Hillyard Inc.
Hillyard, which invented the modern wood gymnasium floor finish and cleaner, has a permanent exhibition at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

2022 Private Fleet to Watch: Hillyard

June 14, 2022
The small private fleet led by a former driver uses data to control its costs, grow its workforce, and find revenue on the road. Hillyard is the 2022 FleetOwner Private Fleet to Watch.

More than a century ago, innovator Newton S. Hillyard founded a company that would revolutionize the maintenance world. Hillyard started developing disinfectants and cleaning solutions with his patented products and formulas. His most famous formula was a gymnasium floor finish he developed in the early 1920s for the growing American game of basketball. That finish still is used today on basketball courts across the country—including all the courts in this year’s NCAA tournaments.

The company, which started with a fleet made up of horses and wagons, still is owned by the Hillyard family. Its long history of innovation has extended to its small fleet of tractor-trailers based in St. Joseph, Missouri, and led by a former driver, Chuck Amen, the private fleet’s transportation operations manager. The fleet of 23 drivers and tractors was named the first FleetOwner 500 Private Fleet to Watch in 2022.

See also: Meet the 2022 FleetOwner 500 Private Fleets of the Year

While some of the large private fleets across the country can appear to have nearly unlimited resources for recruiting drivers and testing new equipment and technologies, Hillyard needs to be scrappier.

“Nobody ever says, ‘Oh, Chuck can do anything he wants to because he’s got an unlimited budget.’ He doesn’t,” Tom Moore, National Private Truck Council’s SVP, told FleetOwner. “He can accomplish this and drive change in a very small fleet. It’s a very compelling story for everybody.”

In times of limited capacity and increased transportation costs, having a private fleet has helped the company keep control of its distribution of cleaning solutions, which were in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s just very comforting to know we have our own fleet with a great team of drivers and great support here in St. Joseph,” Blake Roth, VP and chief manufacturing officer at Hillyard, told FleetOwner. “We have great leadership from Chuck, and the fleet has become very profitable for us.”

Benchmarking private fleet power

Roth knows how profitable his private fleet is because Amen uses NPTC’s annual benchmarking report—designed for member fleets to compare their operations to the top-performing fleets in the industry—to his advantage. It also shows private fleet leaders strategic areas of opportunity in transportation. While Moore and the team at NPTC survey fleets annually to create the extensive benchmarking report, Amen took its outline to create an internal benchmark for Hillyard’s corporate leadership.

While he would look forward each year to comparing Hillyard’s numbers to the nationwide NPTC survey, Amen wanted a more up-to-date account of how his fleet was performing to help explain its success to some new corporate leaders. “When new people join management, the nice part is they ask a lot of questions,” Amen said. “The bad part is they ask a lot of questions. When I get asked questions, I want to know the answers. That’s when I started converting the benchmarking to a monthly report—so that I could have those answers.”

Thanks to adopting the NPTC benchmarking report into its business operations, Amen has shown his CFO and other management leaders how their private fleet’s operating costs compared to using outside carriers. “We’re extremely excited we were able to keep our cost of delivery in check despite rising costs of everything,” he said.

Amen’s internal success with the benchmarking report led to him being elected chairman of the NPTC Board of Directors this year.

Since the monthly reports have been compiled with the help of Hillyard accountants, Amen has learned what backhaul loads are worth it for the company, for example. Using electronic log reports and NPTC benchmark data, he saw that his drivers average 45 minutes at a Hillyard stop but twice that when picking up brokered loads. The company no longer picks up backhauls that are more than 50 miles out of the way. It also only looks for loads that are ready to go. 

Data such as this showed the power of the fleet as a revenue generator, Roth said. 

“We know when our truck leaves, it’s on schedule. It’s going to be done in a timely, safe, and professional manner,” Amen told FleetOwner. “That’s something we take great pride in as a fleet. When you outsource, you have less control. We do have an excellent relationship with the company that we outsource with,  but we like knowing it’s our drivers. Our drivers are our ambassadors out there.”

Family-friendly service

Roth, a fifth-generation Hillyard family leader, echoed how essential drivers are to the company’s success. “We hear from our corporate stores and our independent distributors about how much they love seeing that truck pull up,” he said. “They love how friendly our drivers are and how helpful they are. It’s another level of service that we can provide that our competitors don’t.”

See also: Private fleets value customer service, stability during unstable times

Today and during the height of the pandemic, Roth said having a private fleet created more reliability and cost control for Hillyard’s freight. The fleet almost exclusively relies on word of mouth to find quality drivers. 

“We like drivers who are looking for longevity and a career with our private fleet,” Amen said. We don’t micromanage. We allow them to do their jobs—and our guys are professional. We know without a doubt when we fill that seat, that’s a professional driver in our truck with our brand on the side.”

During the pandemic, Amen would surprise his hard-working drivers with goodie bags left on each driver’s seat. “Being a driver himself, with his background, he knows what it feels like to be honored by your company,” Gary Petty, NPTC president and CEO, told FleetOwner. “There’s just something very special about his operation.”

Hillyard has about 20 Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning products for use against COVID-19, which led to a surge in business during the pandemic. The benchmarking report helped show the company that while its business was increasing, it was still more cost-effective to transport its products than rely on for-hire capacity. “That’s very powerful data for a company to have,” Petty said. 

“He’s an exemplary fleet company for us because not only does he tell the story well—and he has a great story to tell—but he’s a great model for other companies to put the benchmarking report to work,” Petty added.

After growing up on a Missouri farm, Amen took a job as a long-haul truck driver that involved East Coast runs up and down Interstate 95 and deliveries in New York City. “He did that for years and eventually got promoted to do dispatch, then fleet manager—and really good benchmarking practitioner—to the chairman of our board,” Petty said. “That’s a pretty powerful statement.”

Amen said when he started, he was driving for an outside carrier dedicated to Hillyard,  but he knew he wanted to join the St. Joseph company. Eventually, he became one of eight Hillyard company drivers. As the fleet continued to grow, he took on more management roles. 

“Based on where Chuck’s gotten us today—really having a handle on the analytics and the costs—we’re ready to keep investing in the fleet,” Roth said. “We see it as being really important to Hillyard, and we want to keep that going.”

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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