Continual fine-tuning

March 1, 2008
Englander Transport specializes in team driver deliveries from the Mid-Atlantic region to the West Coast, as well as single driver deliveries to points all along the East Coast

Englander Transport specializes in team driver deliveries from the Mid-Atlantic region to the West Coast, as well as single driver deliveries to points all along the East Coast. Among the customers of this Monroe, Virginia-based carrier are such brand name companies as Nestle; Harco, a producer of ductile iron and PVC fittings; CB Fleet, a manufacturer of personal health and beauty care products; and Barr Laboratories, a generic pharmaceutical company.

Interestingly, Englander Transport did not start out as a trucking company, even though “on-time deliveries” have come to be its hallmark. Rather, it was begun as an off-shoot to England's Stove Works, a business begun in Monroe in 1975 by Bob England and his son Ron. The two started making wood stoves in the family's garage. The business grew to the point that some five years later, it needed to find a way to deliver stoves from its plant to retail stores.

This was around the time Carroll Hudson joined England's Stove Works. With a background that included commercial sales and work in the transportation field, he helped Ron England start what would become Englander Transport. They purchased two used tractor trailer rigs in 1981 and starting delivering wood stoves.

The venture had some immediate challenges, recalls Hudson. “Our trucks would go out loaded with stoves and come back empty. Plus, wood stoves is a seasonal business. To cut down on empty miles, and to avoid laying off our drivers when business got slow, we decided to start running our trucks in the off season.”

That tactic worked out “pretty good,” he says. “After a while we bought two more used rigs.”

The operating strategy changed again in November 1986, when the wood stove business incorporated Englander Transport as a separate business entity. At that time, the company had four drivers, four tractors, and four dry van trailers.

A year later it purchased its first refrigerated trailers — also used, and began hauling stoves, as well as other dry goods, to Florida, then backhauling produce. A couple of years later, the company expanded its operations by running dry freight to California and bringing back mixed produce.

“This was about the time the stove business started to change,” explains Hudson, president of Englander Transport. “The retailers who handled our stoves — stove dealers, DIY (do-it-yourself) stores, and “big box” centers — began using their own trucks to pick up their stoves. We do very little hauling for England's Stove Works now.”

Delivery operations

About 75 percent of Englander Transport's freight is delivered to the West Coast by team drivers who are trained in hauling produce. They routinely leave the Mid-Atlantic region and arrive at their West Coast destination within two days. Upon their return, the teams drop their loads in the company's yard. The teams are on a regular schedule and typically do a turn in five to six days.

The company's single drivers then deliver the team loads. They also make deliveries throughout the East Coast. Single drivers are usually out a couple of nights per week.

The majority of the company's hauling is truckload with preset appointment times and structured, dedicated runs.

“When we first started running the West Coast,” Hudson says, “our teams made their own deliveries. We soon realized that this would not allow a team to be as productive as it could. Making their own deliveries takes away their time to make trips.

“By having them drop their return loads in our yard for our single drivers to deliver, the team can get two days off and be able to make one turn to California per week.”

Standardized fleet

Today, Englander Transport owns and operates a fleet of 27 tractors and 50 refrigerated trailers. It has standardized on aerodynamic Kenworth tractors, Utility insulated trailers, and Thermo King refrigeration units.

Until 2006, all tractors had been T600 Studio Sleeper models. That model has been replaced with Kenworth's T660 Studio Sleeper, so the fleet is moving to them as it replaces older equipment.

All tractors, now purchased at Truck Enterprises in Lynchburg, Virginia, are spec'd the same, with 475-horsepower Caterpillar C-15 diesel engines and Eaton Fuller AutoShift or Super 13 transmissions. The 86-inch sleepers have the deluxe VIT interior, double bunks, refrigerators, numerous accessories, and plenty of storage space.

“We've outfitted our trucks to make our drivers, including our husband and wife teams, feel ‘at home’ as possible,” says Hudson.

“One of our guiding principles is to hire safe professional drivers, train them well, pay them well, and provide them with late model, top-of-the-line trucks that have plenty of creature comforts and amenities. This helps us attract and retain drivers.”

Tractors are assigned. The company has about 50 fulltime drivers, of which there are 16 teams. There also are a number of part-timers, including several part-time teams.

Tractors are kept for three years, logging around 500,000 miles, then traded-in or sold. “We run our tractors for two years on the team operation and then move them into the singles operation for a year,” Hudson says.

Frequent Maintenance

All equipment is kept well-serviced to help prevent breakdowns and repair problems. “The only thing we have to offer in the trucking business is service. We don't want to have our equipment broken down on the side of the road and have to call a customer and tell him we'll be late.”

