas Van Lines, commenting on his company‘s annual “King of the Road” owner-operator survey


It‘s one of those fun highlights trucking reporters like me look forward to every year - the annual “King of the Road” survey conducted by Evansville, Ind.-based Atlas Van Lines, one of the largest moving and storage companies in the U.S. (and one turning 60 years old in 2008 - they must be doing something right!)


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[Greg Hoover, president and COO of Atlas Van Lines.]


Every year, Atlas polls over 550 of its contracted long-haul owner-operators - the men and women that drive household goods from one end of America to another. This isn‘t your typical freight job, oh no. These drivers must interact face-to-face with consumers: they are the ones not only driving a family‘s worldly possessions cross-country (racking up anywhere from 50,000 to 125,000 miles per year) they are packing them up and unloading them, too.


Talk about pressure! The best of the best, though, make it look all too easy. (Incidentally, this is what our Contributing Editor Tim Brady used to do for a living - and he‘ll be the first to tell you it‘s not a job just anyone can do, much less do well.)


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Anyways! What‘s great about Atlas‘ annual survey is that it not only collects some interesting data about the likes and dislikes of this select group of owner-operators (who KNEW Dunkin' Donuts coffee was that popular!) it‘s also simply a great opportunity for the company to make yet another personal connection with a very valuable - in fact almost irreplaceable - part of its operation.


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[Dunkin' Donuts coffee is the favorite of Atlas' owner-operator corps.]


They‘re irreplaceable simply because these folks work pretty dang hard to make a living. Nearly half of Atlas‘ van operators spend 31 or more weeks a year on the road and 14% drive more than 100,000 miles annually - and their hard work helped Atlas and its agents generate $943 million in revenues in 2007. Not too shabby, if you ask me.


To put time and energy into a survey like this, then publicize it as a way to salute the solid work these good folks perform day in and day out, is a great way to recognize how important owner-operators are to the moving business. Many carriers are doing unusual things like this nowadays for the same reason - to forge better relationships with the independents they rely on to get the job done. (Mercer Transportation‘s own “show truck” competition - created as both a recruiting and retention tool for its owner-operators - is a great example of this philosophy in action.)


So without further ado, let‘s see what‘s on the mind of Atlas‘ owner-operators this year - their likes and dislikes, observations from the road, favorite trucks and foods, etc.


Health & fitness concerns. More than half of respondents said the hardest part of their job is eating right, and more than one-fourth said exercising was the most difficult--that‘s an increase of 7% over last year. Subway--touted as a healthier fast food alternative--became the choice fast food restaurant in 2005 and has continued its commanding lead this year (favored by 28% of respondents) over second-place Wendy‘s (favored by 18%).

Life is good. More than 75% of Atlas‘ van operators are extremely or reasonably satisfied with their job, and 95% would recommend Atlas to friends or colleagues on the road. Nearly half said the best part of their job was meeting and working with people from across the country.

Highway views. The most scenic highway is considered I-70 (though 10% also said it‘s the most boring) while the vast majority of Atlas‘ owner-operators said I-10 is the most boring. Interestingly, I-10 is considered the safest highway, closely followed by I-80 and I-40.

Life on the road. Their favorite hotel chain is the Super 8 (41%), followed by Days Inn (24%), and Best Western (19%). The best rest stops are in Florida and the best truck stop chain is Petro Stopping Centers, according to these drivers.

Best coffee. Here‘s an interesting tidbit! Atlas‘ owner-operators consider Dunkin‘ Donuts to have the best coffee (35%), though Starbucks is a close second (30%), followed by McDonald‘s (17%).

Equipment. By far, these owner-operators the best over-the-road tractor brand is Kenworth Truck Co., with Bridgestone offering the best tires, and Shell Rotella the best engine oil.

Technology. Nearly 100% use a cell phone, 44% a CB [citizen's band] radio and 32% a computer while on the road. Half of the respondents access a computer at least several times a week. Nearly 60% use a computer for e-mail, and 63% use one for general Internet access.

Entertainment. Half of Atlas‘ owner-operators listen to satellite radio (60% have Sirius) and half listen to AM/FM stations; 9% listen to an iPod or MP3 player.


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Interesting stuff, as usual - and thanks for sharing! To all you owner-operators out there -- movers and freight haulers alike -- thanks for everything you do and stay safe out there. I‘ll also remember to make a special toast to you all next time I order a hot cup of java from Dunkin‘ Donuts, too!

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