VENEZIA Bulk Transport Inc, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, devotes a large percentage of its local dry bulk service to supplying cement, fly ash, limestone, asphalt, and other products to the construction industry. In addition, the construction-supply side of the business is a significant portion of the carrier's overall operation.
Honing these services has paid off for the carrier as it focuses on providing dedicated and specialized service to customers.
“We see ourselves as a regional specialized carrier,” says Andy Venezia, company vice-president. “We select markets and commodities to focus on, and choose those that present service challenges that our competitors may not be able to meet.”
The construction outlook in the United States today contains both good and bad news. Projects are on the increase, but competition from China for the world's cement has impacted supply. “About 55 percent of the world's production of cement goes to China,” Venezia says.
Cement producers in the United States are aware of the situation and have notified Venezia Bulk Transport managers that they are feeling the pressure and to foresee wait times for loading to exist at their plants. As a result, Venezia Bulk Transport schedules some drivers for loading at night to ease the delays and increase the carrier's ability to serve customers in a timely manner.
“Planning is a collaborative effort by our management and staff that results in targeted strategies to meet our customer's specific needs,” Venezia says.
Although it is primarily a regional carrier, the company operates in the contiguous 48 states and Canada. Terminals are in Pottstown/Limerick, Evansville, York, Eagle, Mt Pocono and Nazareth, Pennsylvania, as well as in Culpeper, Virginia, and New Middletown, Ohio.
Another way the carrier handled a constantly changing construction market was to diversify by adding transportation services for specialized chemicals, dry bulk foodgrade products, plastic resins, propane, and petroleum products, including asphalt.
Diversification has been a gradual development, beginning in 1967 when Venezia's father, Joseph, founded the company with one GMC straight truck used to haul produce. In 1972, a dry bulk tanker was added to transport sand to a glass factory. “It just evolved from that,” says Venezia.
Today's operation continues to be a family-run business with three Venezia brothers involved — Frank, president; Andy, executive vice-president; and John, vice-president, equipment and facilities.
The family slowly grew the construction-related service in the downturn of the 1980s and the first part of the 1990s. While the construction industry dozed, some carriers were unable to stay in business, but the Venezias remained vigilant so that by 1995 when the industry began to stir, the carrier was in place to respond.
Along about that time, a federal highway bill boosted funding for Pennsylvania highways. At the same time, home and commercial construction got underway in the state, says Venezia.
Although construction products continue to play a large role in the carrier's business, including projects at the Philadelphia airport, on Interstate 95, and at the Port of New Jersey, Venezia Bulk Transport was prepared for the market variance, having set up the other hauling services.
One of the fastest growing segments of the company's services lies with liquid mixtures supplied to concrete plants from Maine to the Carolinas. The carrier has four-compartment tank trailers dedicated to the service. Roper hydraulic pumps, one for each of the compartments, are mounted on the trailers.
Another specialized product, white cement, also requires dedicated tank trailers. Product typically is loaded in eastern Pennsylvania and delivered to customers in a 1,000-mile radius.
Continuing in their dedicated trailer segment, Venezia's foodgrade product division is growing so that the carrier has placed orders for additional high cube trailers to fulfill the demand.
A separate niche of the business is represented by petroleum products, chemicals, and asphalt. Several dozen liquid tank trailers are in service for those products.
As for propane service, which picks up in the construction off-season, the carrier has dedicated LPG trailers in the fleet.
Venezia Bulk Transport works with customers to offer exactly what they require, including adapting tank trailers for specialized hauling. The shop is set up to handle adaptations so that equipment can be on the road as needed.
With the variety of services that require constant monitoring and coordination, managers selected Qualcomm satellite tracking and communication systems and TMW Systems Inc fleet management software. In 1989, the carrier set up a central dispatching system, added Qualcomm in 1999, and TMW in 2001.
Another way the company handles the coordination is by cross-training many of its 400 drivers to handle the various products and tank trailers. At the same time, some of the specialized products require dedicated drivers for dedicated tank trailers, says Andy Paul, division sales manager.
Orders come in via e-mail, phone, and fax and are entered into the TMW fleet management program. Dispatchers add any other necessary information and then assign loads to a truck. Drivers access the information via equipment in the tractors or at the terminals.
