Adopting innovation

For Refrigerated truckload carrier RWH Trucking, the ingredients for success are keeping employees happy, maintaining an environment conducive to achievement, staying abreast of technology, and incorporating the latest technology into all facets of a nationwide operation.

Based in Oakwood, Georgia, a picturesque rural small town of fewer than 3,000 people, the company is nestled on a 35-acre farm. From here its fleet covers the lower 48 states, transporting primarily refrigerated products plant-to-plant. Last year the fleet logged nearly 23 million miles.

In a suburb of Gainesville, Georgia, which touts itself as the chicken capital of the US, RWH Trucking hauls a lot of processed chicken. Other mainstay products are chewing gum, candy, and carpet outboard, returning with candy, chewing gum, ice cream, and produce from California. Among long-time customers are the Wrigley Company, Hershey Foods Corporation; Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream (which includes Edy's, Haagen-Dazs and Nestle brands); Wayne Farms, Pilgrim's Pride, and Mar Jac chicken; and Mohawk Carpets.

Customers are serviced with a combination of company-owned trucks and leased owner operator tractors. “All of our tractors have ‘owner operator specs,’ and none are more than three to four years old,” says RWH Trucking general manager Tommy Snow. “This helps us attract drivers, as well as owner operators and customers.”

Flexible functioning

Having a combination of owner operator and company owned trucks “has worked out very well for us,” he says, “because it gives us a plenty of flexibility in our operations.”

The carrier also gets a lot of operational flexibility from the use of computers, business and management software systems, and telematics, adds Chip Hall, dispatch manager. “These tools allow us to maximize our efficiency and productivity by keeping our drivers busy enough doing what they want to do, while also enabling us to do what the customer wants and needs done.”

Equipment is constantly updated and upgraded, he says. “One of the great things about RWH Trucking is that the owner, Robert Howard, is really up on innovation and technology and likes to have all the ‘bells and whistles’ when it comes to computers, electronics, and equipment. We usually have the newest version as soon as it comes out.”

In particular, Hall cites McLeod Software's transportation management software tools and Qualcomm's integrated wireless applications and services. RWH Trucking bas been using both for many years. Qualcomm had the first satellite-based mobile communications systems for the transportation marketplace.

The McLeod Software provides a merged dispatch and accounting fleet management software system, which is integrated with mobile mileage and fuel software applications and Qualcomm's OmniTRACS system, explains Hall. “This helps us improve our fleet utilization and productivity, reduce operating costs, enhance customer service, and increase security.”The OmniTRACS system provides automatic satellite vehicle positioning and tracking, and two-way text and data communications. All owner operator trucks have the system as well.

Vehicle routing

“Not only can we pinpoint the location of our trucks, we have a history of their travel,” he notes. “When we send a driver his load information, he also gets travel directions and is routed to fuel at certain truckstops — those with the best price at the time — which helps us lower fuel expenses.”

RWH Trucking uses a fuel optimization system from Integrated Decision Support Corporation (IDSC), says Snow. It brings together the carrier's existing dispatch and mobile communications systems with fuel pricing and routing data to provide drivers with optimized fuel purchase and route plans at the time of dispatch.

“Here again, thanks to Howard's keen interest in technology, we've had this fuel optimization system for about three years now, well before fuel prices started going up.”

Snow says the IDSC system considers all relevant route and vehicle factors, including current fuel prices, fuel level, vehicle fuel consumption, state tax implications, fuel network implications, out-of-route miles, route policies, tank fill policies, and driver amenities at fueling locations.

“Technology continues to get better,” Snow says, “and has become more acceptable to drivers. When we add anything new, we let our drivers know why we purchased it, what it can do, and how they and the company will benefit from it.”

“When we started bringing technology onboard, it was pretty challenging,” adds Hall. “On whole, most drivers were very resistant to it. Now, it's hard to find a driver who is opposed to it.”

The company has looked into untethered trailer tracking and remote refrigeration monitoring but “it's a pretty high dollar item that is not cost efficient for us right now,” Snow says.

Driver monitoring

All company tractors have onboard electronics for monitoring driving behaviors, such as fuel usage, idling time, hard braking, and over-speeding. “Every time a truck comes into our shop, we download that information and review it to see if a driver needs some coaching or training,” he says. “We also use the information to compliment our drivers, for example, when they've had really good fuel mileage.”

Both Snow and Hall agree that the importance of leveraging the benefits of information technologies and telecommunications increases with the growth of the company. “Incorporating advancements gives us a competitive advantage by helping us improve our fleet efficiency, reliability, and security,” says Snow.

That is no easy task, considering the size of the fleet and the area it covers.

RWH Trucking has 60 owner operators and 80 company tractors. They are split between 30 Kenworth W900s and 50 Freightliner Classics. Three Freightliner Columbia tractors are dedicated to local and relay work. All equipment is assigned. “We don't slip seat drivers,” says Snow.

There are 200 Utility multi-temp refrigerated trailers, predominately 3000R models, all 53 feet long and 102 inches wide. The trailers have Thermo King refrigeration units. The most recent purchases have been SB-III and SB-310 30 units.

Performance specs

The Kenworths are spec'd with 475-horsepower Caterpillar diesels. The Freightliners have Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines in horsepower ratings from 475 to 505 horsepower. All tractors have 10-speed Eaton manual transmissions, big sleepers, deluxe interiors, and plenty of polished aluminum and chrome accessories.

The Columbia tractors have 350-horsepower Mercedes-Benz engines and 10-speed Eaton manuals.

