Out of the woods

Last year was a record-breaking one for Universal Forest Products, Inc., (UFPI). According to the company, a powerful fourth quarter in 2005 (an 87% increase over reported results for the same period in 2004) enabled it to reach its five-year internal targets two years early. UFPI attributes its strong results to the continuation of a robust housing market as well as increased demand for manufactured

Last year was a record-breaking one for Universal Forest Products, Inc., (UFPI). According to the company, a powerful fourth quarter in 2005 (an 87% increase over reported results for the same period in 2004) enabled it to reach its five-year internal targets two years early. UFPI attributes its strong results to the continuation of a robust housing market as well as increased demand for manufactured housing in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Founded in 1955 as a single sales office serving the manufactured housing market, today UFPI markets, manufactures and engineers wood and wood-alternative products for do-it-yourself retail home centers, the site-built construction market and specialty wood packages for industrial markets, along with structured lumber products for the manufactured housing industry.

The company, with headquarters in Grand Rapids, MI, has grown over the past 50 years to include over 9,000 employees and 100 facilities throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Distribution operations from the company's Saginaw, TX, facility, cover five states — Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, according to Paul Shoppell, Saginaw plant manager.

“Leasing our entire fleet on full-service maintenance contracts through PacLease offers us the best return on investment,” Shoppell says. “We've been leasing for about ten years. It's worked out so well for us that now there's hardly a single piece of equipment in our fleet that we own.”

The Saginaw fleet currently includes 15 Peterbilt model 378 day cabs and three Peterbilt 379 sleepers. Shoppell says they put approximately 150,000 miles a year on the sleepers and about 90,000 annually on the day cabs. He notes that all of the day cabs are used in slip-seat operation, so “someone is driving these trucks both day and night.”

Fleet equipment is turned around every five years, Shoppell states. “We like to have newer vehicles and keep them up and running. Our experience is that with anything older than 5-6 years we start to see a lot of breakdowns. PacLease helps us with the specs for our trucks. The objective is safety through items like big, remote-controlled mirrors and good visibility around the truck, as well as driver comfort with things like air-ride seats.”

The fleet equipment is also designed for the lightest weight possible, including all-aluminum wheels, so UFPI can maximize capacity. The fleet includes 42 Great Dane flatbed trailers, spec'd as combination steel and aluminum units, also for weight savings.

“PacLease of Ft. Worth, TX, performs all our maintenance work and offers us breakdown service as well,” Shoppell points out. “We've been using PacLease for almost nine years now and they have done a great job for us.”

Shoppell says one of the biggest challenges for the fleet is fuel economy. “We look at things like idle times in our trucks with an eye towards saving on fuel wherever we can. PacLease provides us with monthly reports that show us fuel economy statistics, including how much time each truck spent idling on a day-by-day basis.

“Since the trucks are used in slip-seat operations, however, it's difficult to assess which drivers are performing better than others,” he adds. “We try to educate them as a group about the ways they can help save fuel, like turning engines off.

According to Shoppell, finding qualified drivers can also be difficult. “We recruit most of our drivers through temporary agencies. They do all the background checks on potential drivers, who will then drive for us as temps for two months. This allows us to weed out any poor drivers early on. Driver who do make it beyond the 60-day training/assessment period, however, tend to stay with our company for a very long time.”

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