“What we really sell is a service, and it takes people to make sure it’s of the highest quality and efficiency, and it’s cost effective,” says Randy Hall, maintenance support manager at AAA Cooper Transportation. “My role is to stay on top of shop needs and to support our maintenance personnel so our work always contributes to the company’s success.”
AAA Cooper Transportation, a privately held, asset-based transportation solutions provider and one of the largest less-than-truckload carriers in the U.S., maintains a company fleet of 2,600 tractors and 6,000 trailers at 73 facilities in 21 states. The company’s maintenance organization has more than 225 technicians, shop supervisors and managers at 44 service locations.
Based at AAA Cooper’s headquarters shop facility in Dothan, Ala., Hall sits at the crossroads of an extensive service operation. What also comes across his desk is the company’s combined approach for managing maintenance, purchasing and safety.
“My success stems in some part from what I’ve learned in the 31 years I’ve worked at AAA Cooper,” Hall says. “I started working here when I graduated from high school. My first job was in the wash bay, and then as I learned new skills I worked in the tire shop, as a mechanic and as a shop supervisor. Eventually, I spent five years in purchasing before taking on my current role seven years ago.
“That wide range of experience has also helped me contribute within the organizational structure we have in place today,” Hall continues. “Bringing together functions of our fleet operation is an advantage to the company because it drives a full understanding of the impact all areas have on each other.”
One of those areas is maintenance for the AAA Cooper fleet, which consists mainly of Volvo tractors and Great Dane and Vanguard trailers. “With a standardized fleet we can lower our costs for parts,” Hall says. “Operating one make of tractor means our technicians are familiar with the OEM’s products so our labor costs are also lower.
“Running an effective, efficient and productive shop starts with planning and scheduling,” Hall continues. “We take a daily, weekly and monthly approach based on forecast reports that tell us what equipment is due for service, where it’s located and the volume of work in the shop. That way we can set and monitor workflow by asset, parts and labor needs, availability, and projected downtime.
“Much of that information is generated by the AssetWorks fleet maintenance management software we’ve been using for the past 15 years,” Hall adds. “The system also gives us data for monitoring and addressing repair failures that might happen. We use it to look at each job process, technician and part to find areas for improvement. It’s about getting things fixed correctly the first time and what can we learn that will help us in next day, month or year.”
Hall also gets involved when a breakdown occurs to facilitate a repair process that limits downtime. He sees those events as opportunities to gather information for decisions about technician training, parts, maintenance programs and processes, and ultimately about equipment specifications.
“When a breakdown occurs, our first focus is on finding the best avenue and most cost-efficient repair option,” Hall explains, “and that’s often a collective effort. For example, if a truck breaks down, shop, operations and terminal managers all get involved immediately to address the problem. At the same time, we’re looking at the mileage on the unit, its projected remaining service life in our fleet, the parts that failed and the reason it happened, and we’re researching costs for various options.”
Those options can include the network of outside service providers that AAA Cooper uses for some repairs. “One of the reasons we’re successful is our vendor support,” Hall says. “We’ve built many relationships over the years with companies that have become partners, not just suppliers of maintenance and repair services. Many of them are also based on local relationships.
“We routinely review the performance of all our suppliers, but we don’t change providers easily,” Hall continues. “Once we have a supplier who understands that it’s not just about price, but about quality and performance, we tend to work with them for the long run.”
To track service provider activity, Hall turns to the fleet’s maintenance management software. The data allows him to compare in-house and outsourced parts and labor costs and to evaluate downtime for service and repairs so more informed decisions can lead to higher levels of asset utilization.
“We also track everything so we can find similar issues across our operation,” Hall adds. “That’s important because AAA Cooper operates tractors for long service lifecycles. We even have some units that are approaching two million miles.”
When AAA Cooper is evaluating vehicle specifications and shop technologies, Hall relies on his experience in maintenance and purchasing. “We’re always testing products and we’re very open minded about trying new things to see how they will perform from a maintenance standpoint,” he explains. “Our door is always open for companies that want to share their technology and ideas.
Before any new technologies are adopted at AAA Cooper, Hall helps oversee comprehensive evaluations, including an analysis of expected lower maintenance costs. “We take part in testing new technology, even prototypes, to help us understand from a maintenance perspective whether or not we should make a change,” he says.
“We’re also using maintenance and repair information to work with suppliers to provide training for our technicians,” Hall continues. “For example, newer vehicles have required the use of advanced diagnostic tools like the Volvo Premium Tech Tool diagnostic application to test, calibrate and program engine parameters and the OEM’s Truck Diagnostic System software solution for diagnosis and maintenance. In those cases and others we rely on suppliers to provide training on those systems.”
Another part of Hall’s role at AAA Cooper is in recruiting and retention efforts for technicians. “Like many trucking companies today, it is challenging for us to find technicians,” he says. “One thing that has worked in our operation is to connect with schools to recruit new technicians. We also train people internally by having them work alongside our veterans, and we have programs that provide opportunities for technicians to move into higher paying jobs.”
For his own development and successful career at AAA Cooper, Hall credits the fleet executives and managers he’s worked with over years. “I’ve learned from every one of them,” he says. “They have all planted seeds for me to grow.”
Hall also participates regularly in the Leadership Development Institute, which provides training materials and holds seminars on management topics such as handling conflict, trust, integrity, organizational skills and understanding others. “Being able to take the steps these courses teach and share them with our people helps all of us develop,” he states.
“Leadership is a team effort,” Hall adds, “and it requires both an open mind and a willingness to treat others fairly. If you have blinders on and keep your door closed, you’ll never grow personally or professionally.”