IT'S hard not to think of colorful billboards when the 11 tankwagons at Fuel Oils Inc of Richmond, Virginia, roll down the road. Whether new or veterans of the fleet, the vehicles gleam with fresh paint and shining hardware as if they were recently delivered from the manufacturer. However, the trucks are not just another pretty face.
"We are selling clean and quality products, and we want our trucks to reflect that," says Michael Holder, Richmond manager. "The trucks are the least expensive advertising that we can do."
Fuel Oils Inc, a subsidiary of Petroleum Marketers Inc (PMI) of Roanoke, Virginia, is a fuel oil, lubricants, kerosene, diesel, and gasoline distributor. The Richmond fleet includes nine fuel oil/lubricant trucks and two gasoline trucks. Fuel Oils Inc is one of two divisions PMI operates in the state to market petroleum products to local homes and businesses. PMI vehicles across Virginia include 37 fuel oil, kerosene, and lubricant trucks. There are 18 tank trailers and three tank wagons used to haul gasoline and diesel.
While Fuel Oils Inc operates in the Richmond area, its parent company is one of Virginia's largest full-service energy companies. The employee-owned corporate company has divisions that supply branded products, including gasoline, diesel fuels, kerosene, home heating oils, bulk lubricants, and motor oils. Terminals are located throughout Virginia.
PMI companies in Virginia include Whiting Oil Company in Culpeper, APB/Whiting Oil in Roanoke, Lynchburg Oil Company in Lynch-burg, PM Food Inc in Roanoke, Whiting/Rockbridge Oil in Lexington, Whiting/Jamison Oil in Covington, Northern Neck Oil Co in Warsaw, PM Transport Inc in Roanoke, Stop In Food Stores Inc based in Roanoke, and Whiting/Jamison Oil in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
There are 73 Stop In Food Stores throughout the western part of Virginia, and the company operates 15 tractor trailer units to supply the convenience stores. About 265 million gallons of product are distributed annually in Virginia and West Virginia.
At the Richmond terminal, 100,000 gallons of product is stored, primarily lubricants. Fuel Oils Inc delivers 60 to 62 million gallons of product annually in the Richmond area.
Getting product to customers on time and efficiently demands a fleet that keeps moving. Holder gives credit for the trucks' excellent operating condition to the company drivers and maintenance personnel at Truck Services of Virginia in Richmond. The repair facility was selected three years ago to take over Fuel Oils' maintenance needs. "We have not had an engine failure since we started this program," says Holder. "There is hardly any unscheduled downtime."
In addition to preventive maintenance and repairs, one half of the fleet is rotated every year to a paint shop for reconditioning.
Annual Savings Holder estimates $50,000 to $60,000 savings in annual truck repair expense because of the preventive maintenance program. Before the maintenance agreement was in force, trucks were repaired on an as-needed basis, which proved expensive, particularly because it produced erratic downtime that impacted delivery schedules. Today, the condition of the vehicles not only makes a positive statement on the streets, it allows the trucks to breeze through Department of Transportation (DOT) road inspections, eliminating out-of-service delays.
One important aspect of the program's development was training the company's 10 drivers to adapt to the plan. Assigned to individual trucks, drivers are encouraged to take their vehicles into the shop when they suspect they are in need of checkups or repairs. The practice pays off in another way. Giving drivers more say in the maintenance of the vehicles they drive contributes to job satisfaction. "They tend to stay with us," says Holder.
Along with the company's equipment philosophy, a driver incentive program is in place. Drivers compete each quarter for a $125 award. "We take a look at uniform appearance, truck appearance, paper work, missed deliveries, spills, and accidents," says Holder.
The driver training program, in addition to covering standard procedures, emphasizes the importance of avoiding spills and taking care of equipment. For example, when drivers make a home or business delivery, they wrap the hose nozzle in a cloth to insure no drips will fall on the ground between the truck and the storage tank. All of this effort enhances customer service, the company's first goal, by providing safe, efficient, clean, and on-time delivery, says Holder.
