FAMILY-OWNED Terpening Trucking Co in Syracuse, New York, is in growth mode. The goal is to become a 100-truck petroleum hauler within five years, and the company is well on its way.
The 100-truck goal is part of a plan for steady sustained growth that was developed by members of the fourth generation of Terpenings—cousins Craig Terpening and Rich Terpening Jr. In their mid-40s and mid-30s, they acquired the operation from their fathers, Chuck and Dick, and their uncle, George Terpening, in 2010 and have grown the fleet from 32 trucks to 60 petroleum transports.
The carrier delivered 400 million gallons of fuel in 2013, and the cousins want to reach 500 million gallons in the next few years. In addition to refined fuels, the carrier also hauls ethanol and biodiesel for its customers that are spread across the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.
“We’re in year one of our five-year growth plan, and we believe we are well positioned to reach our goals,” says Rich Terpening Jr, Terpening Trucking vice-president of operations. “We plan to add seven tractors, seven bio-fuel trailers, and two petroleum tankers this year, and we will probably do the same in 2015. Our biggest challenge will be finding enough drivers, but we believe we can handle that.
“During 97 years in business, this company has become very well known throughout our operating region and has built a very good reputation. This is very much a family-owned company with the fourth generation now managing the operation. We already have the fifth generation growing up in the wings.
“We take great pride in the fact that our family name is on the trucks. We give our customers great service, and we deliver very personalized service. We know our customers and their families, just like we know every one of our drivers, their spouses, and their children. We can make decisions quickly, and we can react rapidly. We will endure as a family company, and family companies like ours make this country move forward.”
Established as a fuel hauler, the carrier has steadily expanded its marketing area and the products it handles. The fleet is dispersed among eight terminals spread across a region that includes New York state, the outlying states, and parts of Canada.
“Our trips are relatively short, and most of our drivers are home at the end of every shift,” says Craig Terpening. “That has been an important factor in helping us retain drivers. At the same time, we try to maximize fleet efficiency and productivity by slipseating our rigs. ”
While the core business remains refined fuels, including gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil, the carrier has made a strong push into biofuels. “We began hauling biofuels in 2005, and it has been good business for us,” Craig Terpening says. “Due to bioheat and biodiesel state mandates, we went from one dedicated biodiesel trailer to 13 in seven years. Of the 120 loads of fuel we haul on a daily basis, biodiesel accounts for three to five loads. We haul 20 to 25 loads of ethanol every day.”
As the company grew, it became apparent that management needed better ways to monitor fleet operations. “We had a tracking system that didn’t work well for us,” says Rich Terpening Jr. “We started shopping around for something better.”
He and Craig chose a fleet performance software package from Vnomics Corp. Developed at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, the patented fleet management technology has helped Terpening Trucking streamline fleet operations, identify maximum miles per gallon potential, and deliver real-time coaching to Terpening’s drivers based on vehicle, road, load, and environmental conditions.
Terpening Trucking is using Vnomics’ real-time performance system, which captures in-vehicle data, provides real-time in-cab driver coaching, and delivers actionable management alerts and business intelligence. Each component of the system works together as an easy-to-use, real-time service.
Vnomics’ patent-pending In-Cab Advisor system coaches drivers in the cab, in real time. Drivers receive audio alerts for improper speeding, shifting, hard acceleration, and idling. Drivers can view their performance scorecards in the cab, enabling them to manage their own progress throughout the day.
Terpening Trucking supervisors review driver safety and performance alerts from Vnomics each day so they can immediately address adverse behavior. The top- and bottom-ranked driver scores also are displayed on a large screen in the driver breakroom.
Since partnering with Vnomics, Terpening Trucking has seen immediate and sustainable improvements in driver performance. The fleet’s miles-per-gallon performance improved by 9% in the first two months of use and increased 9.8% within the first two years. Terpening Trucking also has seen a significant improvement in fleet safety with safe driving miles increasing by 73%.
The carrier already uses the Vnomics system for driver logs and plans are to link the system with Creative Energy’s dispatch software. “We’re still old school and we still use paper for our dispatch operations,” says Rich Terpening Jr. “We still need a live person in the dispatch center. It’s not something we can turn over to a computer, but the software should help the process run more smoothly.”
It should be noted that Rich and Craig have a good understanding of what it takes to effectively manage a fuel transport fleet on the road. Both of them have commercial driver licenses, and they still put in time on the road making deliveries as “pinch drivers.’
“I actually started as a driver for the company in 1986,” Craig Terpening says. “And Rich did some driving in the early days as well. Both of us also cut our teeth in dispatch, so we know and understand drivers very well.”
That perspective, coupled with the small-family atmosphere, has helped keep driver turnover to less than 1%. “Most of our drivers have been with us for more than 15 years,” says Rich Terpening Jr. “But with the new infusion of drivers due to our growth, our average is now 12 years with the company. We even have a father and son driving for us, so the family atmosphere truly runs deep here.”
