Nurseries provide hospitality for drivers cut off from usual resources
The open road has been lonely for truckers in 2020.
That’s according to Matt Frederick, operations manager for of K&M Distribution Inc. (Rogue River, Oregon), which serves the nursery industry.
When moving a nursery stock shipment in a refrigerated truck, a driver headed to the East Coast typically will travel for several days. These professionals will spend their entire workday behind the wheel on long stretches of highway and country roads, with little companionship to see them through to their destination.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in America and health officials advised people to socially distance, most truckers had no issue staying safe. They were dutifully riding solo. However, it did not take long for them to find out that their limited network of resources was getting turned upside down.
It really shows how intense the COVID-19 pandemic is when even the most socially distanced of truckers were stopped in their tracks — in more ways than one. Here are several ways truck drivers were impacted, and some ideas for making a truck driver’s day a little better.
Help them find basic amenities
“Many of the amenities that we take for granted, such as water or access to a restroom, became harder for truckers to access through COVID,” Frederick said.
To stop the spread of the virus, health officials advised closing down highway rest stops and public restrooms. These high-traffic areas could easily serve as hot spots for unknowingly spreading COVID-19. For instance, not all men’s room urinals are spaced six feet apart. Many bathroom stall doors have manually operated knobs and locks that could quickly become contaminated surfaces. The list goes on.
Unfortunately, these public amenities are often the only options a long-distance traveling driver have available. Shutting down these public spaces dramatically decreased the number of options they had for routine breaks and stops.
Privately-owned amenities were also becoming limited. Many nurseries have adopted a contact-free policy for interacting with drivers. This means their waiting rooms and other public areas are now closed until further notice.
Nurseries are advised to be aware of available spaces with clean and open restroom facilities in your area and share that information with the drivers when they arrive for deliveries. This information will help the traveling worker who does not know the ins-and-outs of the local area.
Give the gift of water (or coffee)
J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. (Boring, Oregon) is one of the many nurseries that had previously offered a waiting room.
“Most of the drivers did take advantage of it — check-in, get a cup of coffee, and go back out,” said Al Herzog, traffic manager at the nursery. “They could drink as much coffee as they wanted.”
Unfortunately, the waiting room has not been open since the pandemic. For many drivers, this is just another resource they have been cut off from. Coffee may seem like a small gesture, and like many things, one doesn’t realize how much it’s appreciated until it’s gone.
It’s not just about coffee, either. Water has often been scarce for drivers on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Offering something as simple as having a bottle of water or snack can make a driver’s day,” Frederick said. Drivers are people, too. Growers and shippers are doing a lot more this year, and it’s a simple way to thank them for their service.
Another idea is to give gifts.
Dale Parra of Truck Transportation Services recommends shippers, receivers, and nurseries invest in a little swag. All businesses are requiring guests to wear a mask — that’s one idea.
“Why not have your logo imprinted on some face masks?” Parra asks. “When you deliver your shipping documents, give them a free mask to wear.” It’s easy advertising that could travel as far as the driver goes on their next trip, and the one after that.
Make best of the time
Exercising good customer service skills goes a long way with every business partner in the industry, and the faster the service drivers, the better. “We try to be as friendly as possible,” Herzog said.
In trying to be as respectful to the drivers as possible, good growers aim to keep the loading process profitable for the them. “It boils down to the hours of service mainly,” Herzog said. “Working with their hours is the biggest thing we can try to do to make shipping nursery stock a little more attractive.”
For this reason, J. Frank Schmidt offers onsite overnight parking, which helps the driver complete their resets. For example, if a driver is scheduled to pick up a load on Friday, they invite the driver to drop off their trailer on the Wednesday before. The grower’s crew will wait to load the trailer until Friday, giving the driver the ability to get their reset time in.
“The biggest thing we have come away with from the challenges of
COVID-19 policies is that we are all in this together and doing the best we can in these times.” Frederick said. “The common goal is always to get as many beautiful plants across the country as possible annually.”
Bill Goloski is the publications manager at the Oregon Association of Nurseries. He writes for and designs Digger magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.