"Our drivers know their home delivery customers," he adds. "They know the dog in the yard, and how to maneuver in tight driveways so they don't drive on the grass. They also know the special needs of their business customers."
Safety Training Safety and customer service go hand-in-hand. Holder is especially sensitive to safety training, having retired from the Henrico County Fire Department (HCFD) as a battalion fire chief. He joined Fuel Oils Inc as a part-time employee while he was working at HCFD. After retirement, he joined the company fulltime and developed the safety program.
New drivers go through 30 to 45 days of training before they are allowed to work alone. They receive training at company product loading sites and customer locations, and must complete loading procedures three times under the eye of a supervisor. In addition, all eight petroleum product terminals used by Fuel Oils Inc require drivers to qualify at their facilities.
Company training includes orientation and policies, DOT regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling. Drivers learn how to accurately process delivery information that includes handling tickets and reading meter count.
The company conducts random drug testing of its drivers and has a zero drug tolerance policy in effect.
Delivery operations are focused within the Richmond metropolitan area, and tankwagons run about 60 miles a day. The company divides the marketing area with each driver assigned to a certain area.
The customer service office is staffed by three people who handle calls for fuel oil, kerosene, and lubricants. All home deliveries, typically fuel oil, are on automatic delivery schedules calculated by the degree-day system. Commercial customers include paper mills, lumber yards, and manufacturing plants. They are on a will-call basis and submit orders via telephone or fax. "We respond to customer orders on the day the order comes in," Holder says.
Three additional clerks handle customer service for diesel and gasoline orders. The company supplies product for convenience stores that have Exxon, Shell, Texaco, and Citgo products. There are also government contracts and deliveries to independent petroleum product dealers.
When making deliveries, drivers are rarely out of touch with the office. Trucks are equipped with two-way Motorola radios.
Equipment Adjustments With the variety of business and year-round operation, the tankwagons are involved in a lot of stop-and-go driving, which means clutch and brake adjustments are frequent, another reason the company prefers the contract maintenance with Truck Services.
The preventive maintenance program includes a 3,000-mile bumper-to-bumper check out, including oil and filter change. "We even check out the seats and floor mats," says Rob Davis, Truck Services shop foreman.
Every 30 days, tires receive inspection through an agreement at Tire Centers of Richmond. The company maintains an inventory of new tires for Fuel Oils Inc. "We don't use recapped tires," says Holder. "There are just too many failures with them."
The company operates Ford, GMC, and Kenworth trucks, and units remain in active use until they reach a point where they are no longer cost effective to run. With the maintenance program in place, vehicle life is being extended. Some trucks are 20-30 years old.
The trucks are equipped with Cummins engines. Horsepower varies from 210 to 300. Most of the trucks have Eaton five- or seven-speed transmissions, but a few have Allison automatic transmissions.
The company specifies Meritor axles and Hendrickson suspensions. Running gear also includes Meritor brakes. Fuel Oils Inc specifies Michelin tires. Lights are supplied by Betts.
Tank Specifications Tanks are from Amthor International, Boston Steel & Manufacturing, and New Progress. Tank capacity varies from 2,800 gallons for heating oil, kerosene, and bulk lubricants to 4,400 gallons for gasoline. Typically, fuel oil tanks have one, two, or three compartments. Gasoline tanks have two compartments. Tanks used for lubricants typically have five compartments, four for varying grades of motor oil, and one for transmission fluid.
Standardized components for the various tanks include Betts Industries domelids and pressure-relief valves. Vapor recovery systems are from Civacon. OPW Engineered Systems supplies dry disconnect couplings, and Scully Signal is the source for overfill prevention systems. Meter and register systems are from Veeder-Root, Liquid Controls, and Schlumberger. Other equipment includes Blackmer pumps, Goodyear hoses, and Hannay reels.
Keeping all this equipment in running order has become second nature to managers and drivers at Fuel Oils Inc. With the Truck Services of Virginia maintenance program reinforcing company dedication to appearance, efficiency, and service, the trucks will continue to be moving billboards reflecting those standards.