Advertising boosts sales; conventional wisdom says so, as does almost every marketing survey. Highway advertising has a long history of success, both with stationary billboards and on the sides of trucks and trailers. However, how can a meat processor without a fleet of its own take advantage of widespread distribution of its goods to spread a marketing message? In the case of Bar-S Foods Co, the solution is to place its message on equipment owned and operated by a motor carrier that hauls a great deal of its freight.
“In fact, we are not a large advertiser in general media,” says Joe Stewart, vice-president of marketing for Bar-S Foods. “But we do take advantage of the fact that trucks carrying our products can be seen from coast to coast. This is an easy way to place the Bar-S brand in front of the public at the same time we move our products to market. We like the idea, and we like the economics that go with it.”
Bar-S Foods has installed its own graphics package of trailers belonging to its largest transportation supplier. 3KB Transportation of Altus, Oklahoma, hauls 10 or more loads a day from the Bar-S central distribution center in Elk City, Oklahoma. The program started almost 10 years ago, when Bar-S purchased adhesive decals for 40 3KB refrigerated trailers.
Photos for Product Identification
In the early days of the Bar-S graphics program, trailers carried little more than some colored stripes, the company slogan, and the Bar-S logo. “As we moved farther afield with our distribution, we began to see the need to let the public know what Bar-S was selling,” Stewart says. “Were we selling hot dogs or tennis shoes? We added four-color illustrations of our products to the graphics package, because we wanted the public to see our packaging and what sort of things we had to offer.”
Within the past year, this program has been updated with the installation of Flexi-Frame marking systems on 32 trailers at 3KB. Flexi-Frame uses printed vinyl and fiber fabric stretched across a frame attached to the trailer sidewall. The sheet is the same size as a trailer sidewall and gives the impression that the advertising has been painted or printed on the trailer. It provides a flat surface for type and images even when trailers are built with corrugated side sheets. The flexible image sheet can be removed and replaced in as little as an hour. This is the same process used to cover highway billboards. The flexible sheet printing is provided by Metromedia Technologies, and frames and sheet are installed by Driving Impressions of Seattle, Washington. Metromedia Technologies is headquartered in Los Angeles.
The flexible sheet graphics system has several advantages over adhesive decals. The most obvious is the ability to change messages without extensive trailer preparation. No decal removal or trailer repainting is required. The opaque sheets simply cover whatever was on the trailer previously. Trailers need not be in perfect condition for flexible sheet installation. The sheets cover peeling paint and patched sidewalls as though the trailer were new.
Installation or change is simple. The printed fabric sheet is laid out alongside the trailer and attached to the top mounting rail. This rail is then attached to the trailer sidewall. A front rail is then attached to the sheet and trailer just aft of the front corner post. The sheet is stretched into place from the rear of the trailer and along the lower edge and secured. The final installation step is mounting triangular gussets at the corners. The entire marking system attaches to the sidewall below the upper side rail, above the lower side rail, aft of the front corner post, and forward of the rear frame. Only the thickness of the vinyl sheet and the light gauge metal frame is added to the width of the trailer, significantly less than one-half inch total. Weight is negligible as well.
Driving Impressions sent a crew of three to Altus, Oklahoma, to the 3KB headquarters to install the marking systems. They prepared and finished three trailers a day. The first installations were on older trailers used to shuttle product from processing plants to the Bar-S distribution center. The idea was to keep the trailers close to home so that they could be monitored closely.
The Flexi-Frame system costs about the same to produce as a set of adhesive decals. However, it is much less costly to change. “Once a trailer has had decals installed, it can never be successfully remarked without a complete paint job first,” says Brent Byrd, Bar-S director of logistics. “Unless the trailer is painted, the ghost of the old decals always shows. With this system, old decals are not even removed. We just install the new sheets right over the existing decals as we did on some of 3KB's 48-ft trailers. The 53-footers are new and the markings were installed over plain white trailer sides. That should be an asset to 3KB when those trailers are sold, because they will show no markings. In addition, the side panels should be less weathered, because they will have been covered all the time.”
Although some users close the leading edge seam between the marking sheet and trailer with silicone sealant, Byrd says this is not really necessary. “One of our main concerns prior to our test was whether air behind the sheet would cause it to bulge or wrinkle,” he says. “In fact, air does get behind the sheet, but at highway speed, the sheet seems to suck up flat against the trailer wall.
“We also worried about the possibility of tearing. We have damaged some of the sheets, but have found that they do not tear when punctured. Repair is easy. You remove the sheet and put the repair on the back.”
The new material carries a three-year warranty but is expected to last longer. That is especially true if a fleet changes the sheets from time to time. Part of the time, the sheets will be folded and stored on a shelf, Byrd says.
Although convinced of the advantages of the new marking system now, Byrd says that making the decision was a lengthy process. The first sales approach from Metromedia came more than two years ago and was followed by several visits to other fleets using the system.
