Are Truck Shows Good for your Driver Recruiting Budget?

Let’s pretend that you are about to read an informative and entertaining article from an “industry expert.” Hopefully you can glean something from this that you will find informative, but aside from spending 20+ years in this industry without causing any major fires, I’m hardly an expert. On anything. Let’s also pretend that you are the cutting-edge, business-savvy head of your trucking company’s Driver Recruiting Department, and you’ve recently made the decision that in order to compete in today’s driver recruiting market, you must follow the lead of our great politicians and get out and go to where the people are!

The companies who produce truck shows tell us that our people (the professional truck driver) congregate at their events, so we must pay them money to go shake hands, kiss babies, make promises, and hire professional truck drivers. The three major truck shows held every year are Louisville in the Spring, Walcott in the Summer and Dallas in the Fall. Once you decide which shows you’ll be attending, it’s time to start evaluating how to prepare.

CAN YOU AFFORD TO GO TO A TRUCK SHOW?

We’re not talking the overall cost to attend a truck show, but rather what can you expect to get once you’ve spent the money? Of course, you know, as the cutting-edge business-savvy head of Recruiting, that unlike the previously mentioned politicians, your attendance at one or all of these shows must be able to show a positive Return On Investment (ROI). You can measure your ROI in any number of ways, but you must measure it regardless, and I will promise you that the only return your boss cares about is how many hires their investment produced (they’re funny that way).

In ten years working in a Driver Recruiting Department, I registered for and attended one truck show, the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, during my tenure at a large Midwest-based carrier. As a career C-student, I was unable to manufacture numbers that provided an ROI for me to register and attend a second one, and I wanted to go back because there is a lot to learn, a lot of great networking opportunities, and of course, entire bars dedicated to bourbon. Here are some of the measurements and thought processes that need to be evaluated before making your own decision.

On a side note, ask me about the Log Cabin Giveaway story sometime. Now that I can laugh about it, it’s a great story to tell. Seriously, it’s a great story.

DRIVER LEADS vs. HIRES

When we went to Louisville, times were a little different in the trucking industry. We did not use the Internet, we did not have drip-marketing campaigns, and we didn’t even harvest lead information. A driver read your ad in the local newspaper and called you. If they qualified you talked to them; if they didn’t, you hung up and answered the next call. As a result of the times, the only measurement bosses cared about back then was hires. Period.

            Boss:   How was the truck show?

            DW:     It was awesome.

            Boss:   How many drivers did you hire?Truck Show Return on Investment

            DW:     We talked to a lot of drivers.

            Boss:   How many drivers did you hire?

            DW:     We’ll get a lot of traction with drivers from being there.

            Boss:   How many drivers did you hire?

            DW:     Well, none.

            Boss:   Then what was so awesome about it?

            DW:     Did I mention there are entire bars dedicated to bourbon?

            Boss:   Meet me in my office at 5:00 on Friday

The post-show discussion may not have gone exactly like that, but you get the picture. Times are a little different now, and smart and aggressive trucking companies are obtaining as many drivers leads through trucking-specific jobs boards, print ads, truck shows, etc. as they can get to use in their marketing campaigns.

If you are one of these smart and aggressive trucking companies who would measure ROI to include driver leads, and not just hires, you’re on your way to making the truck show expenses work.

WHAT ARE THE EXPENSES?

For sake of argument, let’s assume that you have a portable display to put in your rented booth space that is up-to-date and represents your trucking company’s culture and message. If not, even a small table-top display will cost you about $2,000.  Want a display that gets noticed in the sea of bright lights, flashy dresses and free pencils? Start at about $8,000. But again, YOU are ahead of the game and you’ve already got the display you need. 

Now, we need to get it there. And get you there. And get other staff there.  Let’s staff the booth with the bare minimum and send just you and your #1 Recruiter.  Round-trip airfare for two plus shipping for the booth will cost about $1,500 conservatively.

Hotels love the trucking shows so much that they double their rates for the week.  Expect to pay a steep rate. Two rooms for 3 nights will be about $1,000.

A mid-sized rental car will run you about $400 if you’re thrifty and can fill it with cheap gas when you’re done.

Meals?  Hey, you’re smart – you can get free meals from any one of the 100 Sales Reps that will be in your booth all day every day. Let’s call that FREE.

You’ve done your homework and placed yourself in the middle of “The Recruitment Center” with your 10 x 10 in-line booth space for $1,350.  Need chairs, a trash can, internet access, electricity, etc.?  They’re happy to rent it all to you.  Write down another $500 for incidental rentals.

If it’s your first trucking show, you’ll quickly realize that if you don’t have anything to give away, nobody wants to talk to you.  Go cheap and get some pencils, pens, pads with your logo on them. You can probably get all that (and ship it to the show) for another $500.

It’s already starting to add up, and we haven’t delved into the more minuscule details yet.  Bottom line, representing your trucking company at a truck show is a very expensive investment.

DO SOME COST COMPARISONS.

I’ve spent the last 20 years on the other side of the Driver Recruiting fence with CDLjobs.com and I can, at risk of losing my cool advertising guy image, tell you that these truck shows are fantastic for us Media-types.  YOU pay the air-fare, hotel, meals, etc. and WE have you cornered in a 10 x 10 space to pitch our services…...isn’t that GREAT?  Yeah, not so much for you, unless I happen to be the rep in your booth. I’m charming.

But I digress.  Add up all your costs and now figure out how many qualified leads you will need to generate to make this trip worthwhile to your boss. 

Maybe you can make the numbers work, but would that money be better spent elsewhere?

Using hypothetical numbers, let’s say that your Cost Per Lead is $5.00. We have established that it will cost right around $7,500 to attend a truck show, depending on how ready your organization already is. Simple math (check it, remember that I am a career C-student), tells us that you’ll need to get 1,500 driver leads during that truck show to keep pace with what your current advertising is providing.

Is that feasible? If you’re going to expand one month’s budget by $7,500+, would it be better spent on proven driver recruitment advertising, including my personal favorite…a bigger presence advertising your trucking company on CDLjobs.com? These are the questions that you and your team need to answer before making your own decisions about truck show attendance.

Make it a great day and keep on trucking!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darin Williams is President of CDLjobs.com, a trucking jobs board designed to help truckers find employment.  He launched the website in 1999 after spending eight years in several different capacities with Heartland Express, a trucking company based in North Liberty, Iowa.  Darin has been a speaker and panelist at several Driver Recruiting conferences over the years and enjoys taking a hands-on approach with clients.  In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife Katie, visiting and following their children, Nick (Arizona State University) and Tyson (Cornell College).

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