LTL Ships Nationwide FST Delivers Claims-Prone Loads, Providing Door-to-Door Service

Providing door-to-door LTL and truckload delivery for time- and temperature-sensitive products distinguishes Franklin Specialty Transport from other LTL carriers. The company handles claims-prone loads that other carriers refuse.

FST is a truckload and LTL carrier of perishables and general commodities that sets a high standard of service to keep customers happy. A key to the company's success is proactive communication with shippers and receivers, says Art DeCrane, executive vice-president, of the Columbus, Ohio, carrier.

"So many factors are part of building a load of LTL - delivery dates, space on the trailer, weight, and receiver appointment times," DeCrane says. "We're very customer-oriented, and their demands have increased a lot in the food business. Turn times are tighter. Customers want fresher product."

FST makes appointments for all deliveries. The company has standard turn times for shipments, depending on destination. Shipments within Ohio are delivered the next day. Destinations within a 500-mile radius of Columbus get second morning delivery. Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania all fall within that 500-mile circle.

Cargo bound for Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and the New England states (except Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) is delivered within one to three business days of product pick-up. Deliveries to the other New England states, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and states in the central and southwestern regions of the country arrive within two to four business days. Deliveries to Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming arrive within two to five business days.

"We use driver teams for deliveries west of the Mississippi," says William Bell IV, FST's manager of customer logistics. "For example, teams do runs to California. We're selling our customers a Monday or Tuesday delivery for the West Coast on a Friday pick-up."

FST guarantees delivery dates and product integrity because the company controls cargo throughout distribution, Bell adds. "We pick it up from the shipper, bring it to our dock, build the outbound load, and make the delivery."

Though FST manages the entire distribution process, the company works with other carriers, who handle about 75% of FST deliveries. FST maintains standing agreements with a number of other carriers to provide supplemental equipment and drivers. "We're leasing the drivers and their equipment to provide door-to-door service," Bell says. "Drivers pick up loads at our docks and they deliver them directly to the final receivers."

Franklin Distribution, originally a division of Franklin International Glue and Adhesives, started in 1982 as a private carrier hauling adhesives. To increase revenue, it added backhauls of refrigerated food. When the glue company eliminated in-house transportation in 1991, Jim Stein and DeCrane, transportation managers, purchased the trucking operation, changed its name to FST, and became a for-hire carrier.

FST's truckload and LTL operations run as separate divisions from three facilities in Columbus. The truckload division runs from a new terminal built this year. The LTL operation runs from FST headquarters. It has offices and a dock with 23 doors. FST also operates a warehouse purchased in 1998, following a merger with a competing warehouse company. LTL freight inbound to the warehouse is transferred to the terminal headquarters for consolidation into out-of-state loads.

The warehouse purchased from Ancon Inc continues to provide in-state warehousing services as a separate division of FST. It has 230,000 square feet of space, including 40,000 sq ft kept at 65" F, 7,500 sq ft at 45" F, and 2,600 sq ft at 0" F.

In addition, FST has two coolers at its terminal headquarters providing 7,500 sq ft at 45" F and 3,500 sq ft at 35" F.

"Now we have warehousing, truckload, and LTL all under the umbrella of FST Logistics," Bell says. "Purchasing the warehouse dovetailed with our goal of providing total logistics services."

Special Handling Niche FST differs from other carriers in its approach to LTL. First, the company is not concerned with cubing-out trailers. Instead, it focuses on filling the trailer floor with pallets of temperature-sensitive products requiring special handling as a way of maximizing revenue.

"We do not utilize trailer cube 100%," DeCrane says. "Rather, we try to protect product. We have been very successful in transporting claims-prone material. All freight is palletized to reduce the potential for damage."

FST continues to haul adhesives for its former parent company, now one of its biggest customers. These water-based products must be protected from freezing.

It also handles plastic film, tree transplanters for nurseries, and glass retail display cases for bakeries. "We save the showcase manufacturer crating material and labor costs," DeCrane says. "It would take them a full day to crate a product, but we handle 100% of this business uncrated. We helped the manufacturer design a shipping platform that extends two inches beyond each side of a custom-built case."

Typically, the showcases are about four feet wide and five to six feet high. However, they may be as long as 12 feet and as high as seven feet, DeCrane says. FST secures them on shipping platforms with cardboard dunnage and stretch-wrap. They are secured in place with load locks. "We don't have damage problems because all the freight we handle is on pallets," he says.