While the carrier will hire drivers as young as 23, many recent hires ranged in age from 30 to 35. In many cases these drivers have young families and come in with a willingness to work hard.
To be hired, an applicant must have at least one year of truck driving experience. Applicants must have a good driving record, pass all of the federally mandated requirements, and have a good attitude. Rich and Craig talk with every applicant, and Rich gives the road test.
The initial orientation lasts a day for those hired and includes rollover prevention training and loading/unloading procedures. Equipment operation gets most of a day. Each new hire is then placed with a driver trainer for at least four weeks.
One way Terpening Trucking is attracting and holding onto drivers is with well-equipped late model tractors. “We run what is probably the biggest owner-operator-type fleet in this area,” Rich Terpening Jr says. “At the same time, we use standardized specifications wherever possible for our tractors and trailers. “Uniformity is important because there is less opportunity for driver error and our customers know exactly how much product they will receive with each delivery.”
The carrier runs only Kenworth tractors. “We’ve been buying Kenworth tractors since 1974 because drivers like them and our dealer—Kenworth Northeast—provides support service that is second to none,” Rich Terpening Jr says. We have a fantastic working relationship with them, and they get our trucks back on the road quickly.
When the cousins took over management of the company, Kenworth T800s were the fleet standard. “But we’re now moving into the T680, and it has been a great decision,” Rich Terpening Jr says. “We deliver to convenience stores and retail distributorships, and the statement those T680s make about quality means something.”
Impressing customers with equipment is one thing, impressing their own drivers with premium trucks that include some of the latest safety technology is another. “When the T680 was introduced, we decided to test one for a year,” he says. “We had one of our most meticulous drivers assigned to the truck during daytime runs, as well as several drivers using it for night deliveries. Everyone raved about the visibility from the truck cab, and the guys who drove at night immediately noticed a huge improvement in nighttime vision with the headlight system. They couldn’t believe the improvement. The quietness of the truck and the ride were also impressive to the group.”
With key drivers sold, the Terpenings ordered 15 more T680s. “Everyone loves the trucks,” Rich Terpening Jr says. “But what we love most is how much more economical they are to operate. We run very heavy in our area—107,000 pounds hauling refined fuels in 12,500-gallon tri-axle tank trailers—and our T800s with 485-horsepower engines average between 5.2 and 5.4 miles per gallon in regional deliveries. The T680s, with the same horsepower rating, are averaging between 6.0 and 6.5 mpg. That’s up to a mile-per-gallon boost, and it’s amazing what that means in fuel savings per truck since each rig runs about 100,000 miles per year.”
The T680s are spec’d with Cummins ISX15 15-liter engines, Eaton 10-speed manual transmissions, Bendix air-disc brakes, traction control, and Alcoa aluminum disc wheels with the Dura-Brite finish. Product handling equipment includes tractor-mounted Roper pumps.
The T680s also are equipped with Kenworth’s NavPlus system. “We’re growing, so we are adding new drivers, as well as new routes,” Craig Terpening says. “The navigation system has been just great. It is set for hazardous materials hauling to ensure that we stay on the correct roads and routes. We plug in our load particulars and NavPlus chooses the best route. That saves our guys time and ensures timely deliveries. In addition, it’s a safety enhancement since we avoid missing exits and streets. There is room for error when you get lost or go into an area that’s hard to get out of.”
Eighty of the trailers in the Terpening Trucking fleet are petroleum tankers, and the newest ones were built by LBT Inc. Most are tri-axle units with five compartments. Tank hardware includes Dixon Bayco’s FloTech overfill protection, Dixon Bayco API outlets and vapor recovery, and Betts internal valves and domelids.
For running gear, the carrier has standardized on Hendrickson Intraax air suspension systems with Meritor roll stability. The tri-axle units have a 49-inch axle spread.
Thirteen of the newer trailers in the fleet are 7,500-gallon Polar insulated asphalt-type trailers that are used to transport biodiesel. The tandem-axle trailers have aluminum tanks that are insulated with five inches of fiberglass compressed to three inches. Hardware includes a hot-product internal valve, Polar domelid, and Betts API valve set up for rear discharge.
The company has an extensive maintenance capability to keep the fleet in top running order. Most of the tractor and all of the tank trailer maintenance is handled in-house by sister company Tri Tank Corporation. The Tri Tank shop is at the carrier’s headquarters terminal location.
Tractors and trailers are serviced on a 15,000-mile schedule. While all of the routine tractor maintenance is performed in-house, warranty work is handled at the Kenworth dealership.
Tri Tank was established in 1978, and was born out of necessity, according to Rich Terpening Jr. There was no other tank repair shop in the area, and the company had little choice but to set up its own operation.
The 17-bay, 30,000-sq-ft shop handles a full range of code and non-code cargo tank repairs. Among the 22 mechanics who staff the shop, six are ASME-qualified welders. The shop staff also includes a Department of Transportation-certified design engineer.
All of this gives Terpening Trucking the capability needed to provide its customers with the best possible service and continue growing toward its five-year goal. ♦