In 1948, a hog farmer named Bob Evans found trouble trying to get quality sausage for customers at his 12-stool restaurant named The Sausage Shop, located in the tiny village of Gallipolis, OH. So he began making his own, using hogs from the farm and his family recipe.
Over-the-road truck drivers who stopped at his restaurant served as his “test market” for the newly introduced sausage with the unique flavor everyone loved. Word of the sausage spread around the country — and a star was born. From this modest founding, Bob Evans Farms Inc. has, over the past 60 years, become a growing family of regional brands with 715 full-service restaurants, including 18 Bob Evans restaurants operating in the Midwest and 24 Mimi's Cafes operating in California and other western states. Today, the private fleet driver is just as important an ingredient of Bob Evans' success as was that first driver who sampled the restaurant's sausage.
Dan Zacheis, director of transportation for Bob Evans Farms, has 19 years with the company and a total of 40 years in truck transportation. He says the private fleet is a critical part of the company's success, delivering products to warehouses and restaurants in a timely and efficient manner. About 85% of the private fleet is LTL transport with both refrigerated and frozen capacity on the same truck. With sleeper cabs, drivers are out and back in two to four nights depending on the runs and volume.
“We have great drivers with tremendous longevity and loyalty to the company,” Zacheis says. The average tenure of Bob Evans drivers is 10 to 15 years. The private fleet consists of 125 employee drivers and 110 company-owned tractors. Equipment maintenance is provided by in-house technicians as well as outside providers.
The company uses a plain and simple means to rate drivers. “We monitor basic standards such as speed, fuel economy, idle time, shifting, and hard braking using our onboard technology,” Zacheis says. “Drivers get ranked once a week on how well they meet — or fall short of — these standards.” Once drivers are aware of a problem, the issue generally gets taken care of promptly. It also helps that the quarterly performance bonus is tied to meeting the standards.
Longevity of drivers in service also extends to the private fleet's equipment. “We keep our trucks in service up to 1.25 million mi., or about 15 years.” At about the 750,000-mi. mark, trucks typically undergo an in-frame rebuild at a cost of $30,000 to $35,000. “We have found that keeping trucks a long time is not a detriment in terms of overall costs and service failures. We experience very few breakdowns,” Zacheis explains.
Drivers take pride in and exceptionally good care of their trucks, and have close working relationships with mechanics. “We have drivers coming in on weekends on their own time to wash and polish their trucks. We also allow them to add accessories or cosmetic upgrades, which they do at their own expense.” When a truck reaches the million-mile mark, the company also upgrades trucks with features the drivers enjoy such as free satellite radio service in all cabs.
Bob Evans Farms is growing its store locations and also growing its private fleet. “We operate a private fleet because it enhances our ability to serve customers while also helping us control the cost of transportation.”
Gary Petty is president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council. The council's website is www.nptc.org. His column appears monthly in Fleet Owner.