Two chemicals transports belonging to Sprint Transport LLC run westbound on I-10 headed toward San Antonio, Texas on an unseasonably warm day in late January. It's another busy day for the Houston-based operator, a relatively new addition to the tank truck carrier ranks.
Established in 2010, the carrier runs 65 tractors and 160 tank trailers, serving customers within a 600-mile radius of Houston, Texas. Liquid bulk cargoes include chemicals, acids, and crude oil. The fleet even hauls some refuse and liquid wastes for sister companies.
“While we are primarily a tank truck carrier, our objective is to keep each tractor busy every day,” says Dave Dillard, president of Sprint Transport. “This company has grown rapidly, and we see more growth coming. We've made good progress in the short time this company has been in business, and we are very optimistic going forward. Our trucks are busy right now, and our customers seem very optimistic about 2013 and beyond.
“One reason for the optimism is the massive chemical sector expansion now underway along the Gulf Coast. Billions of dollars are being spent on chemical plant expansions to take advantage of the abundant natural gas coming out of the shale plays. These plants will produce methanol and other petrochemical feedstocks when they come on line, and that should translate to a significant increase in tank trailer shipments.”
Sprint Transport is one the newest additions to the Sprint family of companies. Operating for more than 30 years and employing over 450 personnel, The Sprint Companies own, operate, and invest in a variety of basic and niche businesses throughout the Houston area. While each company operates independently, every effort is made to cross-sell services where it makes sense.
“We've built about 30 businesses over the years, all of them service businesses where we can differentiate ourselves from the competition by working harder,” says Joe Swinbank, a co-founder of The Sprint Companies. We've concentrated our efforts on waste handling, trucking, and construction materials.
“We promise our customers on-time pick-up and delivery, and we carry through on that promise. We have a strong background in equipment leasing, and that helped us become very adept at developing services that solve problems for our customers.”
In discussing his keys to success as an entrepreneur, Swinbank cites a number of guiding principles: leadership starts at the top; be passionate — live and breathe your goals; find and exploit the best in your people; empowerment — men in the field know more than the office; let people fail — the first mistake is on the house; set measurable goals — open books, budget, bonus system; look for the opportunity in bad news; when in doubt, tell the truth; know your critical numbers; the numbers do the talking; and never forget the power of praise.
One of the oldest operations in the Sprint Companies portfolio is Sprint Sand & clay, which was launched in 1982 and has 15 active mining operations in the Houston area that provides quality sand, topsoil, fill dirt, mulch, and other construction and landscape materials.
Waste hauling has become an increasingly important part of the Sprint Companies portfolio since Sprint Waste Services was formed in 2006. The company has steadily expanded its waste handling services and is now the largest privately owned trash hauler in the Houston area.
Sprint Waste holdings include the Sprint Fort Bend County Landfill, a TNRCC-approved Type IV construction and demolition landfill in Richmond, Texas. Open to the public, the landfill accepts most construction and demolition debris.
Sprint Waste currently has about 200 trucks operating across the Gulf Coast. Other waste handling equipment includes roll-off containers, compactors, demolition trailers, end dumps, flatbeds, van trailers, frack tanks, acid tanks, and drilling mud tanks.
Vehicles and equipment are operated out of branches in Houston; Beaumont, Texas; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Opened in May 2012, Baton Rouge was the first Sprint Waste facility outside of Texas. “We see this as a great opportunity to strengthen our presence in the Gulf Coast refinery and chemical plant market,” Swinbank says.
The diverse range of equipment helped Sprint Waste build an industrial client base ranging from refineries and chemical plants to oilfield operators. The company can handle hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. In addition, the Sprint Waste team includes highly qualified and trained personnel to assist in managing on-site waste operations for chemical plants and refineries.
Strong connections in the chemical and refinery sectors helped encourage the Sprint Companies to expand their transportation offerings. More importantly, those connections enabled Sprint Transport to get up and running very quickly when it was launched three years ago.
“We also benefitted from Sprint Trailers and Tidal Tank, two tank trailer leasing companies we operated over the course of about 20 years,” Dillard says. “We had about 100 tanks in our rental fleet, and chemical plants were our primary customers. We sold both of those companies, but we still have about 30 rental trailers in our tank trailer fleet.”
Sprint Transport began with the acquisition of JAS, a small tank truck carrier in Dayton, Texas. JAS operated 17 tractors and 28 tank trailers. Besides the dedicated Houston terminal, the fleet shares space at Sprint Waste locations.
