JEFF DILLON, founder and president of Dillon Transport Inc, lists three keys to success for his company: Be there when the customer expects you; deliver a quality customer experience with every load; and find a solution when the customer needs it.

Delivering on those objectives has enabled Dillon to build a thriving tank truck carrier operation that serves customers throughout the eastern half of the United States. Based in Burr Ridge, Illinois, the 30-year-old trucking company runs a fleet that includes 280 late-model tractors and 350 tank and dry bulk trailers.

“We are succeeding and thriving because everyone at this company — from top to bottom — recognizes that our customers are our top priority,” Dillon says. “That was our priority when we started this company, and we never forget the value of our relationships with our customers and the importance of providing the very best possible service with each load.

“We have a young management team that works hard and is enthusiastic about this business. We have grown to a good size that enables us to serve large construction projects needing large volumes of asphalt. At the same time, we are very flexible and can respond quickly to special requests from customers.

“We believe that focus on customer relationships has helped carry us through the current recession. We were able to grow 8% during the worst of the recession in 2009, which was impressive during a year that saw 450 trucking companies shut down in the fourth quarter alone. We continued to grow during 2010, and we expect revenues to reach $50 million in 2011.

“Quite a lot transportation capacity is gone from the marketplace now, and that is bringing opportunities for us. We're picking up new lanes of traffic, and we are moving into some new industries. We feel like we are at the ground floor on many of the new products we have begun hauling, and that is going to drive our future growth.”

Steady growth

Dillon Transport has recorded steady annual growth since its start in 1980 as a construction hauler with a single tractor and dump trailer rig. The company's biggest growth spurt came during the 2007-2008 period when revenues surged from $25 million to $43 million.

From the very beginning, Dillon Transport managers sought out expansion opportunities. By 1985, the carrier had bought its first tank trailers and was expanding into asphalt hauling. Geographic expansion beyond the upper Midwest started in 1994 when Dillon Transport began hauling roofing asphalt for a shipper in Savannah, Georgia.

Today, the carrier operates out of 15 terminals serving 25 states. The newest terminal was opened in early 2010 in Heidelberg, Mississippi, to support an asphalt plant.

“Our primary focus is east of the Rocky Mountains,” says Charles Musgrove, vice-president of Dillon Transport. “Our company will see most of its growth in that region.”

Within the region, the Dillon Transport management team is working aggressively to diversify the range of products transported. New products hauled over the past year include resin, #6 oil, phosphoric acid, locomotive lubricants, and industrial minerals.

“We want business with sustainability that will enable us to keep growing,” Musgrove says. “We're looking at more opportunities in the oilfield, and we want to handle more renewable products, like biofuels. We see a lot of potential for liquefied natural gas.”

Asphalt focus

Construction materials currently account for about 80% of the cargoes hauled by Dillon Transport. Asphalt is the dominant construction product hauled, and will remain very important. Construction-related cargoes include industrial minerals and other dry bulk products.

“We believe 2011 will be a positive year for asphalt,” Dillon says. “I expect demand to increase slightly while supply will remain stagnant. The asphalt industry has changed and is more volatile today. We've lost refining capacity in the United States, and supplies are tighter.”

US refineries and other asphalt producers continue to reduce their asphalt output through new technologies or degradation of refining capacity. In addition, asphalt shipments from Venezuela have been curtailed. “This means our customers must develop new supply points to meet their growing needs,” Dillon says. “The end result is that we are serving our customers over new and longer supply lanes. Our drivers are now spending longer amounts of time on construction projects — four to six weeks at a stretch in some cases.”

Despite the challenges, asphalt remains a critical construction material. “We see more use of asphalt emulsion in road repairs, and asphalt is still used as a base when concrete roads are built,” Dillon says. “Asphalt is being used in many of the highway resurfacing projects that are part of the federal government's economic stimulus program.”

Outstanding drivers

Managing an increasingly diverse shipment portfolio takes good oversight, outstanding drivers, and a very well specified fleet. Operations are directed with the help of McLeod software that enables real-time dispatch. A GPS-based fleet management system tracks the location of every tractor-trailer rig in the fleet every minute of the day. In the near future, the Dillon Transport website will provide customers with their own portal to track shipment and paperwork.

Each Dillon Transport terminal has its own dispatchers. “We need local dispatchers for the various markets we serve,” Musgrove says. “We believe it is important to work with our customers one-on-one.”

Drivers are part of the one-on-one effort. Dillon Transport uses only company drivers, and management makes it clear that they are the face of the company to most customers. “We hire professional and healthy drivers, and we give them the training needed to do the job safely and in a customer-focused manner,” Musgrove says.

He acknowledges that finding good drivers has become more difficult. “We've had to become more creative in reaching out to potential drivers, and we are having success at that,” he says. “We produced a television commercial earlier this year that we posted on You Tube. We set up a blog online to tell drivers about Dillon Transport.

Tough requirements

Despite the market challenges, the carrier has not relaxed driver qualification requirements. Applicants are carefully screened to ensure professionalism and experience, according to Mark Brinkman, Dillon Transport safety director.