Meeting the demands of beer delivery along the west central coast of Florida imposes sometimes contradictory requirements on delivery equipment. Draft beer must be maintained at 38° F or below. Canned or bottled beer must be delivered in a dry environment to protect the integrity of its secondary packaging. In the hot humid climate around Tampa Bay, these requirements can seem almost mutually exclusive.
However, delivering the two product categories to the same customers at separate times with different fleet equipment adds unacceptable costs to the delivery equation. “That is exactly the situation we found when the J J Taylor Companies purchased Anthony Distributing in 1997,” says Jay Martin, vice-president — operations for J J Taylor Distributing Tampa Bay in Tampa, Florida. “When we took possession of the company, standard practice was to deliver draft beer to customers with on-premise sales with one truck and then deliver packaged beer to the same customer at another time — often on the same day — with a different truck.”
In fact, company operation in the middle of 1997 followed beer distributing tradition almost to the letter. Drivers were the primary sales contact for the company. If a driver sold draft beer to bars and restaurants, the truck would start its route with an average of 100 kegs in the truck inventory. The driver would stop at every possible point of sale along the route where some customers would need beer and others would not. By the end of the day, a driver had usually sold about 40 kegs from the 100-keg inventory. The same situation applied to package sales. Not all customers would need more beer on a given day, but the driver made the stop anyway.
Change to pre-sold orders
J J Taylor changed that scenario completely. By the middle of 1998, all route sales had been switched to a pre-sale operation with a sales representative calling on customers the day before delivery. Orders from sales reps are transmitted to J J Taylor across the Internet using wireless web technology from Sprint PCS. Order cutoff is 5 pm, and load sheets are ready by 7 pm. Trucks are loaded overnight and are ready to roll by 6 am the following day. The result of this change is that trucks carry only as much product as has been ordered and only stop for delivery. Drivers are no longer involved in sales.
When the change to delivering only pre-sold orders was instituted, J J Taylor was running 10 routes to deliver a combination of draft and packaged beer on the same vehicle. Reducing the number of stops per route to only those receiving orders allowed the company to cut that part of the delivery fleet to six trucks. Since the initial change, the number of combination routes for draft and packaged beer has grown again to 13 trucks. These routes require 20 to 25 stops in a 10-hour work day with some stops as short as five minutes and others as long as an hour. Although no stop can be called typical, Martin says, an average delivery is two kegs and 10 cases of beer.
The J J Taylor Companies are not new to Florida. Founded in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 1958, the company originally was a distributor for Knickerbocker beer. By 1973, it acquired a franchise to distribute for Miller Brewing Company in parts of New England. In 1988, corporate headquarters were moved from North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to North Palm Beach, Florida. In November 1994, J J Taylor entered the Florida market with the purchase of Gato Distributors, a Miller Brewing franchise for Dade and Monroe counties serving the area from Miami to Key West.
Opening Gulf Coast markets
Next, the company moved into the Gulf Coast markets with the purchase of Anthony Distributing in July 1997. Originally a distributor for Miller Brewing, the Tampa division has expanded operations with the purchase of the local Coors distributor and the addition of products from Heineken USA, Guinness Bass Import Co, Boston Beer Company (producer of Samuel Adams beers), and Ybor City Brewing Company, a local microbrewer. Combining delivery for a number of brewers out of a single facility also represents a change from beer distribution traditions. At one time, distributors represented single product lines, but economies of scale and the demand to increase market share have required consolidation of distributing capacity, Martin says. “When we bought the local Coors house, they were running 32 routes; we certainly did not add 32 routes to our delivery system,” he says.
In July 2001, J J Taylor Companies took an additional step toward total coverage of western Florida with the acquisition of distributors in Sarasota and Ft Myers, Florida. Sales territories were divided between J J Taylor Distributing Tampa Bay and a newly created division: J J Taylor Distributing Ft Myers — Naples. This addition gives J J Taylor Companies access to customers from the Gulf Coast communities north of Tampa into the center of Florida south along the western edge of Lake Okeechobee and on to the coast south of Naples.
J J Taylor Distributing Tampa Bay serves the four-and-a-half counties of the Greater Tampa/St Petersburg metropolitan area. It has sales in nearly 100% of the almost 6,000 businesses that hold licenses to sell beer for on-premise or off-premise consumption. Since taking over in 1997, J J Taylor has spent more than $2 million to upgrade facilities, the fleet, and basic working conditions. The workforce now numbers more than 200, almost a third of the total 625 people in the J J Taylor Companies. In November 2000, the company moved into a newly constructed 245,000-sq-ft distribution center with docks for both truck and rail receiving. Outbound trucks are loaded in a covered drive-through area to ensure that packaging remains dry for delivery. The cooler for draft beer storage contains 10,000 square feet and can be easily expanded to 30,000 square feet.
