THIS has been a good year for First Choice logistics Inc. Business has been solid, and the tank truck carrier is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Over its 30 years, First Choice has built a diverse operation. With headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, First Choice provides full-service tank truck carriage across the Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast regions of the United States and Canada. The company currently operates roughly 100 tractors and 250 trailers.
In addition to tank truck service, the company offers ISO tank container drayage and hazardous and non-hazardous waste handling. Finally, third-party logistics provider Logistics First Inc employs a team of experienced professionals that can arrange the transport of liquid bulk hazardous and non-hazardous cargoes throughout the United States and Canada.
“Our 30th anniversary gives us an opportunity to celebrate what we have accomplished with this company,” says Luke Jousma, vice-president of First Choice Logistics Inc. “We’ll have a party later this year in Chicago, and then we will get to work on the next 30 years.
“We’ve been running hard this year. Business started to really pick up after Memorial Day, and the summer was very active. We’re still going strong.
“While the Gulf Coast market had shown some softness, our Houston (Texas) operations have been growing. Even Hurricane Harvey wasn’t enough to have a significant impact on our business.
“To keep up with customer demand, we’ve added quite a bit of new equipment for fleet replacement and expansion over the past 24 months. We expect to add more equipment in 2018.”
Clearly, First Choice Logistics has come a long way in three decades. The operations that became First Choice Logistics started out as subsidiary operations under Ozinga Bros Inc, a family-owned company that has been providing concrete, building materials, energy, and logistics solutions since 1928.
Under the Ozinga Transportation Systems banner, liquid bulk transportation operations were broken into four units. Chemical hauling and environmental waste transport units were established in 1986. A construction aggregate hauling unit was started a year later. First Choice Logistics was established in 1998 as a bulk freight brokerage.
Richard Jousma (Luke’s father) served as president of Ozinga Transportation Systems. He continues in that role at First Choice Logistics.
“In 2004, we changed the name of the company and re-branded it to be called First Choice Logistics,” Richard says.
While volumes have declined over the years, First Choice Logistics remains very involved in transporting and disposing of environmental waste. “We have a long history of working with industrial-cleaning and remedial-service companies,” Richard says.
Most of the waste handling is concentrated in the Chicago area and surrounding states. Specialized equipment includes vacuum tanks, waste trailers, and van trailers.
On the chemical tank truck side, the carrier concentrates on primary liquid bulk traffic lanes in the eastern half of the United States and Canada. Every effort is made to deliver a high level of personalized customer service.
“While specialty chemicals are a key focus, we also handle other cargoes such as solvents and caustic soda,” Luke Jousma says. “As a dedicated carrier, we can provide a full range of services, from shipping to storage. Our equipment is designed to maintain the appropriate temperature for the cargo.
“Our experienced management team uses our own On-Track Logistics System to manage orders from inception to delivery, and provides real time billing, record management, and maintenance history. We use TMW Suite in our central dispatch, and we recently added TMW Trip Alert to calculate a real time estimated time of arrival based on driver logs, road conditions, and other factors. All of this helps us achieve a 98.2% on-time rating and a 100% product performance rate.”
Tank container drayage was added in 2007 after the owner of operator Calumet Container Corp, a tank container depot operator said he was looking for a new transport partner. First Choice Logistics now operates 100 drop-frame tank container chassis, most of which are in Chicago. Twenty chassis are in Houston.
“Our intermodal activity has been growing steadily in the Chicago area,” says Luke Jousma. “It has been slower in Houston, which is a more competitive tank container market. Imports of alcohol, resins, and soaps account for much of the Chicago tank container activity.
Rounding out the range of services designed to provide safe, efficient transportation of liquid bulk cargoes is Logistics First Inc, a third-party logistics provider with a proven safety record spanning 20-plus years. The company is a specialist in managing hazardous and non-hazardous liquid bulk shipments.
The 3PL handles regional and long-haul shipments throughout the United States and Canada, ISO containers and intermodal movements, and dedicated fleet services. An experienced management team can handle carrier procurement and management, inbound cost analysis, and detailed analysis of freight rates. Logistics First can provide dedicated teams and on-site logistics coordinators to meet customers’ specific logistics needs.
With its varied range of liquid bulk transport services, First Choice Logistics is steadily expanding its footprint. Regional dispatch depots now operate in Chicago and Houston. The carrier also has equipment based in Joliet, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Baltimore, Maryland.
The Chicago and Houston terminals have close access to commercial tank wash racks. The Chicago facility is adjacent to Calumet Tank & Equipment, and the Houston terminal leases space from the Quala tank cleaning facility in LaPorte, Texas.
Activity in the Houston market has grown steadily since First Choice Logistics opened its location in 2015. The carrier currently has 40 tractors and 63 chemical tank trailers based at the terminal.
“We made the move to Houston for a couple of reasons,” Luke Jousma says. “First, we moved down to Houston to support our key customers on the Gulf Coast. Secondly, we wanted to grow and expand our service footprint and to grow our business with new relationships and new customers.
“We have been able to hire a team of very professional drivers and operations personnel in the largest tank truck market in the United States which is Houston. And last but not least, Chicago is a very tough market to find drivers and to grow.”
The biggest challenge First Choice Logistics has faced since opening the Houston office came at the end of August and early September when Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey swept through the Texas Gulf Coast and dumped more than 50 inches of rain on Houston.
Terminal manager Scott Reed says the staff had to move quickly to protect the fleet assets. “Some of us had been through previous hurricanes, and we knew what to expect,” he says. “We initiated preparations based on our previous experiences. I feel like we were able to stay ahead of the game.”
On August 28, dispatchers noted that eight to 10 drivers were inbound to Houston with loaded trailers. When those drivers were five to eight hours out of Houston, they were diverted to truck stops or told to park their equipment near their homes.
Tractors and trailers at the Quala facility were moved to higher ground north of Highway 225 on August 30. “We only had to go about five miles, and everything stayed dry,” Reed says. “We didn’t have any equipment damaged. On a personal note, five of our workers had flooded homes.”
The serious flooding started overnight on September 2, and the Quala facility recorded two to three feet of water, which receded fairly quickly. Still it took about two weeks for First Choice Logistics’ Houston operations to fully ramp up again. Part of the reason was that some customer operations were still shut down.
Shipments out of the Houston terminal typically are longer hauls that are as long as 2,000 miles. Some of the long-haul drivers stay out as much as three weeks at a stretch.
With that in mind, management has worked hard to provide company drivers with comfortable sleeper tractors. The newest tractors in the fleet are Peterbilt Model 389s with 72-inch sleeper and premium interior. Sleepers are outfitted with a refrigerator, microwave oven, and a television with a Direct TV dish.
The carrier has a spec’d PeopleNet on-board computers since 2002 and has had electronic driver logs since 2012. Forward-looking video cameras were recently added to the tractor fleet.
Specifications include a Cummins X15 engine rated at 450 horsepower and an Eaton Advantage Series 10-speed automated transmission. Meritor axles have air disc brakes and Bendix electronic roll stability with automatic traction control.
Product handling equipment includes a 37.4 cfm tractor compressor for air off-loading and a PTO powered Roper pump.
The First Choice Logistics fleet also has Volvo VNM 630 tractors with D13 engines rated at 485 horsepower and iShift automated transmissions.
“Our drivers like the iShift very much,” Luke Jousma says. “The believe it is the best automated transmission on the market.”
For chemicals, the carrier has Brenner and Polar DOT407 stainless steel tank trailers with a 7,000-gallon capacity. Sixty percent of the trailers are straight barrel. The fleet includes a few multi-compartment trailers.