Left to right: Laura Hulback, fleet services manager; Kate Reitzel, fleet administrator; and Jeremy Sayther, senior logistics manager. Photo courtesy of Valspar.

Left to right: Laura Hulback, fleet services manager; Kate Reitzel, fleet administrator; and Jeremy Sayther, senior logistics manager. Photo courtesy of Valspar. 

In 2010, the Valspar Corporation started seeing an increase in crashes in one of its business units. With the company’s focus on safety, it took quick action to address the issue. As a first step, it put together a team to reverse the trend. With representatives from fleet, human resources, legal, drivers from different business units, and Valspar’s fleet management company, the company created the Driver Performance Program. Since that time, several safety initiatives have ensued.

Safety isn’t the only significant change for the fleet over the last few years. With a revised sourcing strategy and the addition of medium-duty trucks to its lineup, the fleet has emerged from change victorious.

Assessing Driver Performance

Using a points system, the Driver Performance Program determines if Valspar employees pose a safety risk while driving a company vehicle.

Points are assessed for motor vehicle record (MVR) violations and automobile crashes incurred by fleet drivers. All moving violations are included in the point assessment regardless of whether they occurred while driving a personal vehicle or fleet vehicle. As points accumulate over a 36-month period, the driver’s risk profile increases, and Valspar takes measures to address the unsafe driving behavior. Category ranges are clear meaning no violations or crashes, low (1-5 points), medium (6-10 points), high (11-15 points) and extreme (16-plus points).

At a Glance

Through developing a Driver Performance Program, the Valspar Corporation Fleet:

  • Reduced the number of drivers with points on their records by eight percent.
  • Decreased preventable crashes by a high single-digit percentage.
  • Increased overall fleet mpg by four.

The disciplinary measures associated with the “high” and “extreme” categories may lead to loss of company car privileges for one year or, for employees that demonstrate severe and/or repeated unsafe driving practices, termination.

“We reviewed each moving violation type and weighted the points depending on what level of risk they put our driver and the company in,” said Laura Hulback, Valspar fleet services manager. “The program provides an objective and consistent method to identify driver risk and address behind-the-wheel behaviors that could lead to accidents and other safety issues.”

For example, depending on severity, speeding violations can range from one to nine points. Failure to obey a traffic device nets a driver nine points. More severe infractions, such as driving under the influence, reckless driving, and other serious violations, are weighted with 15 points and automatically place a driver in the high-risk level.

In addition to determining a score for each violation, Valspar also implemented a system to communicate these scores to drivers.

“When we receive the MVR results, we notify drivers through an e-mail if they are in the clear, low, or medium risk levels. For those that fall into the high and extreme risk levels, we review the specific violation and crash points with the employee’s direct manager, legal, and human resources,” Hulback explained. “If the driver will lose their company car privileges for one year, fleet drafts a communication that is sent to the driver that notifies them of the date this will take place and the stipulations around the year that they are removed from the fleet program.”

If a driver loses his or her company car privileges for any reason, the costs to the individual can add up — and the benefits of safely operating a company car become clear. Without a company car, the driver has to rely on his or her personal vehicle for Valspar business matters. That means the driver is responsible for all operating costs of the vehicle, including, but not limited to, vehicle payments, fuel, insurance, maintenance, and more — Valspar does not reimburse these costs during the one-year disciplinary period. At the same time, these drivers remain part of the Driver Performance Program, and are still assessed points for any infraction that occurs during the one-year disciplinary period.

The program also addresses driver’s license validity. “Every operator of a company vehicle is responsible for having a valid driver’s license for their state of residence. A driver will immediately lose his or her company car privileges, irrespective of the driver’s current risk level, if his or her driving rights are revoked or suspended in any state for any reason,” Hulback said. “Company car privileges may be restored once the driver provides proof that his or her license has been reinstated.”

In the four years since its implementation, the Driver Performance Program has proven to be successful. Before the program was piloted in 2011, 36 percent of fleet drivers had points on their records; two percent of those were in the high or extreme risk levels. As of today, the number of drivers with points on their records has been reduced by eight percent, down to 28 percent of the fleet. Among those, less than a half-percent have scores in the high or extreme categories.

“The safety of our drivers is top priority, and we are continuously investigating new ways to keep safety fresh in their minds,” noted Kate Reitzel, Valspar fleet administrator. “The creation and implementation of our Driver Performance Program was one of the most significant changes our fleet made in regards to safety.”

Training Keeps Safety Top of Mind

Beyond monitoring MVRs, Valspar also administers quarterly training modules to keep safety top of mind for drivers. Each quarter, the fleet team reviews the fleet’s most common crash types, then chooses modules based on that data or on another timely topic. For instance, in April, the training module coincided with Distracted Driver Awareness Month, and required drivers to complete a module called “Deadly Distractions.”

Quarterly training is just one of several communications that keep drivers focused on safety. A monthly newsletter reports the company’s current crash ratio and number of crashes by business group, with a year-over-year comparison, along with safety topics and tips. The newsletter also highlights one driver per month, acknowledging how many years the driver has been crash-free, approximately how many miles he or she has driven during their tenure with Valspar, and what business unit they work with.

“Safety is Valspar’s No. 1 global objective,” said Jeremy Sayther, Valspar senior logistics manager. “All employees regardless of job function participate in weekly safety ‘huddles’ on any imaginable safety topic. Valspar has a corporate safety council that meets monthly to make sure that all safety procedures are being followed and that every Valspar employee goes home at the end of the day.”

