Five-Time Safety Winner Groendyke Transport Displays Quality Touch

June 1, 2000
GROENDYKE Transport Inc, Enid, Oklahoma, reached elite status in the area of tank truck safety. It is just the second five-time winner of the Outstanding

GROENDYKE Transport Inc, Enid, Oklahoma, reached elite status in the area of tank truck safety. It is just the second five-time winner of the Outstanding Performance Trophy in the National Tank Truck Carriers' annual Tank Truck Safety Contest.

The safety achievement spans three decades. The first two Outstanding Performance Trophies were awarded to the carrier in 1973 and 1974. Back-to-back trophies were received in 1991 and 1992. Along with the Outstanding Performance Trophies has come a shower of other safety and quality awards.

"These awards clearly show that we have built a culture that is focused on safety," says John D Groendyke, chairman of Groendyke Transport. "Our drivers and operations people in the field have taken a lot of safety initiative. We've had good continuity in safety management, which has helped keep the focus on the issue. Safety has become a way of life at this company and has helped improve profitability."

William C George, president and chief operating officer at Groendyke Transport, adds that everyone at the company is extremely proud of winning the Outstanding Performance Trophy for a fifth time. "That wasn't our goal, though," he says. "We were just trying to improve our program by eliminating some weak areas."

Groendyke Transport qualified for the 1999 Outstanding Performance Trophy with an accident rate of .465 per million miles. Besides the trophy, the tank truck carrier was the Grand Award winner in the 50-90 million miles class in the NTTC's Competitive Safety Contest, and it received a 14-year Improvement Award from the association. Steve Niswander, Groendyke Transport vice-president of safety & compliance, was named safety director of the year by NTTC.

The awards help reinforce the notion that Groendyke Transport is a top-tier carrier. The quality-driven tank truck carrier consistently makes the list of best performers in the industry and certainly is considered one of the safest.

Groendyke Transport has been named "Best of the Best" in Distribution magazine's Quest for Quality shipper survey. The carrier was recognized for superior ontime performance, value, equipment, operations, and customer service. Current performance levels are 99.95% for equipment acceptance, 99.65% for ontime loadings, and 99.55% for ontime deliveries.

Since 1994, Groendyke Transport has been an ISO 9002-registered company. The quality certification was obtained through QMI. "We went through the process because we felt it would help make us a better carrier," George says. "It certainly brought more structure and discipline to our quality process."

The carrier also is a Responsible Care partner. "We believe this program has significant value in promoting safetransport of chemicals," George says. "We just wish all chemical shippers and consignees shared our view that Responsible Care is a worthwhile program."

Financial Payback Dedication to quality and safety has paid financial dividends, and Groendyke Transport has grown to be one of the largest in the tank truck industry. In Modern Bulk Transporter's 1999 Gross Revenue Report, the carrier was ranked ninth with gross revenues of $115.9 million.

A team of 1,250 employees, including 820 drivers, is distributed among 40 terminals in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The fleet consists of 850 tractors and 1,500 trailers.

Six of the terminals have wash racks, and the newest facility is in Longview, Texas. For improved worker safety, hydraulically operated work platforms were installed in the Longview facility. This gives the workers greater freedom of movement while also providing maximum fall protection, according to Terry Bain, Groendyke Transport director of environmental quality and cleaning services.

To qualify for air permits from the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, most of the Groendyke Transport wash racks in Texas have installed gas-assisted flares and closed-loop cleaning capabilities. Kelton wash systems are the company standard.

Groendyke Transport hauls a wide range of bulk cargoes, most of them liquids. The business is split 50-50 between chemicals (including acids) and refined products, such as gasoline, jet fuel, and asphalt.

"We used to concentrate more on chemicals, but petroleum is becoming a more valuable part of the business," George says. "All it takes is good management. In fact, the highest grossing trucks in our fleet last year were in the petroleum operation.

"We can achieve much greater operating efficiencies in petroleum. The rigs can run nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they cost roughly the same as equipment used for chemicals. We have no time constraints on gasoline deliveries. In contrast, current shipment practices for local chemical movements are far more inefficient.

"I think our drivers like the petroleum business because they stay busy. Drivers on gasoline were the highest paid last year, with some of them pulling in as much as $60,000. Gasoline drivers also were the lowest paid. It all depended on where they were based."

Chemical Movements While gasoline activity tends to be local, chemical hauling takes Groendyke Transport all over the United States and Canada. The carrier also has a 35-year history of interlining chemical shipments going to and from Mexico.

