“Technicians are the heartbeat of the dealership simply because service sells trucks in this business. You guys are where it’s at. You make us who we are.” –W.M. “Rusty” Rush, president and CEO of Rush Enterprises
It’s certainly something to spend two days watching 65 of some of the best truck technicians you’ll find anywhere in the business competing against each other (and the clock for that matter) to win big money and bragging rights.
But it’s even more impressive to watch how a competition like this has grown in size and scope over the last five years in the face of some of the toughest economic times anyone’s witnessed in recent memory.
Back in 2005, RTC began holding this yearly event inside the bays of the company’s Nashville dealership with a small budget of just $58,000. The 2010 contest, by comparison, represented $300,000 in cost to RTC (along with generous fiscal support from a bevy of sponsors like Eaton, Cummins,, and others), as it took place in a huge convention hall at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio – a cavernous space big enough to hold over 20 trucks with room to spare.
[You can watch some of the medium-duty finalists preparing for their crack at the top spot in the rodeo in this clip below.]
“It takes eight months of planning to put this rodeo together, as well,” noted Mike Besson (on the left in the photo below), vp-service operations for RTC. “But no one gave up on us, despite the recession – not our company and not our sponsors, who never backed away even in the tough times.”
The mission of this competition, however, still remains very simple: to recognize the value technicians provide within RTC, to help improve the training technicians receive, and to make them better technicians overall, which helps the company improve customer service.
Outside of the testing, all the competing techs attended a bevy of classrooms put on by the sponsors – from truck OEMs such as Hino to competent suppliers such as fifth wheel maker Jost International.
These were not merely “busy work” sessions either, and the techs didn’t treat them as such, because they recognized what they could glean from the engineers and experts from these companies could be priceless to them not only in their daily jobs but in future competitions as well.
[Here’s a group of heavy-duty technicians getting ready for their shot at the title.]
Take Jason Swann, for example; a veteran technician out of RTC’s Dallas location who’s been competing in the rodeo for all five years and is a two-time “grand champion” of the event as well.
Swann told me it’s hard to sleep the night before he competes; he gets nervous, despite his skill, and has watched many of his savvy compatriots undone by the pressure of it all. “There’s always a curve ball thrown in, too, so you need to be on your toes,” he explained.
It’s a competition also taken very seriously as there’s a lot of money at stake – cash as well as hourly raises (plus bragging rights; those are critical, too.)
Take this year’s winners for example: Alan Phillips won first place in the new refuse category, taking home $5,000 cash and $1 extra per hour raise, as did Matthew Pogue for his first place win in the medium-duty category.
The heavy-duty guys were spread out in three categories – Eaton, Cummins, and Caterpillar – and their scores in the semi-final round within those categories would be added to their score in the final round, determining the “grand champion” in the heavy duty class. That’s how Chris Zweiful (above, on theleft in the photo), who placed second in the semi-final round of the Caterpillar category (winning $4,000 and a $1 per hour raise), won top honors as the best “all around” heavy duty tech, garnering $5,000 and an extra 50 cent per hour.
The medium-duty division also selected a “grand champion” based on a similar adding of scores, and Matthew Pogue came out on top (on the left in the photo)– not only winning cash and extra money per hour, like Zweiful, but a fully paid vacation for him and his wife to the Grand Cayman islands too (as did Zweiful as well).
It may seem extreme, going to these lengths within a company to create a competition like this, but Rusty Rush said that the return on that investment is more than worth it. For starters, since they started the competition, turnover within RTC’s technician ranks has plummeted. Even more important, though, is that the level of service to the customer skyrocketed as well from his perspective.
“You can grow and be big in this business; but to grow and be the best is something very different,” W. M. "Rusty" Rush, president and CEO of Rush Enterprises, explained. “You guys do whatever it takes to take care of the customer and it’s the least we can do to show respect to the people that make it happen in our business. I’ve said it before and I will say it again; service sells trucks, the first time, every time. Service makes our reputation. That's why there are just not enough words to say 'thank you' for all you do for us.”