Inside the Numbers

Avery Untitled 1Using Tax Dollars To Find Good Customer

In July, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration identified 21,808 motor carriers across the country that had problems with vehicle maintenance that were significant enough to warrant some type of intervention by the agency as part of its new Compliance Safety Accountability program.

These are carriers that likely need some significant help with their maintenance program, both now and in the future.

They probably have lots of worn out parts and maybe an under-resourced shop or no shop at all. In other words, they are potentially very good customers.

You probably are thinking something like, “OK, that’s interesting, but if I don’t know who these fleets are, it doesn’t help me much.” Indeed, on its own, the information above isn’t very helpful. But there’s more. The tools you need to find these carriers are sitting on a free government website.

You probably are at least aware of FMCSA’s CSA program from your customers and certainly from the February 2011 cover story in Truck Parts & Service.

FMCSA designed the initiative to make it easier to identify specific problem areas in a motor carrier’s safety program. So FMCSA slices and dices the data into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, or BASICs. The BASIC most relevant to you is vehicle maintenance.

CSA relies on FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System, which is the data analysis matrix that determines which carriers the agency will target for unsafe driving, fatigued driving, vehicle maintenance problems and so on. If you are curious, you will find more on SMS at

http://www.ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/SMS.

The action really begins, however, when you drill into the SMS database. At http://www.ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/SMS/Data/Search.aspx you will find a Carrier Search page with tabs for Search and Advanced Search.

You could use the Search page to check the status of individual customers one at a time, but that would be very cumbersome.

The so-called “golden triangle” could be golden opportunities for your company.

Clicking on the Advanced Search button unleashes a much more powerful tool. For example, you can search carriers in your state that have been flagged for scrutiny on maintenance, a condition that is signified on the website by a golden triangle with an exclamation point inside.

This search alone is quite valuable as it tells you not only the state but also the city and county where the carrier is based, and the carrier’s size in power units.

And you can click on each carrier’s USDOT number and drill down to find detailed problems, such as inoperable lamps, cracked hoses, insufficient brake linings, brakes out of adjustment, worn steering system components,tire problems, etc.

There’s one significant limitation to this search, however; it returns only 100 carriers. Depending on your location, that could very well only scratch the surface of your potential customer base.

There are solutions, however. One is to just download the data yourself and craft it into a usable database. You can do this at http://www.ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms/Data/Downloads.aspx, where you will find two zipped files you can download.

One is the Motor Carrier SMS Results, which contains performance data by USDOT number for each of the five public BASICs. The other file is the Motor Carrier Census Information, which provides the names, addresses, phone numbers and fleet size.

Turning these two files into a usable database each month requires some skills with Excel or Access, but it’s not rocket science. However, at the risk of throwing in a self-serving plug for my company, Randall-Reilly’s Rig Dig Business Intelligence can provide all of this information and much more on an ongoing basis and is tailored to your needs without any need for computer skills or resources. Contact http://www.sales@rigdig.com if you are interested.

Regardless of how you obtain the vehicle maintenance information generated by CSA, it would be a shame to ignore such a powerful source of sales leads.

Avery Vise is executive director, trucking research and analysis for Randall-Reilly Business Media and Information.

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