Several steps have been initiated to improve the efficiency and profitability of the chemical activities. Groendyke Transport was one of the founding members of the Alliance of Bulktruck Carriers that was formed in 1999.

The other four members of the pooling agreement are Trimac Transportation Inc, Manfredi Motor Transit Co, Miller Transporters Inc, and Superior Carriers Inc.

The pooling agreement was set up to coordinate the participating carriers' operations to avoid traffic imbalances and empty mileage, and provide for the shared use of cleaning facilities by the pool members.

"The Alliance was born out of the rail crises of the past two to three years," George says. "We were all overwhelmed by the extra business that was sent our way. Our thoughts were: 'How can we capture more lanes of traffic without going into big acquisition debt?'

"The Surface Transportation Board signed off on the Alliance in June 1999, and it is operating. We're matching loads, but the Alliance has not become quite the factor that we expected when it was created. We still think it's a less-expensive alternative to the big mergers.

"It has been interesting to watch the shipper reaction to the Alliance. Several dozen customers have signed off on the program, but others still refuse to have anything to do with it. That's unfortunate, because the Alliance actually increases capacity."

Logistics Office Efficiency improvements also are being sought through a logistics office that was opened in Houston, Texas, in 1998. The carrier just spent $1.8 million on a new logistics software package that is designed for chemicals hauling.

"We wanted a better grasp on fleet utilization," George says. "We wanted to capture more loads and handle them more efficiently by matching up lanes and traffic better than in the past. We wanted to do more work without increasing the size of our fleet."

Included in the logistics system is new dispatch software, and it will be rolled out to all of the Groendyke Transport terminals over the next 18 months. The package includes TMW's PowerSuite running on a Windows NT operating system. The carrier also runs heavily customized accounting software from McCormack & Associates.

"Initially, we're installing the new dispatch system at the chemical terminals," says Dan Buckley, Groendyke Transport vice-president of administration. "The petroleum operations will come later. Eventually, we want to put the dispatch capabilities into the trucks. We're looking at mobile systems, such as ruggedized Palm Pilots."

E-commerce Potential Groendyke Transport managers also are looking at ways to benefit from the e-commerce explosion. For now, the carrier is exploring the possibility of relationships with established dotcoms.

"We don't want to reinvent the wheel," Buckley says. "We don't know where any of this is going right now. I believe we'll see more standardization of customer service and equipment, and more commonality in customer requirements.

"The biggest problem is that we have a lot of variables with tank truck equipment. That could be a limitation on how far this industry goes with e-commerce. If it boosts utilization, though, we'll all win."

One absolute limitation to e-commerce is that it can't deliver even a drop of product. That takes well-trained professional truck drivers with well-maintained tractors and trailers.

Groendyke Transport managers believe they employ some of the best drivers in the industry. A lot of effort goes into ensuring that only the best applicants are hired, and that is part of the commitment to safety and the ISO 9002 quality process.

"We've tried to avoid the pressures of the driver shortage, and we've done a pretty good job of that," George says. "However, we probably hired some drivers we shouldn't have during the rail crises. We learned our lesson.

"We thinned out the driver ranks over the past year to get rid of below-average performers. We had to recommit ourselves to our selection standards."

At a minimum, drivers must be at least 23 years old and have a year of experience operating a tractor-tank-trailer rig. The carrier accepts no more than five moving violations in the past five years and only two preventable accidents during that time.

One of the biggest challenges facing the carrier today is attracting enough qualified candidates. This is an industrywide problem, though, according to Groendyke Transport managers.

"As an industry, we're not bringing in enough young, new drivers," Niswander says. "We have an aging driver force in this industry, and that's reason for concern. We're constantly looking for new and more creative ways to attract good people. What we need most are higher wages and benefits.

"The tank truck industry used to draw drivers who were the cream of the crop, and that is still our objective. However, this industry isn't as attractive as it used to be. The job is more complex today, and drivers have to work harder.

"We need the cooperation of the chemical industry to fix the problems. Chemical companies need to change their distribution patterns. They must get beyond the traditional 8 am pick-up and delivery schedule. We need to keep the chemical drivers and equipment as busy as our gasoline operation."

Adequate Supply Despite the challenges, Groendyke Transport is keeping its tractors manned. New drivers are being located, and the average age is 25. While some are experienced truck drivers, others are changing careers.