When it came time for Englander Transport to purchase its first new tractor in 1985, Hudson decided to deal with Truck Enterprises in Roanoke because of its service manager at the time, John Jones.

“We had our used trucks serviced by them, and John was an expert at troubleshooting problems,” says Hudson. “I'd call him on the phone and say: ‘I've got this truck down on the road and this is the situation,’ and he'd tell me what the problem was. So I knew the dealership had a great service department and would be able to support its trucks.”

All of Englander Transport's 50 trailers are 53-ft 3000R air-ride models purchased from Utility Trailer Sales of Virginia in nearby Cloverdale, Virginia. “We selected Utility because we've had good luck with them,” says Hudson.

The trailers are equipped with Thermo King refrigeration units from Thermo King of Roanoke, Virginia. The most recent purchases are the SB-310 model, chosen, he says, because “it has greater capacity for better air circulation, allows a broader temperature range for hauling a wider variety of products, and is easy to use.”

Englander Transport's trailers are traded or sold on a five-to-seven year cycle.

“We've chosen to standardize our fleet rather than run many different brands of equipment,” says company vice president Carl Parra. “This makes service and repair easier and requires a smaller parts inventory.”

Englander Transport has a two-bay shop where all maintenance and minor repairs are performed by two fulltime service technicians. They are supported by several part-time mechanics. Other service work is covered by warranty and done at a dealership.

“Every time our trucks return from a trip, they go through the shop for a once-over from front to rear,” Parra says. “We don't want our trucks breaking down because we mostly have set delivery and pick-up appointments. We would much rather catch any problems and have them resolved in our shop.”

Driver longevity

For the most part, Englander Transport does not have a driver turnover problem, says Parra, “because our drivers are very satisfied with us. About 80 percent of our drivers have been with us for a long time. A handful have been with us for 20 years.”

One of the keys to this accomplishment is that Englander Transport gears its operation to drivers. “We want them to be successful, so we help them, and take care of them,” he explains. “We do things to make the company attractive to drivers. We put them in nice equipment, compensate them well, provide good benefits, including a retirement plan, and offer good health insurance.

“If you want a good company, you have to pay the drivers well, and when you do that, you can demand certain things, such as calling in on time, taking care of the truck, and treating our customers right. Drivers who want to keep their jobs care about doing a good job.”

Parra has been a real asset to the company, notes Hudson, because he is an experienced long-haul trucker.

“I started driving about 20 years ago,” Parra says. “After about three years, I teamed with my wife, and then we traveled with kids. We home schooled them for a number of years. It was a wonderful experience for all of us.”

“Carl can truly relate to our drivers,” says Hudson. “He is great at providing them with sound advice and helping them with any issues they might have.”

Hiring process

When hiring new drivers, which typically occurs when the fleet expands rather than because a driver leaves, Parra looks for experienced, safe drivers with a stable work background.

During the hiring process, “drivers are told upfront how it's going to be working here, what we expect from them, what they can expect from us, what they have to do and how to accomplish this, and what they can expect from our customers,” says Parra.

All drivers are told early on that “while service to customers is our number one priority, so is service to our drivers. We recognize that driving is not an easy job.”

Once hired, new drivers go through an extensive orientation process, which includes learning how to operate the refrigeration equipment and how this equipment functions.

“Today's ‘smart’ reefers are relatively easy to learn to operate,” Parra says, “so we spend more time teaching how transport refrigeration systems work. We want our drivers to understand how and why air circulation is essential to keeping loads cool. That way, they will know how to load a trailer and not block airflow. We've found that doing this avoids many problems with loads.”

Driver management

Because Englander Transport runs fairly regular routes and loads, there is no current need for satellite communication systems, says Hudson. Drivers are issued cell phones and call in on a regular basis.

Hudson is looking into trailer tracking systems. “We not only drop trailers at various locations, we are now sharing some of our trailers with another company. This technology might be helpful in keeping better track of our trailers.”

All tractors have driver's displays, allowing drivers instantaneous feedback on their driving. Onboard computers keep track of key operating criteria, such as fuel use, idle time, and rpm.

“We download this information and use it for our quarterly fuel savings and idle reduction programs,” says Parra. “We also pay a quarterly safety bonus.”

The “winners” of the quarterly bonus programs, along with their accomplishments, are posted in the driver's room to motivate better performance. “No one likes to be a loser,” Hudson says.

By managing well what it already does and holding onto guiding principles, Englander Transport has been able to expand business. “We review business at least on a monthly basis to see how we're doing and what we can do better,” says Hudson.

The company recently started freight brokerage. This new operation will enable Englander Transport to continue to keep commitments to customers when trucks may not be available.

The company's vision for the future, Hudson says, is to continue managed growth.

About the Author

David Kolman

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