Arena Destinations Drivers particularly enjoy delivering All Star ballots from a custom printer. "Our drivers go to all the professional baseball, basketball, and hockey stadiums," DeCrane says. "They enjoy delivering to a famous park like Yankee Stadium."

Although many receivers are food warehouses, FST will deliver almost anywhere. One- to two-day LTL runs require an average of four to five stops.

"One of our customers makes candy for fund-raising," DeCrane says. "We deliver it directly to schools, churches, even soccer fields. Drivers often must look for a band or choir director. Since this is a time-sensitive business, we are challenged especially in the fall, a big season for fund-raising. Fund-raising shipments are smaller than average, which increases the number of stops per run to six or seven."

FST hauls pharmaceuticals and general freight in addition to foodstuffs that account for about 65% of its traffic. The remaining 35% is general commodities.

General commodities and temperature-controlled products are mixed on trailers, and loads fill fast, Bell says. This allows FST to move quickly. The company generally sets trailer refrigeration unit thermostats above freezing. Frozen food is transported only within Ohio.

"Operating refrigeration units in the 35" F to 45" F range will not damage general commodities," Bell says. "This temperature range is ideal for the food we handle, including candy and confectionery items, meat, cheese, and salad dressing."

Unlike other cross-country LTL carriers, FST has only one terminal, the headquarters in Columbus where all LTL freight is consolidated. "Many nationwide carriers run multiple terminals for consolidation," Bell says. "We have the flexibility to do peddle runs across the country, operating only from Columbus. For example, we might deliver to a customer in Arkansas on the way to Texas. We're not set up on routes requiring us to leave at a specific time for a specific destination."

FST Dispatchers Each day FST dispatchers, known as load builders, make new delivery appointments for the next day and successive days. "It's like working a puzzle, and every day the pieces are different," says Amy Jo Stebelton, an FST load builder.

Loads are built in three ways - by customer specified delivery dates, FST promised dates, and standard service dates determined by receivers' geographic location. "We load trailers at our Columbus facilities," Bell says. "We work with a core of 80 carriers and use about 40 of them regularly. Each day we work with 10 to 12 carriers."

FST uses other carriers to haul loads in their traffic lanes with no attempt to secure return loads. For example, one of FST's main carriers is Ronnie Dowdy Inc, from Batesville, Arkansas. If Dowdy equipment is needed in Little Rock, it can pick up freight from FST and make a stop in Memphis on the way. "As is the case with our other carriers, FST freight is a backhaul for Dowdy. Thus, we communicate with Dowdy dispatchers every day," Bell says. "We tell them how many trucks we'll need the next day. They are almost an extension of our own fleet."

Fleet Expansion Plans The company plans to increase the share of freight handled internally to 50%, up from today's 25%, DeCrane says. This will require a larger fleet. FST now has 70 tractors - 40 sleepers and 30 day cabs - and 80 refrigerated trailers. The day cabs are used for local pick-up and delivery and for runs within Ohio. FST also runs six refrigerated straight trucks for delivery to schools and other stops in residential areas.

FST uses Freightliner FLD120 tractors powered by Detroit Diesel 60 Series engines driving through Eaton Fuller RTX-14710C transmissions and with Meritor tandem drive axles. Most tractors are 1998 or 1999 models. The company runs a mix of 48-ft trailers, including Utility 2000Rs with Thermo King Super II SR or SB-III SR units.

To ensure on-time delivery, FST maintains close communication with drivers. "Each driver must call after every delivery," Bell says. "If a load is going to be late, we're proactive in communicating with the receiver. For instance, if a load is scheduled for noon, we will call the consignee and reschedule the appointment. This eliminates a call from consignee to the shipper, and a call from the shipper to us asking when the load will arrive."

FST's two main external carriers, Dowdy and K&B Transportation in Sioux City, Iowa, both use Qualcomm satellite communication, DeCrane adds. "If we need to find out where a truck is, they can pinpoint the location quickly. It's a wonderful tool."

FST has few calls from customers asking about loads. "We call ahead to the receivers on every shipment," DeCrane says. "We avoid customer calls because we are in constant contact with our customers" customers. For us, it's not about being a low-price carrier, but providing value-added service. We didn't want to be a me-too carrier but do something better than anyone else."

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