North Carolina Company Conforms To Changes in Market Environment

Nov. 1, 1998
East Coast Transport Company Inc was established in 1953 to deliver petroleum products and fertilizer. Within a few years, additional company trucks were

East Coast Transport Company Inc was established in 1953 to deliver petroleum products and fertilizer. Within a few years, additional company trucks were hauling propane gas and chemicals.

"This farming area that produced cotton, soybeans, corn, and, of course, tobacco required delivery of fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals used in production," says Frank Dumas, president. "We just filled the niche as opportunities arose."

Located in Goldsboro, North Carolina, the company was formed by Dumas' father and uncle, O F Dumas and L D Giddens, who in 1934 founded Dumas Oil Company, a petroleum distributor. Giddens operated the transport business until his death in 1960 when the senior Dumas took control.

Frank Dumas joined the company in 1994. He became president in 1997 after his father's death. Frank Dumas' wife, Ruth, is controller. His two sisters and one other stockholder complete the list of owners.

The senior Dumas' wisdom is apparent in the decision to enter several markets that allowed the company to meet seasonal markets. When agriculture production was finished, the slack in business could be offset by an increase in other product delivery.

Sandra Fisher, office manager, is a longtime employee and is an expert in interacting with customers and understanding product and the carrier business climate, says Frank Dumas. Today, 37% of revenue comes from petroleum products, says Fisher. Utilizing 10 tank trailers for gasoline, diesel, kerosene, heating oil, and jet fuel, the company's drivers load product at Selma, North Carolina. Most of the products are used for farming and manufacturing. Jet fuel is delivered to three small North Carolina airports at Lewisburg, Greenville, and Newport. Two trailers are used for industrial and commercial lubricating oil.

Dumas Oil Company is East Coast's largest customer, receiving deliveries at the Dumas bulk plants for redistribution.

Growing Segment A growing segment of the business has been chemical products. They are transported in 15 trailers and represent 32% of the company's revenue. Product is picked up at the Port of Wilmington, North Carolina, and delivered across the southeastern states. Some products are delivered as far southwest as Texas. Among the cargoes are caustic soda, methanol, solvents, and toluene, says Fisher.

While petroleum products and chemicals provide year-round activities, propane gas is seasonal. Nevertheless, it brings in 21% of total revenues. Product is loaded at Apex Gas Company near Raleigh, North Carolina, and delivered statewide to distributors and a few end users such as a Georgia Pacific Corporation manufacturing plant. Farms are using less propane gas because tobacco production is shrinking.

Although the area's agricultural output has declined, East Coast Transport continues hauling fertilizers from Wilson, North Carolina, to local farmers. Product includes 30% nitrogen, ammonia, clear liquids concentrate heavy fertilizer, and mixtures of various fertilizers. The agriculture-related products reap 10% in revenues for the company.

Farm deliveries require drivers to have special skills over and above those for other operations, says Frank Dumas. "Sometimes they have to take a mail box down to get onto the farm and then put it back up as they leave," he says. "They carry all kinds of adapters so they will be prepared for the various equipment used on the farms. You have to be a plumber as well as a driver to haul fertilizer."

Ruth Dumas points out that operations on back roads and across fields increase wear on tires and springs and necessitate frequent exterior cleanings of tank trailers and tractors. The company specifies Bridgestone and Michelin tires, which give good service on rough routes, she says.

Drivers Encouraged Drivers are encouraged to keep an eye on equipment and report any concerns to mechanics. Drivers with no accidents for the year receive annual bonuses based on a percentage of the revenue gained from the freight they deliver.

"We put a great deal of emphasis on customer service," says Frank Dumas. "Our drivers wear uniforms and follow a dress code. They hand-deliver bills of lading." With the exception of those assigned to chemical transport, drivers are usually home every night. They receive delivery orders from a Goldsboro dispatcher. Drivers are issued beepers and cell phones.

The company does not hire drivers under the age of 21. Applicants must hold a CDL with tank and hazardous materials endorsements. Consultants conduct training for both new-hires and veteran drivers. Training includes hazardous materials, safety concerns, and governmental regulations. On-the-road training under the eye of an experienced driver follows classroom training.

In an effort to stay current with regulations, East Coast hired Terry Brown, a regulatory compliance specialist. "Keeping up with the regulations in order to be in compliance is one of the toughest areas of running any company today," says Frank Dumas.

Another top priority is vehicle maintenance. Tank and tractor maintenance is conducted in the three-bay shop where three mechanics oversee the work. Government-required inspections and vessel repairs are sent to outside vendors. Preventive maintenance is conducted every 5,000 miles, and oil and filters are changed every 15,000 miles.

Tank Wash A two-bay area is reserved for internal and external tank cleaning and tire repairs. Chemical tanks receive interior cleaning. "We steam, dry, and purge chemical trailers," says Doug Sutton, dispatcher and shop manager. "Most of the terminals want them clean and dry. It protects the supplier. They always take samples to be sure they are clean."

A wastewater separation system, Alpha Water Maze, is used to purify water for sewer release. Sludge from the separation process is stored in a 2,000-gallon-above ground tank surrounded by a dike. Sludge is hauled away by a waste removal company.

The shop also houses an extensive parts inventory that is cataloged with a computerized program developed in-house. "We like to have the parts available," says Sutton. "And that's another reason we prefer one tractor supplier. We can cut down our parts inventory by not having to buy a lot of different ones for different trucks."

East Coast uses 10 Volvos with Caterpillar 325-horsepower engines and Fuller nine-speed transmissions.

Five-compartment petroleum tank trailers are from Heil, Custom, Fruehauf, and Butler and have a 9,200-gallon capacity. Two trailers have double bulkheads to prevent seepage between kerosene and gasoline compartments. All Blackmer and Roper pumps are PTO-driven and are mounted on the trailers throughout the fleet.

Equipment on the tank trailers includes Scully vapor recovery and overfill systems, Emco Wheaton bottom-loading adapters, and Betts lights.

Chemical trailers are from Heil, Polar, Fruehauf, and Trailmobile. Petroleum trailers have been adapted for chemical use and have a capacity of 9,200 gallons. A few tank trailers used with heavy chemicals have 5,500-gallon capacity. Internal and external valves are from Emco Wheaton.

Propane Transports Six MC331 10,500-gallon transports and one 11,600-gallon propane transport were made by Mississippi Tank and Beard. They are equipped with Blackmer pumps and Fisher Controls internal and external valves.

Fertilizer is hauled in four Butler MC307 stainless steel tank trailers and two aluminum trailers from Bar-Bel and Fruehauf. The 5,500-gallon tank trailers come equipped with Roper pumps and Drum air compressors.

The well-equipped fleet allows East Coast Transport to retain a strong presence as it continues to address changes in the southeastern United States economy. Having adapted to the reduction in tobacco production has prepared the owners for other adjustments. "We believe that as long as we combine competitive pricing with excellent service, we will continue to meet market demands," says Dumas.