Keeping a low driver turnover is essential to the company in order to maintain a coherent operation. Managers took a look at the turnover rate, which in previous years was about 89 percent. With an active recruitment and retention program in place, that number now stands at about 45 percent, says Paul.
“Retention has been a huge success of ours,” he adds.
The company determined that drivers seek respect and honesty from their employers and set out to meet their expectations. Interviewers make sure that prospective drivers understand exactly what their duties will entail and follow through when they are hired. Venezia managers emphasize families and accommodate drivers when possible so that they can coordinate their schedules accordingly.
Part of the recruitment program includes a $1,000 bonus that goes to drivers who recruit men and women that eventually sign on. Training includes company policies, Department of Transportation regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling. A J J Keller program outlines the training procedures. Trainers travel to terminals to conduct the sessions and retraining is conducted four times per year.
Venezia managers promote training that includes preventive methods that have been determined by watching driver behavior trends. A three-year profile is set up for each driver that records any accidents/incidents and performance.
Another element in driver retention relies on well-maintained equipment handled by shop personnel. The diverse operation also demands that the carrier handle its own maintenance.
John Venezia says one goal was to have a paperless shop at each terminal. In that interest, a Transman for Windows program from TMTSoftware Co was chosen. The program includes management for work pending repair orders, work standards, real-time repair orders, and preventive maintenance scheduling. It also is used in place of a traditional time card system for shop employees.
Having the program in place expedites the 180 orders per day that the shop performs. Parts inventory also becomes easier to handle. All parts are bar coded so that tracking them from shelf to vehicle becomes precise, which is important for keeping up with the large parts inventory. Bud Foster, maintenance director, notes that all aftermarket parts for bulkers and liquid tank trailers are provided by Littlejohn Inc.
Computer terminals with touch screens are on the shop floors so that mechanics have them in easy reach to document their work. Generators are in place to kick in should a power failure occur.
Technical training is provided by equipment vendors. The company also will bring in expert trainers for other specialized instruction.
At the shop at the corporate headquarters terminal, a double six-bay shop has space for 12 vehicles, each bay stretching for 120 feet.
Preventive maintenance schedules are determined by the activities in which the vehicles are involved and varies from 15,000 to 30,000 miles.
All Venezia maintenance shops handle repairs to the Volvo, Freightliner, International, and Peterbilt tractors. Power units are spec'd with 410- to 450-horsepower engines and 10-speed transmissions. Roper, Drum, or Gardner Denver blowers are mounted on tractors. Those used in liquid service are equipped with Drum HydraPak units.
Venezia management specifies certain weight-reducing components for the tractors, including aluminum wheels and cross members, as well as just a single 120-gallon fuel tank per tractor.
All tractors and many of the trailers are equipped with Groeneveld automatic lubrication systems.
Fruehauf and LBT Inc trailers dominate the dry bulk service. The 1,000-cubic-foot aluminum trailers are equipped with Bayco and SureFlo valves and Knappco domelids.
Petroleum tank trailers, usually with 6,500-gallon to 8,500-gallon capacity, are supplied by Heil Trailer International, Polar Corp, and Brenner Tank Inc. They are equipped with Girard and Betts valves.
Asphalt tank trailers with 7,000-gallon to 8,000-gallon capacity are from ED Etnyre & Co, Brenner, and LBT.
Mississippi Tank Co supplies 10,000-gallon and 11,600-gallon MC331 tank trailers. Some of these trailers have been fitted with Michelin single wide tires. Weight savings can add up to as much as 950 pounds for a unit.
Tire maintenance and repairs receive high priority. John Venezia personally oversees specifications and purchases. In addition to Michelin, the inventory typically includes Bridgestone and Continental tires. One side of the shop is dedicated to handling trailer tires and the other side is for handling tractor tires.
All of this emphasis on maintenance, driver training, and product coordination is essential for Venezia Bulk Transport to carry out the varied and specialized services the carrier provides.
As the economy in the United States continues to improve, services related to the construction industry will be increasingly in demand. Just as Venezia Bulk Transport was ready for the challenge earlier in its history, the company appears set to meet the future opportunities.