Turbo Logistics builds dedicated and third party operations
Mar 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Gary Macklin
In the mid-1990s, the term “logistics” sprang on the transportation industry like a cat on an unsuspecting mouse. Suddenly, transportation professionals were confronted with logistics and the even-more-imposing concept of supply chain management.
Oddly, logistics and supply chain management were not new terms or foreign concepts. In fact, logistics is an extremely old way of describing the procurement, maintenance, and movement of military supplies. If Napoleon didn't say, “An army moves on its stomach,” he should have. Nothing is more clearly true in exactly the same way than that an army shoots from its supply train, even when that train may stretch halfway around the globe.
In the same way, the US and global economies depend on some aspect of logistics — buying, moving, storing, distributing, and keeping track of the whole process in real time. Perhaps no part of the US economy seems homier, more parochial than producing and processing poultry. However, the US produces far more poultry than it consumes. A huge portion of annual production is exported — Russia and other Eastern European nations are major consumers of US poultry.
At times, small companies starting up in traditional niches find themselves smack in the middle of big words like logistics and the global economy. Turbo Logistics and its three operating groups is a perfect example.
Turbo Transport — the original name — started on May 7, 1984 as a truck brokerage in Gainesville, Georgia. Four members of the Syfan family put the company together to help poultry producers in the poultry and carpet belt of north central Georgia secure outbound transportation for their product. The company was Jim Syfan, his wife Gloria, and two sons, Steve and Greg, all working from a modified mobile home behind the train depot in Gainesville. The building was so close to the tracks that phone conversations were impossible while a train was passing.
Within a year, Turbo hired its first non-family member, Scott Sapp, who remains with the company as vice-president of purchasing. By the second year, the mobile home became history as the company moved to its present headquarters on a 15 acres site east of town. Headquarters has expanded twice — once in 1989 and again in 2004. Just a little growth shifted the small, family company from brokering poultry loads to a life of logistics.
Two things were happening. Trucking was beginning to adjust to the deregulation of rates and commodities that began in 1980; prior to 1980 poultry, like fresh produce, was an exempt commodity that could be hauled by any trucker without a requirement for a federal operating permit. To find enough transportation for their poultry clients, Turbo needed to generate inbound freight as well as broker outbound loads. The company started knocking on every door possible and by 1988 had a staff of 15 and found itself in the logistics business with a stable of clients from among the nation's largest companies.
Poultry remains a large part of the business, accounting for about 30% of the total, says Jeff Maynard, dedicated operations manager. That's a smaller percentage than it once was, but the company is 200 times larger than it was 10 years ago. Today, Turbo has 150 employees, excluding drivers.
Turbo's growth is attributed to following the values of the customer base. Those values say to take care of employees and take care of customers with the belief in mind that profit will always follow. The company follows a team approach to setting policy and demands strict adherence in the implementation that follows. Turbo can't be all things to all customers, but it can always provide an option to ensure that business is not refused by making aggressive decisions and communicating those decisions throughout the business process. Follow-through is the rule to make sure commitments are kept.
In its present form, Turbo operates as Turbo Logistics, the umbrella company. Turbo Transport fills the brokerage niche as a third party provider of transportation, freight forwarding, and other logistics functions. Turbo Expedited provides continuous, non-stop transportation for high-value and time-sensitive loads. Turbo Dedicated is the company's asset-based highway carrier providing dedicated fleet operations for a number of major shippers nationwide. Although started to serve poultry shippers, the brokerage segment of the business has diversified widely.
Dedicated to contract shippers
Turbo Dedicated began operation almost as soon as Turbo Transport. The company put trucks in service almost immediately to make sure it could cover any necessary loads, Maynard said. Within five year, the dedicated operation had a fleet of trucks. Expanding or contracting in tune with general freight demand, Turbo Dedicated has been growing and has continued adding to the fleet. Turbo has an aggressive growth plan with 20 trucks planned for each quarter.
