IT'S BEEN more than 70 years since Joseph Devaney served customers in the Boston area delivering ice, coal, coke, and kerosene. Today, his grandson, James W Devaney, carries on the tradition, but ice, coal, coke, and kerosene have given way to fuel oil.
Today, James Devaney Fuel Company, Newton, Massachusetts, delivers 30 million gallons of fuel oil annually to 20,000 customers by 30 drivers handling 34 tankwagons.
“We've acquired about 28 companies since 1978 and as the opportunities arise, we will continue to look for ways to expand,” says Devaney. “Our commercial business, particularly in heating equipment installation, is growing, and we are considering offering biodiesel to our customers.”
Keeping current customers happy with a prompt and clean supply of product is top priority at Devaney Fuel, which can be challenging for drivers in the narrow and crowded streets of Boston and, in winter, on the snow-covered hills around the city.
“We schedule deliveries in Boston on alternate days on Beacon Hill when rubbish trucks are in the neighborhood,” says Geoffrey McCarthy, oil department manager. “That helps eliminate the need for drivers to maneuver the trucks around each other and it also takes away the noise of two trucks on the street.”
Of the company's customer base, about 60% is residential and 40% commercial. Commercial customers include real estate companies that manage apartment complexes. Devaney Fuel supplies product to several colleges, hospitals, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Service is provided as far away as Providence, Rhode Island; Worcester, Massachusetts; and the Massachusetts South Shore area.
In winter, tankwagons that must maneuver undulating routes and narrow driveways are equipped with automatic tire chains for better traction to ensure on-time delivery, as well as eliminating the chore of manual installation. The company also specifies Allison automatic transmissions on all of its trucks, which makes it easier for drivers to negotiate the terrain without having to shift gears.
“It's all about driver comfort,” says McCarthy of the company's efforts to look after the needs of drivers, which also improves retention and helps in recruiting.
Drivers serving residential areas are dedicated to specific routes. They typically get to know their customers and become familiar with the nuiances of each household and how to make the delivery without disturbing flowers, shrubs, and other landscaping.
“We like to have a neighborhood-type image,” says McCarthy. “We emphasize clean and efficient work. Many customers have pets, so we have to be sure the drivers are aware of that and keep gates closed. We also think that our trucks with their bright yellow and green design are our best trademark. Drivers wash the trucks themselves when the weather permits, and in the winter we have a contractor that washes them for us. Trucks purchased as part of an acquisition remain their original color and company name for a period of up to five years.”
About a third of the driver force is employed year round while the remaining two-thirds are seasonal from September to May. Some drivers are firemen whose off times coincide with delivery schedules for Devaney Fuel. Other drivers have summer seasonal jobs, such as landscaping, that enable them to work for Devaney Fuel. Fulltime drivers handle residential customers' summer requirements that usually call for a single delivery of fuel oil for water heater usage. Commercial customers may require product deliveries for generators. Fulltime drivers also handle other duties in the summer months, such as furnace service.
Dispatchers at the company's bulk plant in nearby Dedham coordinate drivers and stay in contact via cell phones. The company uses degree days and consumption patterns to automatically schedule fuel oil deliveries. Drivers pick up their instructions at the beginning of each shift at the bulk plant or at another site where a maintenance shop is located.
A dispatch software program, SmartDrops from Vertrax, provides delivery management solutions that have resulted in a more efficient operation, says McCarthy. Orders are automatically downloaded from the back office computer system and visually displayed on digital maps. The maps allow the users to manipulate the views by order characteristics (volume, urgency, delivery date, type, etc) and geography (street level, certain locations, zoom, etc). SmartDrops automatically creates optimized, editable routes for drivers and provides printed manifests. Integrated live tracking provides dispatchers with location based services and up-to-minute analysis of actual location, providing planned versus actual route analysis.
“The program points to our trucks every quarter mile so we can observe the routes,” McCarthy says. “It helps us coordinate the deliveries so that drivers can avoid backtracking.”
Drivers are provided information that shows the customer's fill pipe location and the amount of product delivered for the last four times. At some locations, such as apartment complexes, there are several tanks, so having the information immediately available about locations and loading history makes drivers' work more efficient.
After drivers have finished filling a customer's tank, they leave a billing ticket that is printed by the meter on the truck. At the end of the work day, drivers hand in copies of the delivery receipts at the office where the data are entered into an administrative software program from Symat Inc. Designed for fuel oil and gasoline distributors, the software generates billings/statements for oil, equipment, service receivables; billings for equipment and maintenance contracts; calculates discounts, both cash and gallonage; accommodates budget plans, including interest bearing plans; and captures all sales tax information.
Drivers also submit a post-trip report on daily activities, noting truck performance, special requirements at a customer location, and other relevant information.
Newest tankwagons came from Boston Steel and Mfg Co and were specified with Peterbilt chassis. A variety of engines are used in the fleet, including Caterpillar, Cummins, and Mercedes-Benz with horsepower ranging from 285-375. Some of the trucks with Caterpillar engines are used in conjunction with Actaris register and metering systems, while the other tankwagons have Liquid Controls equipment. Hardware includes Boston Steel and Hannay reels, EBW bottomloading adapters, and Scully overfill protection.
Supporting the distribution is the Dedham bulk storage plant that has three storage tanks, each holding 30,000 gallons of fuel oil. One 2,000-gallon tank is on site for diesel used to fuel tankwagons. J P Noonan Transportation Inc, a carrier based in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, hauls most of the in-bound product to the plant. McCarthy estimates J P Noonan transports at least 11 million gallons each year to the bulk plant. Drivers load fuel oil at the bulk plant typically upon return from routes or at other terminals during the day as necessary, depending on the route demand.
To keep trucks on the road, the company operates two shops that perform routine preventive maintenance and repairs under the direction of George Rispettoso, chief mechanic. Routine service is scheduled at intervals of 5,000 miles and 8,000 miles where oil and filter changes are performed. Brake overhauls typically are done in summer months. Since Devaney Fuel emphasizes the importance of tankwagon appearance, trucks are repainted regularly to keep them in pristine shape. Hot water and power washers are available at the shop for drivers to wash their vehicles.
The shops have the capability to install a tank on a new truck chassis and also performs maintenance on the company's vans used in the residential and commercial heating and cooling equipment sales and installation service.
“We trade the trucks at about 200,000 miles or about 10,000 hours,” says Rispetoso. “The operation is tough on the engines because they never stop running. They are either on the road or running pumps for unloading.”
James Devaney Fuel has come a long way from its beginnings over seven decades ago. The current owner says his father, also named James, took over from his father in 1945 and operated the business until retirement in 1988. James W joined his father in 1965 and purchased the business upon the senior Devaney's retirement.
“We've added about 16,000 customers since 1978,” James W says. “We are truly a local oil dealer. We're not owned by any major oil company. Our independence gives us more options to serve our customers with individualized attention. Our philosophy is to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with each of our customers. We realize that loyalty is crucial to our business.”
These details are a big reason the company remains a viable fuel oil distributor in an area filled with competitors. They also make it possible for the company to thrive under a challenging range of operating conditions.