The new operation got off to a fast start and has grown steadily. “We expect to have 100 tractors in our fleet by the end of 2013, and we're adding trailers to keep up with demand,” Dillard says. “We're experiencing no real trouble finding drivers to keep our fleet moving.”
Owner-operators have supplied a majority of the tractors in the Sprint Transport fleet. “Currently, we are running 45 owner-operator tractors and 20 company-owned units,” Dillard says. “Using owner-operators makes it possible for us to focus more investment capital on tank trailers and other equipment as we grow.”
Sprint Transport prefers owner-operator tractors that are already outfitted with a Roper product pump and Quincy compressor, but the carrier will help out with the equipment as needed. The carrier also prefers waste-fleet-style hydraulic systems with 40-gallon oil tanks for powering the pump and compressor. That hydraulic system offers greater flexibility in using owner-operators on the Sprint Waste side.
Local and regional operations helped enable Sprint Waste to build a solid driver core, and the same is proving true for Sprint Transport. In addition, drivers are being cross-trained to work in both operations, which means they stay busy.
“We have worked very hard to build a loyal driver team,” Dillard says. “We invite drivers to our staff meetings. There are no secrets. Most of our chemical runs are no more than two days out and back, and we have some local runs.”
Oilfield hauls also are out and back, and Sprint Transport is making a big push in that sector in concert with Sprint Waste. The tank truck carrier operates 30 crude oil transports in South Texas, and the waste company has 600 frack tanks available for lease to oilfield operators.
With transportation activity growing, the Sprint Companies is trying to standardize its truck fleet across the board. “Fast growth has made standardization difficult,” Swinbank says. “In addition to 20 company-owned tractors at Sprint Transport, the Sprint Waste fleet includes probably 70 trucks, all of them company-owned.”
The Sprint operations have begun moving to Freightliner trucks, and the newest tractors are Cascadias with Cummins and Detroit engines and 10-speed Eaton Fuller transmissions. Diesel is still the fuel of choice, but Sprint Waste added five trucks fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) last year, a move that earned a Clean Air Champion award from the Houston-Galveston Area Council. All five CNG-fueled straight trucks are Freightliner 114SDs with the Cummins Westport ISL G engine and Allison automatic transmission.
“We want to do more with natural gas, but it takes government grant money to make it work right now. “With grant money, we are able to get a payback on the investment in about two years. It would take five to six years without grant money.
“We have good availability of CNG in the Houston area, and we believe natural gas fuel would work in certain applications on the Sprint Transport side, as well. It is very good for local operations, such as the molten sulfur shipments Sprint Transport moves in the Houston area.”
Sprint Transport runs an increasingly diverse tank trailer fleet. The primary tank trailer in the fleet is a single-compartment DOT407 stainless steel chemical trailer. The carrier used both insulated and uninsulated trailers. The newest units were built by Polar Tank Trailer, Brenner Tank LLC, and Bulk Tank Inc.
Brenner and Dragon Products Ltd built most of the DOT407 aluminum crude oil trailers. The trailers are specified with Dixon Bayco bottom-loading adapters, Roper pumps, Garnet level gauges, Girard pressure-relief vents, and ProTech cabinets.
Sprint Transport also runs a few vacuum trailers with capacities of 130 and 160 barrels. Other equipment includes molten sulfur trailers and DOT412 tankers for acids and other corrosives.
Most of the responsibility for maintaining the fleet falls on the three Sprint Transport and Sprint Waste maintenance shops in the Houston area. Sprint Transport has a two-bay shop at its headquarters terminal. Sprint Waste operates a five-bay shop not far from the Sprint Transport location and an eight-bay facility in Sugarland, on the southwest side of Houston.
“We're doing the overwhelming majority of vehicle maintenance and repair in-house,” Dillard says. It's just too expensive to send work out. Our goal is to consolidate the Sprint Transport shop and the Sprint Waste five-bay shop into a single larger facility (at least eight bays) for greater efficiency. We hope to do that by the end of this year.”
All tank tests and inspections are handled at the Sprint Transport shop. However, code tank repairs are sent to Bullzeye Tank Service, which has locations in the Houston area and Huntsville, Texas. Bullzeye Tank Service was launched with investment capital from The Sprint Companies principals.
“We believe we have put all of the pieces in place to make Sprint Transport a very successful operation,” Dillard says. “We're optimistic about the future, because we believe we are in the right place to grow steadily with the chemical and petroleum sectors.” ♦