Hulback said the fleet has seen significant improvements as a result of these efforts. “Focusing on training modules quarterly rather than annually I believe has made an impact on our driver’s behavior,” she said. “As our fleet has grown by nearly 50 percent since 2012, our preventable crashes have decreased in the high single digits since rolling out our driver performance program and implementing quarterly training. Our fiscal year-to-date crash ratio is lower than the industry standard. With our drivers averaging over 25,000 business miles annually, they are exposed to all different types of driving conditions. Anytime they apply something that they have learned from a training module or a tip from a newsletter we’ve provided, it reaffirms Valspar’s continued focus on safety.”

Rewarding Drivers for Safe Driving Behavior

Valspar’s latest safety initiative aims to change driver behavior through “gamification, which was introduced by its fleet management firm, Wheels, Inc.” Now in its second pilot phase, “ChangeDriver” measures key behaviors with scoring, influences behaviors with education, and rewards drivers. Drivers are organized into teams and earn points by driving and managing their vehicles according to their driving policy.

Each competition lasts 45 days and is organized around a specific theme, with quizzes, tips, and pledges focused on a single topic. Based on fleet data collected by Valspar’s fleet management company, drivers earn points; as they do so, they collect badges and are ranked. At the end of the competition, a winning team and winning drivers are announced.

“The overall view of the program is very positive and is making an impact on the drivers; they are bought in, and are learning and competing with each other at a very high rate, stating that the competition-style format has made it more fun,” Hulback said. “The quizzes are short enough to be quick, but include good information.”

Making a Change in Manufacturers

Another significant change for Valspar over the last few years has been the company’s transition from sourcing vehicles from an American manufacturer to a foreign one. For years, the company conducted an annual bidding process that focused only on American manufacturers. But, when a Rapid Action Team was asked to find a way to increase miles per gallon by one mpg per year, while also reducing the company’s carbon footprint, the scope of its analysis broadened to include all manufacturers.

As a result, Valspar has now sourced vehicles from the new manufacturer for the last two bidding cycles and has yielded an excellent outcome: mpg has increased by four. However, Valspar continues to conduct annual analyses of all fleet-friendly manufacturers to ensure the company evaluates all prospects fairly and takes the most current information into consideration.

While mpg increased quickly and dramatically, Hulback said changing the culture took a little longer.

“With 900 drivers, each typically has a manufacturer that they favor, so you will never be able to satisfy everyone’s wishes,” she said. “I think it’s important to review your options and compare the cost; however, you also have to take your company’s culture into consideration along with driver safety. For Valspar it was a big change from what the norm was for years; however, being that we are a global company that continues to grow not only in the United States but across the world made an impact on how this change was perceived.”

Adding Medium-Duty Trucks to the Fleet

In addition to incorporating new makes and models of vehicles into its fleet, Valspar has also incorporated a new class of vehicles: medium-duty trucks.

Valspar operates roughly 850 vehicles across the U.S. and Canada. Of these, 80 percent are sedans driven by the company’s sales force. Another 10 percent are light-duty trucks and vans used for deliveries and by technical service representatives. The remaining 10 percent are new to the fleet in the last few years: medium-duty trucks, which serve as mobile paint stores.

Adding a new vehicle size and type to the fleet presented challenges. Because of their weight, the trucks fall under Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, requiring a higher level of fleet management than the company’s sedans and light-duty trucks.

“Having to comply with the Department of Transportation requirements opened an entire new world to our fleet,” Hulback said.

Adding a new vehicle type and size meant additional paperwork and compliance complexities, including employees’ initial driver qualification file paperwork, tracking annual reviews and hours of service, daily vehicle inspections, and more.

Developing & Initiating Field Changes

Initially, Valspar hired a third party to assist in getting driver qualification files compliant; after about a year, though, the company brought the function back in house, hiring Jeri Connolly as Health, Safety and Environmental manager. Connolly also has a background in DOT management.

“For the drivers of the large box trucks, we have to ensure their driver qualification file is compliant, and follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration guidelines,” Connolly explained. “We also require different training, as this vehicle type is more complex, larger in size, and has a greater payload.”

To ensure the trucks themselves met DOT regulations, Hulback worked closely with the company’s internal team and fleet management company to make certain they accurately captured annual inspections and proper maintenance on both the trucks and their specialized components.

“We were learning the complexities of the trucks themselves, as well as what we needed for drivers to be fully compliant and be able to drive the trucks and grow the business,” Hulback explained. “We worked closely with the management team, drivers, and our fleet management company to begin to have the ability to work through some of the challenges.”

Maintenance was another new challenge for this new class of vehicles.

“The network of shops that will work on a medium-duty box truck is quite smaller than what we were used to with our sedan and light-duty truck maintenance,” Hulback noted. “The specialty equipment requires different types of shops to work on the generators and other specialized internal equipment. As you can imagine, the downtime is critical on these trucks.”

Fortunately, Valspar’s fleet management company helped to build a network of shops with the right capabilities to manage the specialized trucks. The company is also currently working with the various sites to schedule preventive maintenance on both the truck and its components during each site’s slow season.
In addition to finding the right shops to service medium-duty units, Hulback and team also customized preventive maintenance schedules to prolong the life of the trucks.

Although Hulback and the team had to learn quickly as the medium-duty fleet grew rapidly, she said it was a positive experience.

“The process has certainly had its challenges and we have had to work through some hurdles as we learned the truck complexities along with the division’s quick growth. That being said, adding this piece to our fleet has been a great learning opportunity,” she said. “The fleet world is consistently changing with new requirements and regulations, which is why I enjoy this career. When we have the opportunity to challenge ourselves and expand our knowledge of this industry, I think it can only be a positive reflection after it’s all complete.”

More Changes Ahead

With the announcement that Valspar acquired the performance coatings business from Quest Specialty Chemicals, it appears more change is on the way for the company’s fleet. Hulback looks forward to these continued learning opportunities for her team. “With this acquisition our fleet will expand, giving my team the opportunity to perfect our acquisition and new driver onboarding process,” she said.

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