FIND OUT what the customer wants, and work hard to meet those expectations. Repeat the process every single day.

In a nutshell, that is Denny Hammonds' strategy for building a successful tank truck fleet operation. The approach has worked very well for nearly 25 years for his company — D F Hammonds Inc. During that quarter century the foodgrade hauler firmly established its position as a primary carrier at the Memphis, Tennessee, plant operated by a major corn sweetener processor.

“Even with the recession, we had a very good year in 2009, and 2010 has started well for us,” says Denny, founder and owner of D F Hammonds. “We credit our success over the past year to hard work and a constant determination to give all of our customers — large and small — the very best service.

“We listen to our customers, we tell them what we can do to meet their needs, and we perform to the best of our ability. We take responsibility for our performance, and we fix problems immediately. We have a small management team, and customers know that every phone call will be answered by a manager who can make a decision. Our drivers and tank cleaners are some of the best in the industry, and they get much of the credit for making this company successful.”

Personalized service

That personalized service brought steady growth for the regional tank truck carrier. Hammonds started as an owner-operator and bought his first tractor in 1979. The company was incorporated in 1986 and currently operates 28 tractors and 31 tank trailers.

Throughout D F Hammonds' 24-year history, the carrier was focused exclusively on liquid sweeteners. Going forward, the carrier is exploring opportunities to diversify into other foodgrade cargoes, including edible oils and dry bulk food products.

“We do a very good job of hauling sweeteners, and our business has continued to grow,” Denny says. “We have been working with one primary customer in Memphis for the entire time we've been in business.”

In fact, Denny cites the strong relationship with that primary customer for his decision to uproot the company from what had been its home base in Wynne, Arkansas, and move it about 50 miles to Memphis in 2007. “We wanted to get closer to our customer's plant,” Denny says. “At least 80% of the loads we haul go east or south from Memphis. We seldom had shipments that sent our trucks through Arkansas toward our terminal in Wynne.”

That became more of an issue as diesel prices started to climb. D F Hammonds tractor-trailer rigs faced a 100-mile roundtrip shuttling between the Wynne terminal and the customer plant in Memphis, and the diesel used for those deadhead movements was not covered by a fuel surcharge.

Memphis relocation

The solution was to move the terminal and fleet offices closer to the customer, and that is what the carrier did. D F Hammonds sold its facility in Wynne and bought a new property on Presidents Island on the southwest side of Memphis.

“A friend found an existing truck terminal that was being vacated by the truck fleet that owned it,” Denny says. “We bought it before it was even listed.”

Developed in the 1960s, the 2.2-acre location served as a terminal for a number of truck fleets, including tank truck carriers. An existing building on the property contained offices and a small maintenance shop and what had been a one-bay chemical wash rack.

The facility got a thorough makeover before the D F Hammonds operation moved in. The offices were refurbished and repainted. Construction workers completely gutted the existing shop and wash bay and replaced them with a two-bay foodgrade wash rack.

An environmental company cleaned out sumps and drains to remove chemical residues. Workers replaced the existing piping and waterlines with stainless pipes and poured new concrete flooring. They installed new galvanized mezzanines and rewired the wash bays.

Wash system

Most importantly, D F Hammonds installed a new Peacock high-pressure, low-volume wash unit. “We bought the largest Peacock unit that was available at the time,” Denny says. “It has a 2.5-million Btu capacity and is more than enough for our operation.”

Denny adds that the wash rack project was overseen by Ben Kelley, who was instrumental in designing the original tank wash system that is currently manufactured and marketed by The Peacock Company Inc.

“Ben Kelley is the only person I've ever dealt with for tank wash equipment,” he says. “I chose his Kelton wash unit for my first wash rack in Wynne after seeing an ad in Bulk Transporter.

“I wanted a single-pass wash system because it is less complicated and less expensive to operate than a recirculating vat unit. In addition, vat units offer more potential for contamination. As a foodgrade carrier, we are very concerned about ensuring food safety.”

The Peacock unit serves both bays at the D F Hammonds wash rack, but only one trailer at a time can be cleaned. Spinners from Spraying Systems Inc do a good job of removing product from the tanks.

Cleaning volume

The cleaning rack averages 18 tank washes a day and is operated by a four-man crew. Depending on shipment volumes, cleaning operations can be conducted virtually around the clock at D F Hammonds.