Waccamaw Transport burnishes image, expands services
Jul 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
A BOLD color scheme for tractors and new graphics on tank trailers have helped raise the profile of Waccamaw Transport, Selma, North Carolina. It's all part of a broad effort to position the tank truck operation as a premium provider of petroleum distribution services.
All indications are that the strategy is succeeding and is leading to fresh growth opportunities. With annual growth rates approaching 25%, Waccamaw Transport is moving across the mid-Atlantic region. It's also expanding the range of cargoes hauled.
“We want people to see us as the best petroleum hauler in the region,” says Danny Page, Waccamaw Transport fleet director. “We want to have the best drivers and equipment, provide the best service, and present the best image. We've invested a lot over the past couple of years in support of these objectives, and the effort is paying off.
“On an annual basis, we're delivering 225 million gallons of gasoline and 50 million gallons of propane. We've made a significant expansion into lubricants. We're benefiting from continued fleet consolidation in the petroleum-marketing sector. We're the right size — with 42 tractors and about 56 tank trailers — to provide customers with very personalized service. We're happy with the one-to-five-million-gallon accounts.
“We're also growing with the US economy. Across the entire US economy, demand for transport is as high as it has ever been. Demand exceeds supply. We've seen soaring demand for petroleum transport, and it has given us more of an opportunity to target business with good margins.”
Not even one of the worst hurricane seasons ever experienced by the Southeast last year could dampen the enthusiasm at Waccamaw Transport. However, that's not to say that the fleet didn't face some challenging days during August and September 2004.
Over the course of six weeks, the region served by Waccamaw Transport endured tropical storm Gaston and hurricanes Charley, Ivan, Frances, and Jeanne. Combined damage from these storms reportedly exceeded $23 billion.
“We were very fortunate,” Page says. “Our own facilities and employees came through in good shape. We got wind and rain, and some tornadoes were reported in the vicinity of our terminals, but that was all.
“The biggest impact to us from the storms was increased demand for gasoline and other motor fuels,” Page says. “Some convenience store volumes were up as much as 50%, and our fleet ran nonstop.”
Contending with hurricanes and tropical storms is always a team effort. With this year's forecast for more of the same, Page and his staff at Waccamaw Transport keep a close watch over convenience store inventory levels, driver locations, and vehicle status. Drivers work maximum shifts, and mechanics make sure that tractors and trailers are in top condition.
“We are always at our busiest during the days before each storm,” Page says. “Demand for fuel is highest at that point. We move equipment and drivers around as much as possible to ensure a steady supply of product to each C-store. If necessary, we pull equipment out of an area within hours of a storm's arrival. After the storm passes, we go back in as soon as possible, but it can be challenging working around flooded areas.
“In the worst cases, we shut down operations as hurricanes approach because we don't compromise safety at this company. An empty petroleum tank is unstable out on the road, especially when wind gusts exceed 40 to 50 miles an hour. We send the drivers home to be with their families when the storms get close.”
Company policy is to make sure tank trailers are empty and to park them before the storm arrives. “We just hunker down with our fleet,” Page says. “We believe it's best for the tanks to be empty, because we're concerned about what could happen if flying debris hits a trailer.”
Hurricanes and tropical storms have presented challenges throughout the 65 years that Waccamaw Transport's parent company, Clark Brothers Inc, has been in business. Based in Clinton, North Carolina, Clark Brothers is involved in a variety of petroleum industry businesses.
Convenience stores are an important part of the business and are operated through Sampson-Bladen Oil Co and United Energy, which runs a network of 71 C-stores in North Carolina. The C-Store operation got a significant boost in 2004 with the purchase of 36 Crown stations in the Triangle region (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point) and eastern North Carolina. Most of the company-owned C-stores carry the Han-Dee Hugo name.
A lubricant division also is generating strong growth for Clark Brothers. The division distributes lube oils and coolant from facilities near the main office in Clinton and in Cheraw, South Carolina.
Transportation for both the C-stores and the lubricant division is provided by Waccamaw Transport. The trucking operation also hauls fuels under contract for other petroleum marketers.
For the lube oil division, Waccamaw Transport currently is running seven tractor-trailer combinations. “We're still getting started with this operation, but we hope to reach 10 units within the next three to six months,” Page says. “We transport the products in bulk using older petroleum trailers and newer tractors. Most of the lubricant shipments are longhaul, so we're running tractors with sleepers.”
