TO INCREASE sales by improving service, S Abraham & Sons Inc in Grand Rapids, Michigan, replaced trucks and trailers this year, equipping the new models with multi-temperature refrigeration units.
S Abraham & Sons is a regional distributor of various items including tobacco, confectionery products, food, and health and beauty aids. The company operates from its Grand Rapids headquarters and two other distribution centers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Louisville, Kentucky. Deliveries are made in 12 midwestern states: Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kentucky. Annual revenue is about $800 million.
"We are leasing 51 new refrigerated straight trucks and 31 trailers," says Larry Derdaele, vice-president of distribution for S Abraham & Sons. "Our goal is to replace our entire trailer fleet by the end of 2000."
The new equipment helps S Abraham & Sons maintain better temperature control for its wide range of products, Derdaele says. The company delivers frozen, refrigerated, and dry products to convenience stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers. Besides groceries, candy, and health and beauty aids, the company delivers tobacco, dairy products, ice cream, and general merchandise.
"Since we put new multi-temperature trucks in service, customers have said that they will purchase more frozen and refrigerated products from us as we continue to provide good service," Derdaele says. "In other words, they will switch to us from other distributors of these products."
S Abraham & Sons previously used trucks with eutectic plates and single-temperature trailers. "We transported frozen foods in insulated boxes packed with dry ice," Derdaele says. "Unfortunately, this system was not adequate in some cases. We confronted the issues of thawed product and customer dissatisfaction."
Protecting deep frozen products such as ice cream was not part of S Abraham & Sons' original business. The company started out in 1927 as a storefront confectioner. The business was founded by Slayman Abraham. His sons Abe, James, and Wade now serve on the board of directors. Representing the third generation of the family, Alan and Gerald Abraham are the company's president and senior executive vice-president, respectively.
For more than 25 years, S Abraham & Sons has leased delivery trucks from Atlas Truck Rental, a locally owned company that was acquired by Ryder Transportation Services in 1991. S Abraham & Sons continues to lease from Ryder.
S Abraham & Sons' distribution expanded greatly after 1987. In that year the company ran only five trailers to serve Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. In 1992, the company purchased a wholesale grocery facility. That warehouse now serves as the headquarters of S Abraham & Sons.
"After we purchased the warehouse, we consolidated four distribution centers and began making deliveries throughout Michigan from one facility," says Keith Anderson, vice-president of human resources. "Previously, we had been organized as separate divisions."
Two of the company's three distribution centers run sets of doubles to satellite locations where local drivers make deliveries. These locations are in Detroit, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Marion, Ohio; and Dubuque, Iowa.
For example, a set of doubles goes to Detroit daily. The Grand Rapids driver distributes from one trailer, and a local driver delivers from the second trailer. Empty trailers return to Grand Rapids that day. "It's one long day for drivers in the doubles operation," Derdaele says.
The Ryder shop for the S Abraham & Sons fleet is on site at the Grand Rapids distribution center. Three technicians and a fuel island attendant work in the three-bay shop. Tom Hjertquist serves as Ryder's general manager.
S Abraham & Sons' new equipment includes 51 Freightliner FL70 trucks outfitted with 24-ft Johnson refrigerated bodies. The trucks have Carrier Transicold Genesis R-70 multi-temp refrigeration units. Tractors are Mack CH613 conventionals pulling multi-temp Kidron trailers. All but three trailers are 28 footers used in the doubles operation. Others are 48 feet long. All trailers have Thermo King SB-III DE Whisper Edition units.
"We sat down with Ryder a year ago to see what multi-temperature equipment was available," Derdaele says. "We looked intensely at several truck body, trailer, and transport refrigeration manufacturers before choosing suppliers."
Derdaele says the company chose Genesis R70 units for its straight trucks because Carrier Transicold has a proven track record with multi-temp truck units in North America. The Johnson truck bodies have center dividers partitioning the front of the trucks into two narrow freezer and cooler sections.
"We designed a box with three compartments - a freezer compartment at 0 degree F, a cooler at 38 degrees F, and a dry compartment," Derdaele says. "F/G Products bulkheads divide the truck body down the middle. Compartments are six feet long and can be extended to 18 ft. The roadside compartment is for frozen food, and the curbside is for chilled products."
Some trucks already have nine-ft dividers, Derdaele says. A flexible F/G Products bulkhead at the rear end of the center divider forms a compartment for dry products.
The Carrier Transicold Genesis R70 system uses a single host condenser unit for two remote evaporators mounted on the ceiling in each compartment about eight inches behind the front wall. Compartment temperatures are controlled independently. A control panel for the refrigerated compartments is installed on the interior roadside wall near the rear door.