“We try to maintain a trailer to tractor ratio of 1.5:1 so that we have plenty of trailers available for loading,” Maynard says. “We have eight locations where we can drop empty trailers and hook up loaded trailers for immediate dispatch.”
Refrigerated freight dominates in the dedicated fleet at almost 80% of traffic with 600 to 700 miles as an average length of haul.
Turbo Dedicated drivers get home on a regular basis. Seven to 10 days is a normal trip for a driver in the dedicated fleet, Maynard says. Dedicated loads for the company's contract customers pay dividends for drivers, because all loads deliver by appointment with an average of only two hours of waiting to unload. The drop-and-hook yards take waiting time out of the driver's loading cycle, he says. Working with other logistics companies helps as well.
Low driver turnover
In the dedicated operation, Turbo pays drivers for all miles and for layovers. The company offers health dental, and vision insurance and funds a 401K-pension plan for drivers. Those sorts of benefits make hiring drivers easy and retaining them common. Annual driver turnover is less than 7%. “We make sure drivers know that they are part of the team and the Turbo family,” Maynard says. “Our director of maintenance, Mark Free, is a good example of that. He started as a driver at the beginning of the company fleet and has been here ever since. Not everyone can claim that sort of tenure, because the company has grown rapidly in the past two years.
Free is responsible for maintaining the fleet, a relatively easy task, he says, because it is all new. That fleet consists of Freightliner Columbia conventional tractors with 120-inch cabs, all from the 2004 or 2005 model years. The oldest of these are powered by Series 60 Detroit Diesel engines rated at 430 horsepower. All are equipped with Qualcomm satellite communications integrated into the company's main computer system and its newly updated software. This system, provides 100% communication in real time for customers, he says.
“As we began expanding the fleet, we began looking for lighter weight components,” Free says. When we noted that many loads run at high gross weights, Freightliner showed us their MBE 4000 Mercedes-Benz engines. Rated at 450 hp, those engines are almost 500 lb lighter than our previous power plants. That gives us the capability to scale 46,000 lb payload with a refrigerated trailer.”
High fuel economy
Most of the new Freightliners are built with 10-speed Ultra Shift transmissions. Using a 3.58:1 final drive ratio in the Meritor tandem axles and 22.5-inch tires at the company recommended 65 mph maximum speed, the Mercedes engines operate at 1,400 rpm providing a fleet fuel economy average of 6.4 miles per gallon. “We've had some drivers get 7.2 mpg, and a couple have come in at 7.6 mpg a time or two,” Free says. “We post fuel consumption records for all drivers in public so they can compare performance.”
Free says that senior drivers seem to favor the Ultra Shift transmissions more than any others. “True to my initial guess, it took almost a month to get one of the older drivers to test one of the new transmissions,” he says. “I thought older drivers would resist automated transmissions because they liked shifting. I was almost right, but, once I got a driver to try one, I couldn't get it away from him. From a fleet perspective, the Ultra Shift certainly makes training new drivers easier.”
The trailer fleet is even newer than the tractor fleet. All are 53-ft Great Danes with air suspension. Forty of those trailers were part of a special order of wedge-configuration vans with 109 inches of vertical clearance at the rear doors tapering to 105-in interior height at the nose. Refrigeration units are almost evenly split between Carrier Transicold and Thermo King Units with Ultra XTC units from Carrier and SB-200s from Thermo King, all with temperature data recorders.
Turbo Dedicated has tractors set up on a four-year trade cycle. Trailers have been scheduled for replacement at four years as well, Free says. However, that idea is under consideration for change. “We may extend trailer life in general,” he says, “or we may keep the trailer and trade the units after four years. Our unit utilization at more than 2,000 hours a year is a little higher than the national average.”
Dedicated contract maintenance looms as the next step for Turbo Logistics. The company is building a new maintenance facility to replace its current three-bay shop. The present shop has five technicians to maintain the Turbo fleet. The new building will have 11 bays and employ 25 technicians. Open to the public, the new shop will provide hourly or contract maintenance as well as a public scale open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and a truck wash.
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