A language of their own
Brewers and beer distributors speaks a language all their own, particularly when it comes to describing product quantities. Brewers talk of production in barrels with a barrel holding 31 gallons. Distributors, on the other hand, deliver cases, with a case defined as 24 twelve-ounce packages (bottle or can). Regardless of actual package size, all accounting is done in cases, so 24 sixteen-ounce containers become 1.3 cases when deliveries are totaled. Brewers speak of filling half-barrel kegs, which, at 16½ gallons, are actually slightly more than half a barrel. Distributors handle draft beer in kegs that count as 6.889 cases against the delivery tally.
For the most part, delivery follows standard beverage industry practice at J J Taylor Tampa Bay. The fleet has 80 power units, including straight trucks, and 75 trailers. Of those, 45 are conventional side-loading beverage trailers for packaged beer delivery. Another 17 are dry van trailers with power tailgate lifts.
Tradition is challenged, however, with 13 trailers for the combination delivery of draft beer and packaged beer in the same load. The kegs of draft beer must be kept cold, but cased product cannot be cooled without risking condensation damage to the packaging. This requires kegs and cases to be carried in separate load spaces.
When J J Taylor purchased the Tampa operation, combination loads were handled in refrigerated drop-frame trailers with swinging doors in the side walls. Kegs were stacked on the low floor in the center of the trailer. Empty kegs were kept in the raised space above the trailer upper coupler, and packaged beer was hauled in dry bays above the running gear at the rear.
The problem with this equipment was getting to the load after the first stop or two. Drivers had to climb in the trailer to move kegs to the door for removal — no small task, because a full beer keg weighs 175 pounds. Trailers were built to handle 120 kegs.
After the change to pre-sold orders, the company needed equipment that more nearly matched delivery conditions. Trailers for combination routes needed to be easier to unload, and they needed to have flexible load patterns. In general, combination trailers are used for customers that buy a lot of draft beer and only a little packaged beer. If the account buys a lot of draft and a lot of packages, J J Taylor makes two deliveries — one with kegs and another with cases.
The volume of draft beer delivered varies throughout the week, with early week deliveries and weekend deliveries requiring the largest number of kegs. “We wanted trailers that could handle loads with a different ratio of cases to kegs on any given day,” Martin says. “We also needed equipment that would provide flexibility from the refrigeration system. We wanted the ability to shut off refrigeration to parts of the trailer that did not need cooling.”
Sixteen-bay combination trailers
The result is a group of 16-bay side-loading, refrigerated beverage trailers designed in close cooperation with James A Hackney & Sons, a subsidiary of Transportation Technologies Inc. They are designed to handle 64 kegs and 350 cases of packaged beer. Trailers have two dry bays with upward-sliding doors on each side over the tractor drive axle. These bays are 39 inches wide. Aft of the floor drop are four refrigerated bays 54 inches wide and 43 inches deep. Each refrigerated bay is closed by a pair of hinged doors. A fifth deep bay over the drop-deck portion of the trailer offers a 52-inch-wide space for packaged beer, as does another dry bay above the trailer running gear. Payload for a fully loaded combination trailer is slightly more than 17,500 pounds.
Each of the eight refrigerated bays will hold eight draft beer kegs. All are loaded on the floor within easy reach of the door. A shelf that folds down from the rear of the keg bays provides a place to stow empty kegs picked up from customers. Floor height in the keg bays is critical to making the heavy kegs easy for drivers to handle. Typically, drivers drop the nearly indestructible kegs the 19 inches to the ground and then roll them onto a hand truck for movement into the customer location, Martin says.
The first combination trailers, delivered in December 1997, were refrigerated by Thermo King RD-II-50 straight truck units. More recent deliveries are cooled by the new TS-300 units that use a scroll compressor. All refrigeration units are equipped with electric standby so that they can cool overnight after loading without running the diesel engines. Cool air from the evaporator outlet is routed past the front two packaged beer bays on each side in ducts down the trailer centerline just under the ceiling. Ducts have outlets in each of the four keg bays on each side. Just like a room air-conditioner, the ducts can be shut off in the middle bays if those bays are needed to hold packaged beer, says Stony Braswell, fleet manager. In addition, the two front bays are carefully insulated to guard against condensation from the ductwork falling on cased beer packages.
Trailers are designed for a 20-year life cycle as a minimum. They are expensive, so long life is essential. Residual value is another issue; side-loading trailers have few second users, so they are usually refurbished until that is no longer feasible and then scrapped. J J Taylor expects to refurbish trailers about three times. Refrigeration units are expected to last the life of the trailers.
New tractors were placed in service along with the combination trailers. Held on lease from PacLease, the combination route drivers use Model 330 Peterbilt tractors with Caterpillar 3126 engines rated at 275 horsepower. To help cope with the start-and-stop driving of urban delivery, the tractors are equipped with Allison 3060P automatic transmissions.