Johnson FRP Bodies
S Abraham & Sons is impressed with Johnson Truck Body's all-FRP fiberglass bodies. "Johnson bodies' smooth outside FRP panels and seamless inside FRP liners drew us toward this manufacturer," Derdaele says. "We believe the construction of Johnson bodies is superior."
Insulation in the floor, ceiling, and front walls is four inches. Sidewalls carry three inches of insulation. The interiors have flat, nonslip extruded aluminum flooring, supported by 6-inch steel longitudinal sills. Cross members are on 12-inch centers for the front 20 feet and on 8-inch centers for the rear four feet. A 12-inch-high, 3/16-inch-thick smooth aluminum scuff band is welded to the floor.
Two rows of horizontal logistics track 30 inches and 60 inches above the floor extend aft from the side doors. Side doors are located 18 inches from the front wall and are hinged on the rear. They are 30 inches wide and 74 inches high. The molded doors have four-point stainless steel locks, 9-inch stainless strap hinges, and stainless T-type door holders plus eave troughs, and gaskets. Each door has a recessed internal release allowing drivers to open doors from inside the body. Drivers have access to the side doors using Johnson's three-step tip-out stair below the doors and 48-inch stainless steel grab handles.
Rear doors are 112-inch Whiting Temp-Saver insulated roll-ups, 87 inches wide and 85 inches high. They are equipped with an internal release lock, heavy-duty stainless steel frame liner, and 12-inch aluminum track guards. A 14-ft ROM Corporation Road Warrior walk ramp with lift assist is installed between longitudinal sills in an enclosed compartment.
Kidron Ultra Trailers
S Abraham & Sons' trailers conform to the same multi-temp configuration as truck bodies. Kidron Ultra trailers have center dividers extending back seven feet from the front wall. Dividers can be extended as far as 20 feet to accommodate increased volumes of refrigerated and frozen products.
The trailers have prepainted white aluminum exterior panels, glassboard liners on ceilings and sidewalls, and carry four inches of urethane insulation in the floor and front wall, and three inches in the sidewalls and ceiling.
Thermo King SB-III DE Whisper Edition units were chosen for the trailers in part because of the noise-abatement technology, Derdaele says. These SB-IIIs are designed for longitudinally divided trailers; dual, hence DE, side-by-side evaporator coils are built into the nose-mount refrigeration unit.
"Carrier Transicold and Thermo King are the two big players in the transport refrigeration industry," Derdaele says. "We decided to use units from both to ensure service when we need it. Both manufacturers have dealers within 10 miles of our distribution center. Ryder has arranged for them to provide refrigeration unit service as part of our lease agreement."
For security and temperature control, S Abraham & Sons equipped the rear roll-up doors on its truck bodies and trailers with remote control opening systems installed by Automatic Truck Door, Grand Rapids. "We want doors closed for security," Derdaele says. "The driver may make 20 trips into a store during delivery, and the remote control makes closing the door each time easier. Drivers can operate the door with a pocket remote control."
Driver Input on Specs
The automatic door openers were installed with the encouragement of S Abraham & Sons drivers. The company consulted drivers before truck and trailer specifications were finalized.
"We scheduled a general meeting for our 70 drivers in Grand Rapids to discuss straight truck, trailer, and tractor specs," Derdaele says. "They provided input on mirrors, doors, ramps, and other equipment that makes their work easier. For instance, we installed five side view mirrors on the curbside of the straight trucks to eliminate driver blind spots. A convex mirror is mounted above the side window and points down to show if someone is hiding at the passenger side of the truck. We make some deliveries in high-crime areas. This mirror is for the driver's security and safety."
Other driver input specifications are grab handles on the trucks' curbside rear frame, two-step rear bumpers, separate side doors for each refrigerated compartment, and the three-step, tip-out stairs under the side doors.
"We made some major changes in equipment," Derdaele says. "To train our drivers and dock personnel to use the equipment, we held a Saturday session presented by vendors. Representatives of Ryder, Carrier Transicold, Thermo King, Johnson, F/G Products, and Automatic Truck Door explained the equipment. About 150 people attending these sessions were divided into groups of 30. We had an outside firm video tape the sessions for training future employees. The sessions were very well received by our employees."
The training sessions obviously will help S Abraham & Sons employees improve performance and contribute to the company's goal of continuous improvement, Derdaele says. "The more training we provide, the better equipped our employees are to provide awesome customer service," Derdaele says. "We leased the new trucks to provide that kind of service." ♦