With the local weather teams predicting the coldest day in recorded history in Chicago, it seemed like a great time to go to Charlotte. Sleet and snow were falling as I slowly made my way to the airport for an early morning flight. I checked my phone repeatedly for alerts that my flight was cancelled or delayed, but it still showed an on-time departure. Much to my surprise and relief, the plane took off with a minimal delay and I landed a short time later in Charlotte.
My first stop was McMahon Truck Leasing, a NationaLease Member, where I met with Mike McMahon, Rob Goble, and John Kunkel. We discussed our supply management programs, as well as our upcoming Spring Business Meeting in conjunction with TRALA. They also shared some of the challenges and opportunities their business is currently facing. With today’s fast pace of change, there is always something new to consider, from the new technology on the trucks themselves, to the way technology enables us to do business differently. It was great to talk to the team at McMahon and get their take on what is happening today, and what they are looking toward in the very near future.
It is just a short drive from McMahon to Advantage Truck Leasing, a NationaLease Member, so I quickly arrived to meet with Ken Adkins, Russ Edwards, and Frank Rich. In addition to reviewing supply management programs, we also discussed the NationaLease Emergency Service app. It is a free app that is available on both Android and Apple for all our members and customers. It allows the user to find the nearest NationaLease Service Location, and even has one-touch dialing and one-touch GPS directions to the location. With over 900 locations in our network, it is a great tool to help trucks get quick and efficient service over the road.
Leaving Charlotte, my drive was a bit longer, as I was heading to Winston-Salem. I arrived around dinnertime, and after checking into my hotel, I looked for a good restaurant in the area. Just a few blocks away, I found Village Tavern. The parking lot was packed, which was a very good sign for a Monday night. It was so busy, in fact, that there was over an hour wait for a table. There were open seats at the bar, so I took one of those and joined a few other business travelers doing the same. The menu looked great, but the one thing that caught my eye was the Fried Oyster appetizer. With the addition of a Wedge Salad, it made the perfect meal, and a great finish to a long day.
The next morning, I met with Tom Teague, Ken Teague, Dennis Giff, and Doug Chase at Salem NationaLease. They shared with me some of the challenges and opportunities they are facing, as well as some of the creative solutions they are providing for their customers. I am always so impressed when I hear about the kind of service our members provide to their customers. The personal touch, and the genuine care and concern for the customer and their business is so uncommon in today’s hectic world. It is no wonder that our members have customer relationships that date back not years, but decades. We also talked about the NationaLease Reciprocal Service system. It is truly the foundation of NationaLease, as it was the concept that the association was founded on 75 years ago. To this day, NationaLease’s customers rely on our system to keep them going from coast to coast.
From Winston-Salem, I drove out into the rolling hills toward North Wilkesboro, NC. Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and adjacent to the Yadkin River, North Wilkesboro has many stunning views along its winding roads. I was there to see Charles and Steve Ellis at Fleet Master, Inc., a NationaLease Member. As I often do, I shared greetings from the other members I had visited, and we had a chance to reminisce about NationaLease meetings and events that happened long before I was part of NationaLease. Not surprisingly, the relationships between our members go back as far as their relationships with customers. As we celebrate our 75th Anniversary this year, we have had fun viewing old photos out of the archives and seeing some of our members attending events together in their younger days. I had a hotel booked for the night in nearby Hickory, NC, and I was delighted to find that it was walking distance from a couple of restaurants. After a long day, I was happy to be able to walk to the nearest one, have a tasty dish of Chicken Marsala, and turn in early.
Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, I drove to Claremont, NC, where I met with Danny Abernathy of Catawba Rental Company, Inc., a NationaLease Member. Their facility is just down the street from the Rock Barn Country Club. Named after an early 1800’s barn that still stands on the property, Rock Barn is now a golfing community with a spa, inn, restaurants, and two championship courses that have hosted several PGA senior tournaments. Danny and I stopped in for breakfast and chatted about some of the NationaLease programs, as well as the upcoming Spring Business Meeting that will take place in Orlando on April 8-10. I was delighted when Danny’s wife, Randyl, stopped by for a few minutes and shared stories about some of the past NationaLease meetings, as well.
As I headed back to Charlotte to fly home to Chicago, I called the office to check in. The cold weather in Chicago had been making national news for days, but I didn’t realize just how frigid it was until I talked to the team. Schools were closed, pipes were bursting, and cars refused to start. The so-called “polar vortex” was taking a toll on even characteristically hearty Chicagoans. I mentally prepared for what I was going to face once I reached Chicago, as I was presently not even wearing a jacket. Before I even made it to the airport, I got a notice from the airline that my flight was cancelled. I quickly found out that not only was my flight cancelled, but nearly every flight into Chicago was cancelled, as the -20 degree Fahrenheit temps and nearly -50 degree windchills were making it too dangerous for the airport ground crews to work outside. My only available option was, somewhat inexplicably, a connection through Pittsburgh. After spending the afternoon in the Charlotte airport, I boarded my flight, and miraculously made it through Pittsburgh to Chicago just a few hours later than planned. I pulled every available piece of clothing out of my suitcase and piled it on just to make the short walk to my car.
In the days following, I heard many stories of how our members helped each other and their customers throughout Chicago and other areas hit hard by the polar vortex. Temperature-sensitive loads were brought into warm warehouses, stranded drivers were picked up and taken to safe locations, and many distressed trucks were repaired and returned to their routes. None of this surprised me. In fact, this kind of thing happens every day. It’s why NationaLease’s Reciprocal Service system is still best-in-class after 75 years. The relationships that have built that service are the reason we celebrate our 75th Anniversary this year, and the reason we will continue to fondly reminisce for years to come. The journey continues…