The new marking system was installed, starting on August 11, 2000. Byrd began with 12 trailers as a test. When those proved successful, an additional 20 3KB trailers were equipped with the flexible sheet marking system. The original 12 trailers had a design featuring Bar-S 1# Jumbo Franks, Jumbo Beef Franks, and Jumbo Chicken Franks. The additional 20 trailers show Bar-S 1# Bacon, 1# Bologna, and 1# Jumbo Franks.
Four Bar-S Locations
Obviously, Bar-S Foods is a meat processor. It has corporate headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, and four processing and distribution facilities in Oklahoma. Bar-S is one of the ten largest privately held companies in Arizona and ranks among the top 40 largest meat-processing companies in the United States. More than 1,600 employees are responsible for annual sales exceeding $350 million annually. The company produces hot dogs, sliced bacon, hams, lunch meat, and smoked sausage for sale at retail, service deli, and foodservice throughout the US and international markets. Although controlled from Phoenix, Bar-S operates from processing plants in Altus, Clinton, and Lawton, Oklahoma, and a central distribution and service center in Elk City, Oklahoma.
Bar-S began operation in 1981 following a management purchase of the facilities, brand names, and other assets of the Cudahy Company. The purchase included three manufacturing plants and 11 distribution centers. Of these, only the one in Clinton, Oklahoma, remains in operation. The two other plants, first the hog slaughtering and processing facility in Seattle, Washington, and then the bacon and ham plant in Denver, Colorado, were closed.
The Clinton plant was downsized following the Cudahy purchase and has been expanded twice since. It now has 120,000 sq ft of production space and turns out more than two million pounds of lunch meat, hams, hot dogs, and sausage products every week. The 145,000-sq-ft Altus plant opened in 1993 and produces more than four million pounds of hot dogs and sliced bacon weekly. The newest plant in the Bar-S corral is an 85,000-sq-ft hot dog and smoked sausage facility in Lawton, Oklahoma, with the capacity to produce more than three million pounds weekly. Production from all three plants is shuttled to a 145,000-sq-ft central distribution and service center in Elk City, Oklahoma. The Elk City operation ships more than 10 million pounds a week. This equates to roughly 250 trailer loads a week, a number that can rise to more than 300 loads weekly during peak seasonal demand. The Elk City distribution center and the sausage plant in Lawton have been in operation since 1998.
Largest Transportation Supplier
Roughly 30% of this freight moves on 3KB Transportation of Altus, Oklahoma, the single largest supplier in Bar-S' core group of 11 active carriers. In addition to hauling 10 to 12 outbound loads from Elk City every day, 3KB handles shuttle duty for Bar-S, moving product from the processing plants to the distribution center and delivering supplies from Elk City to the plants. The distribution center needs to receive 40 to 45 loads from the plants every day to meet its outbound shipping needs.
3KB Transportation began business in 1968 as Baker Trucking, a rock-hauling company. Later, refrigerated services were added. In 1987, the company was renamed 3KB Transportation in recognition of founder Dale Baker's three sons, Kevin, Keith, and Kirk. Keith Baker currently serves as president of the truckload carrier that operates 100 tractors and 150 refrigerated trailers.
Tractors at 3KB are Century Class or Classic XL Freightliners. They pull Great Dane Super Seal refrigerated trailers. The fleet has a mix of refrigeration units with a large number of Carrier Transicold Ultras. The latest order of 53-ft refrigerated vans is equipped with Thermo King's new SB-200 units.
“Bar-S is the largest of our approximately 30 customers,” Keith Baker says. “We provide outbound and inbound moves plus a dedicated shuttle operation. The longhaul fleet serves 48 states with a lot of service into the Southeast, particularly Florida, and to the West Coast concentrating on the Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles area. Most of our equipment runs with solo drivers who are gone two to three weeks after leaving Elk City. About one-third of those linehaul trips ends with a delivery to a Bar-S facility. We also terminate a lot of freight in Oklahoma City and Dallas.”
The Bar-S location in Elk City is advantageous to 3KB, because it is closer to major freight destinations than many of the meat plants in and around the Texas Panhandle. Terminating a load in Dallas requires 320 empty miles to reach Elk City. It's 117 miles from Oklahoma City. A carrier going on to the meat plant in Cactus, Texas, has to log another 150 miles to reach a paying load.
“We have another advantage for carriers as well,” says Brent Byrd, director of logistics for Bar-S. “We are right on Interstate 40 with easy on and off access.”
The entire advertising program with Bar-S and 3KB has been a cooperative venture. In the beginning, Bar-S paid for decals and their installation. With the new system, Bar-S owns the graphics sheets and frames. 3KB owns the trailers.
The program has been a success for both companies, although some customers tend to confuse 3KB with Bar-S. “A few people think we are actually Bar-S,” Baker says. “However, we've never had any difficulty with other customers. We actually haul for some other meat packers in trailers with the Bar-S markings. No one has ever questioned it.”