Most of Waccamaw Transport's 42 tractors and 56 tank trailers are assigned to the refined petroleum operations. Vehicles are based at a number of locations, including Chesapeake, Virginia; Selma (main terminal), Wilmington and Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Florence, South Carolina.
“We're experiencing a good spurt of growth right now, and we're moving westward along the pipelines,” Page says. “For instance, we're expanding into Greensboro and Charlotte (North Carolina).
“To keep up with the growth, we have added PeopleNet onboard computers with global positioning satellite capability. It has allowed us to fully automate most of our administrative functions. Customers can now receive their shipping information before the truck actually leaves the delivery location. We're also hiring more drivers and adding more tractors and trailers.”
Two drivers are assigned to each tractor — each working a 12-hour shift. “We build the best slip-seat teams possible,” Page says. “We hire experienced drivers who are dedicated to safety, and we try to pair compatible personalities.”
Most of the transport drivers haul gasoline and propane. “Usually, LP-gas demand picks up as gasoline sales are slowing down,” Page says. “LP-gas is a seasonal product that complements our gasoline operations very well.”
Waccamaw Transport rigs typically operate within a 150-mile radius of petroleum terminals, and they serve both urban and rural areas. The fleet is achieving close to 99% on-time delivery. “We are confident our service will get even better with the use of the onboard computers and our commitment to excellence,” Page says.
Daytime drivers average four to five trips per shift, and nighttime performance is even better. “We're trying to expand our nighttime operations because productivity is higher due to reduced traffic congestion on the highways and at loading terminals,” Page says.
In addition to C-store deliveries, the fleet supplies product to numerous bulk plants. Dispersed across North Carolina, most of the bulk plants are dedicated to either gasoline or propane. “We do have some combined operations in rural locations,” Page says.
Operations are conducted by a fleet that is getting younger almost by the day. Of the 42 tractors in the fleet, 14 were purchased in 2003, and another 14 were added in 2004. Most of the tractor purchases were for fleet growth.
“We would like to buy more tractors this year, but lengthy lead times remain a limiting factor,” Page says. “When we do add more new tractors, they will be from Kenworth, which has become our fleet standard.”
The newest T800s in the fleet are powered by Caterpillar's 420-horsepower C-13 engine with ACERT technology. “We wanted the Caterpillar engines to avoid power plants fitted with EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) systems,” says Eric Pate, Waccamaw Transport safety manager. “We have avoided 5% to 10% degradation in fuel economy that was predicted for the EGR engines.”
Cabs have a number of upgrades, such as power windows on the passenger side, corner and rear cab windows, Kenworth's daylight one-piece door window, and plenty of mirrors. Tractor specs also include Eaton Fuller 10-speed transmissions, Kenworth air suspensions, aluminum disc wheels, and 11R22.5 low-profile tires.
Forty-five of the trailers are petroleum transports, and the newest ones are five-compartment units with a 9,200-gallon capacity. LBT Inc is the primary manufacturer, and tank trailers are purchased through Frontier Trailer Associates Inc.
Some of the petroleum transport trailers have Roper product pumps for use in deliveries to aboveground tanks and for pumping out underground storage tanks. Other tank equipment includes Betts internal valves, Emco Wheaton bottom-loading adapters, Scully overfill protection, Emco Wheaton elbows, Goodall hoses, and hose couplings from Dixon Bayco and PT Coupling.
Full-length hose trays ensure plenty of room for hoses. Forty-eight-inch equipment cabinets have ample space for fittings and tools. LED lighting is used throughout the trailers, including strobe-effect LED center-mounted brake lights at the rear for greater visibility in traffic.
The eight newest trailers in the fleet were ordered with Michelin X-One widebase single tires and Hendrickson's electronic tire monitoring and inflation system. The widebase tires and other weight-saving features, such as aluminum subframes, result in a lighter tare weight that enables Waccamaw Transport to significantly increase customer payloads and improve fuel economy.
Both the trailers and tractors sport new graphics with a bold look. “We wanted to raise the profile of the fleet as part of our growth strategy,” Page says. “We believe it is working out very well.”
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