A Tale of Two Fleets Bork Transport Inc of Illinois and Iowa Tanklines

May 1, 2000
WHEN THE herbicide season cranks into high gear in the Midwest, it's not uncommon to see Iowa Tanklines Inc tractors pulling tank trailers that belong

WHEN THE herbicide season cranks into high gear in the Midwest, it's not uncommon to see Iowa Tanklines Inc tractors pulling tank trailers that belong to Bork Transport Inc of Illinois. This is just one of the areas where the sister companies work closely together.

The cooperative approach enables the two Midwestern tank truck carriers to adjust quickly to meet customer demands, without maintaining excessively large fleets or having to scramble to find extra drivers. It's one reason the two carriers are growing at better than 10% a year.

"Our strategy is to combine the resources of the two carriers to meet the needs of certain customers with seasonal products, particularly in the agricultural sector," says Keith Hohensee, president of Iowa Tanklines.

"Besides herbicide shipments, we work together on anhydrous ammonia and asphalt movements. The busy time for these products is very short and very intense."

Cooperation extends to annual joint training sessions that are held for the drivers who haul herbicides. One day-and-a-half session was held in February in Summit, Illinois, and another was conducted in early March in Omaha, Nebraska.

"This training is essential, and we put about 80 drivers through it this year," says Tom Rowe, president of Bork Transport Inc of Illinois. "We brought in drivers from all over the Bork and Iowa Tanklines systems."

The closeness and desire to work together stem, in part, from the fact that the two carriers used to be a single company-Bork Transport Inc, which was based in Des Moines, Iowa. The carrier was started in 1972 by Kent and Todd Bro, who decided they wanted to run their own trucks to supply gasoline and other refined petroleum products to a chain of convenience stores they own.

Petroleum remained the primary focus, but chemicals were gradually added to the mix. By 1983, the carrier was hauling solvents, corrosives, and acids. Management opened a sales office in Chicago in 1986 to pursue even more chemicals business.

The next 10 years saw steady growth in both the chemical and petroleum sides of the business. It also saw the rise of two distinctly different operations. The chemicals business was clustered in Chicago, while the petroleum activity remained focused around Iowa.

In 1995, management decided to split the operations into two separate corporations. Bork Transport Inc disappeared. It was replaced by Bork Transport Inc of Illinois, which is focused on chemicals, and Iowa Tanklines Inc, which operates as a diversified midwestern carrier.

Home Base With business concentrated in the Chicago area, the Bork Transport Inc of Illinois management team chose that for its home base. The carrier's headquarters and only terminal is in Summit, a suburb on the southwest side of Chicago.

Initially, Iowa Tanklines had its headquarters in Webster City, Iowa. In response to westward growth, the headquarters was moved to Omaha, Nebraska, last year. Not only does Omaha offer a more central location, it also provides a larger employee base.

Each carrier has its own management team. While the Bros own both carriers, they do not participate in day-to-day fleet management activities. The only exception is that Todd Bro handles tractor and trailer purchases for both fleets.

"Centralized purchasing gives us economies of scale," Todd Bro says. "It also makes it easier to share equipment between the two fleets. The computer network is another area that we have centralized."

The two companies share a network that runs customized fleet management software from McIntosh Software Services Inc, Aurora, Colorado. The software is on an IBM AS-400 computer at the corporate office in Des Moines, where accounting and other general functions are located for the two fleets.

Operating both independently and jointly, the two carriers have achieved solid growth. Together, they run a fleet that numbers over 400 tractors during the busiest times of the year. Their combined trailer fleet is in the 340-unit range.

Bork Transport projects revenues of $8.5 million to $9 million in 2000, with all of the growth generated internally. Iowa Tanklines should generate close to $20 million in revenues this year. The carrier grew dramatically in the past year with three strategic acquisitions.

For the most part, Bork Transport runs primarily in the Midwest and eastern part of the United States. Iowa Tanklines concentrates on customers in the Midwest and western states. The Missouri River and Iowa state line serve as informal dividing lines.

Working together, though, the two carriers are able to provide customers with 48-state US coverage. They also serve points in Canada. "We'll take the loads wherever customers need them," Rowe says.