Additionally, all tractors have an auxiliary power unit to reduce idling and save fuel.

As they finish their duty cycle, RWH Trucking is replacing Freightliner Classics with the manufacturer's more aerodynamic Cascadia tractor equipped with the new, more fuel-efficient Detroit Diesel DD15 engine.

All trailers are outfitted with an automatic tire inflation system — the Meritor Tire Inflation Systems by PSI. The system helps maintain tire inflation, Snow says, which helps improve fuel economy and tire life.

A tire balancer from Hill Tire Company, Forest Park, Georgia, is added to all tractor and trailer tires. The material works to reduce vibration and even tread wear for an enhanced overall ride and extended tire life, he says. Hill Tire handles all of the fleet's tire needs.

Duty cycle

RWH Trucking's single drivers and owner operators average around 100,000 miles per years. Teams can log 200,000 to 250,000 miles annually. At this mileage, the team is transferred into a new truck, and the truck is assigned to a single driver and run for another year or two.

Company tractors are sold or traded at about 400,000 to 500,000 miles — before the warranty expires, Snow says.

All maintenance and service work is done in the company's three-bay shop by 12 fulltime mechanics. “We've got a reputation for having good equipment, and that's among drivers and customers,” he says.

“We're very strict about following a maintenance schedule for our equipment. The first thing done upon a rig's return is a safety check and overall inspection.”

Following this, empty trailers are cleaned in the company's wash bay. Each rig is washed at least once a week when possible.

Snow designed and helped build a mobile reefer shop to service refrigeration units while trailers are staged in the company's two storage yards. One is for empty trailers. The other is for loaded trailers, which are closely monitored for proper operation.

The mobile shop is housed inside a 24-foot van body attached to a 10-wheel Freightliner truck that has a liftgate. For service and repair work, the liftgate is lowered and the truck is backed into position. “This mobile shop saves us a lot of time and effort since we no longer have to pull a trailer in and out of a service bay to work on the reefer,” says Snow.

The company maintains an onsite 2,000-gallon tank of reefer fuel. “We decided not to have fueling for our trucks because of the cost and risks involved,” he says.

Driver hiring

When it comes to finding and retaining drivers and owner operators, RWH Trucking seldom has problems. “Up until the last three to four years, we've always had a waiting list for drivers,” Snow remarks. “Right now we've got only one empty truck.”

Out of 105 company drivers, four are women; 25 are husband and wife teams; 23 are company teams; and two are owner operators.

There is little driver turnover among the company's drivers and owner operators. He attributes this to good equipment, compensation, and communications, and to continually striving to keep drivers content. “Our attitude is, it's only a problem if you make it a problem,” says Hall.

Nor is there much turnover among the company's 225 employees. Many of them have been with the company a long time, as have a good number of drivers and owner operators.

When it comes to hiring new employees, Snow looks for people who like what they do because they usually are more dedicated and committed. “If people don't like their jobs, they're just beating themselves up and making others miserable.

“Being happy in your job makes all the difference,” and it cuts down on all the time and expense of constantly hiring and training new people.

“Many of the drivers that decide to leave us come back within a few months,” he says.

The company has stringent driver hiring practices and turns down about 80 percent of applicants. The three-day new driver orientation program is comprehensive and thorough with a great emphasis on safety, which is a priority for the company.

Through its insurance carrier, RWH Trucking uses safety decals on trailers to help monitor drivers. Each vehicle gets a distinctive numbered decal with an 800 telephone number for motorists to call in any comments on driver safety.

“We've had this for about nine years now,” says Snow. “It has been a good tool for us, and we address every call we get.”

Drivers have an opportunity to earn a monthly bonus based on safety and performance, “which can really add up to a big amount,” says Snow.

Unplanned evolution

RWH Trucking's roots took hold in 1989 when founder Robert Howard, who has a background in trucking, started his freight brokerage company, Southeastern Services, in Oakwood.

His father, Grady, had been a trucker and his older brother, Grady Jr, owned some trucks. Robert bought a truck and hired a driver for it. The truck helped support his college education.

After selling his truck and getting a business degree from the University of Georgia, Howard worked for a couple of logistics companies and freight brokerages before deciding to start his Southeastern Services.

A few years later, a good customer of Howard's convinced him that he should get a couple trucks and start hauling loads in addition to brokering them. Howard bought one tractor, then added several more. He then founded RWH Trucking in 1992.

The two businesses are totally separate. The brokerage business has evolved in a logistics operation, RWH Logistics.

Snow, who has an extensive and diverse background in trucking, including truck driving, diesel mechanics, truck service and repair, wrecker service, operations, and logistics, joined RWH Trucking more than 11 years ago.

The company is a very active member of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, and Snow is serving on the group's convention committee.

Hall came to the company about eight years ago. “I kind of grew up in trucking,” he says. “My Dad drove a truck and then ran a trucking company, and I was always helping him.”

Since Snow has been with the company, it has gradually grown by hiring good people, keeping them motivated and challenged, and acknowledging and rewarding their efforts.

Plus, “we are sticklers for picking up and delivering on time. That's really our business, and our on-time record is close to 99 percent.”

The company is constantly growing its customer base through its people. “It's about personal customer service to our employees, as well as to our customers,” says Hall.

“We want to make it easy for customers to deal with us and provide them with the results they demand,” Snow says.

Along with developing new business, RWH Trucking continues to nurture current customers, strengthening relationships, which leads to increased business.

For the future, says Snow, “we plan to keep on expanding our operations, while closely managing our growth.”

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