Direct Store Delivery Roads West Doubles with Supermarket Operations

July 1, 2000
Roads West in Phoenix, Arizona, credits dedicated hauls for two supermarket chains for increasing sales from $13.4 million in 1994 to $29.4 million in

Roads West in Phoenix, Arizona, credits dedicated hauls for two supermarket chains for increasing sales from $13.4 million in 1994 to $29.4 million in 1999.

To complete this expansion, Roads West had to do more than provide good service. It had to roll with a series of changes as supermarket chains bought and sold stores. Over the past five years, the five largest national chains gained a huge portion of the market. Roads West delivers for two of those chains.

In 1993, Roads West started contract operations from a new distribution center in Tolleson, Arizona, to New Mexico. Two years later, the carrier began hauling to stores in Las Vegas, Nevada, and shortly after that started a dedicated operation for its customer.

When the chain sold those 19 Las Vegas stores, Roads West continued working for the new owner, a regional chain based in California. Instead of delivering to the Las Vegas stores from Phoenix, those stores were served from California. Roads West was asked to begin serving stores in New Mexico.

Roads West has expanded service in New Mexico by taking on delivery for additional store chains. The carrier now handles 65 to 70 loads a week to New Mexico.

Meanwhile, another chain bought 22 stores in Las Vegas. Roads West again started regular runs from Phoenix. This was roughly the same service they started with, but for a different customer. Roads West has since started another dedicated operation for the original customer from a distribution center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, serving stores in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, and parts of Tennessee.

Equipment for these dedicated programs is based at the distribution centers. Roads West holds these tractors and trailers on finance leases. The company performs its own maintenance but, for convenience, purchases fuel from the customers.

"Our grocery contracts are the crown jewels of our operation," says Casey Hughes, Roads West president. By themselves, the dedicated programs only account for about 15% of Roads West's revenues, but that figure doesn't reflect backhaul or additional runs for supermarket customers. Total revenue from dedicated and nondedicated supermarket business, including backhaul, accounts for about 40% of Roads West's revenue. The remaining 60% comes from meat processors and breweries.

Roads West operates a total of 200 tractors, 271 refrigerated trailers, and 17 dry vans. About half the tractors are Freightliner conventionals and the other half are Volvos. The general fleet is a mix of Freightliner Century Class and FLD120s and Volvo VN610s and VN660s.

For dedicated programs in Phoenix, Roads West has 19 Freightliner FLD112s, 31 refrigerated trailers, and seven dry vans. In Tulsa, they operate 15 Volvo VNL64 and 38 refrigerated trailers. Phoenix tractors have 48-inch flat top sleepers and are powered by Caterpillar C12 engines driving through Eaton Fuller FRO-15210C ten-speed transmissions. Tulsa tractors use Cummins N14 engines and ten-speed Fuller transmissions.

All trailers are 53 footers from Utility. Refrigerated trailers are equipped predominantly with Carrier Transicold Ultima 53 units. In 1999, Roads West purchased 85 new Utility 2000R trailers with Ultima 53 units.

Regular Weekly Schedule Drivers like dedicated runs because they follow a regular schedule. "Phoenix drivers know they will go to Las Vegas four days a week, so they become familiar with the stores and delivery times," Hughes says. "It takes seven to eight hours to get to Las Vegas and make the deliveries. Drivers, then, take an eight-hour break, and return within 24 hours. Working dedicated runs provide steady income and predictability of lifestyle."

The same goes for drivers in Tulsa, although routes tend to vary more, he adds. They may have to deliver to different stores in various towns so that all are covered regularly. Tulsa tractors are day cabs, so hotels are used for overnight layovers. The longest run from Tulsa is 700 miles one-way.

"In the dedicated programs, we slip-seat for maximum tractor utilization," Hughes says. "For instance, as soon as a tractor returns from Las Vegas, another driver hops in for another load. Our total operation runs close to 25 million miles a year. In dedicated fleets, we run approximately 3,800 miles a week per truck. In general operations, we encourage solo drivers to average at least 2,500 miles a week."

Most supermarket loads are single-temperature: chilled or frozen. Bulkheads occasionally are used for mixed-temperature loads. Cargo ranges from ice cream to produce.

Many of the general freight loads are fresh meat from Texas and Oklahoma to supermarket warehouses. For this traffic, Roads West usually heads outbound with a store load for New Mexico. With the groceries off, the truck goes on to Texas for meat destined for a receiver back in Phoenix.

Daily California Runs About 20 other general freight loads a day head to California, Hughes says. These are meat and beer or store deliveries. "We haul meat and produce to California supermarkets and empty containers to the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys," Hughes says. "Return loads are beer or produce. Some loads are seasonal, for instance, beach balls and basketballs, or maybe Halloween candy."

Work in the five southwestern states accounts for 75% of Roads West fleet miles. To help track loads, Roads West uses Qualcomm satellite-tracking.

Customers can check load progress on the Internet, says David Barbee, Roads West information systems manager. Customers have password access to view Qualcomm data by bill of lading number, state, or a list of their current loads. Qualcomm data interfaces with Tom McLeod Load Master software. Load information is available at

Dispatch and drivers communicate through Qualcomm. "Dispatch handles 150 to 200 loads at any given time," Hughes says. "Average length of haul is 600 miles or less, which gives each truck a load just about every day."

Because of recent expansion, Roads West plans to build a larger Phoenix terminal. It will have three buildings for administrative offices, a driver's service center with classrooms and a self-service laundry, a shop with four bays, and a truck wash plus a fuel island. "Building plans have been approved by the city," Hughes says. "We're waiting to close the purchase so we can start construction. We hope to open within a year."

Supermarket delivery represents about 40% of revenue for Roads West in Phoenix AZ. The carrier operates two dedicated fleets for major supermarket chains in large areas of the Midwest and West. About half of its 200 tractors are Volvos, the other half Freightliners.

All tractors have Qualcomm satellite-tracking. Drivers use the Qualcomm console to communicate with dispatch.

[top] Casey Hughes, president, and David Barbee, information systems manager, check the company web site. Customers can check the location of loads using the Roads West web site. [bottom] Dispatch handles 150 to 200 loads at any given time. Average length of haul is 600 miles or less with each truck handling a load nearly every day.

About the Author

Foss Farrar

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