"In many cases, these are people who want to work without constant supervision," Niswander says. "They don't want to be cooped up in an office. They want a sense of freedom."

The carrier does accept some recent graduates from truck driving schools that are certified by the Professional Truck Drivers Institute of America. They must have been exceptional students with a 90% or better grade point average.

New drivers find quite a bit of freedom at Groendyke Transport, but the supervision is still there. It starts with training, and there are training requirements for every employee in every department. Requirements are posted on charts as part of the ISO 9002 program.

Initial Training Drivers go through seven to 14 days of initial training that includes classroom time with videotaped instruction and on-the-job practice. Generally, two to three drivers at a time go through the initial training, which is conducted at each terminal. They are tested after each module, and they must score 100%.

A multitude of videotaped modules are available for the training process and are selected based on the types of cargo that will be handled by the driver. Many of the videotapes were produced inhouse by Don Riggs, who started as a driver for the company. Groendyke Transport invested more than $300,000 in his video production system.

Hands-on training is very much a part of the program. All new drivers who will have to operate pumps on the job go through pump school. Refresher training is held every six months to a year.

Out on the road, new drivers start out driving empty, riding loaded. "We want them to gain a feel for the way the cargo shifts in the tank," Niswander says. "We also give them plenty of supervised practice in loading and unloading activities."

Throughout the training process, new drivers are with Groendyke Transport training and field safety coordinators. The training personnel, terminal manager, and director of training must sign off before any new driver is sent out on his own.

Retraining Schedule The safety supervision doesn't stop with the initial training. Retraining is scheduled every three years at a minimum, and defensive driving is stressed along with speed awareness. Refresher sessions are conducted anytime the safety department believes there is a need.

Training is one of the factors reviewed with any preventable accident or incident investigation. "Does the person just need some additional training or do we have a flaw in our training program?" Niswander asks.

He adds that members of the safety department regularly review every aspect of the safety and training programs. "A year ago, we decided that we had a good program, but it wasn't accomplishing what was needed," he says. "We wanted a zero defects goal, and we realized that we needed to improve the communication skills of our trainers and managers to reach that objective. Our drivers had the training to perform safely. We just needed to heighten their awareness."

The safety department now pursues accident preventability from the perspective of avoiding repeat incidents. Discipline is not a primary focus. Informal Meetings

Field safety coordinators are working more closely with drivers. For instance, they show up at shipper loading racks with doughnuts and conduct informal one-on-one training meetings with Groendyke Transport drivers. These are in addition to the monthly safety meetings.

"The loading rack visits have become very popular, and heaven help the coordinator who forgets the doughnuts," Niswander says. "Most importantly, it gives the driver an opportunity to discuss problems with a manager in a relaxed setting. We've seen definite improvements in drivers' frame of mind."

In addition to doughnuts, coordinators hand out safety bucks to drivers for showing that all documentation is in order and that they have all required personal protective equipment with them. Safety bucks also are issued for accomplishments, such as passing Department of Transportation roadside inspections.

"This has turned into another very popular program," Niswander says. "We've seen a definite improvement in pretrip inspections. Our out-of-service citations dropped by 40% over the past two years."

Each safety buck is valued at $30. They can be exchanged for merchandise such as work boots and Groendyke Transport logo items, including shirts and caps.

President's Club Still another incentive that has increased the safety commitment of drivers is the President's Million-Mile Club. Begun in 1990, this is probably the most prized safety incentive offered by the tank truck carrier.

To date, 160 drivers have qualified for the club by achieving a million miles at Groendyke Transport without a preventable accident. Fifteen have hit two million miles, and three have reached three million miles.

Qualifiers receive an etched crystal trophy, a watch, and $1,000. Running an average of 100,000 miles a year, it takes a Groendyke Transport driver about 10 years to qualify for the award.

Terminal personnel are not left out of the million-mile competition. When a terminal achieves a cumulative total of one million miles without a preventable vehicle accident, spill or similar incident that requires remediation, or preventable worker comp claim with lost work days, everyone employed at the terminal receives $100. The carrier also presents a trophy to the terminal and holds a banquet for all of the employees there.

"We do 20 banquets a year on average," Niswander says. "Our Angleton (Texas) terminal recently earned two in one eight-month period. Probably 30% of the qualifying terminals get more than one banquet a year. "We want to give our employees a realization that there is a reward for doing things right. These programs are simply recognition for all of their accomplishments."

It is those accomplishments that help make Groendyke Transport one of the premier tank truck carriers in the industry.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.