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Al Warren Oil thrives as Chicago fuel wholesaler

Sept. 7, 2010
ANOTHER winter is just a few short months away for the Chicago, Illinois area, and Al Warren Oil Company is ready to meet the challenge. That is what

ANOTHER winter is just a few short months away for the Chicago, Illinois area, and Al Warren Oil Company is ready to meet the challenge. That is what the company has been doing throughout the more than 60 years it has been in business.

The petroleum wholesaler distributes more than 50 million gallons of fuel a year, and serves a diverse customer base with a fuel distribution fleet that includes 45 tankwagons and transports. The operation also includes bulk plants and cardlock locations. The company continues to develop new services to meet emerging customer needs.

“We have been very successful with this company, and we believe the future looks great,” says Tom Warren Jr, Al Warren Oil Company vice-president of operations. “We're profitable. Our business is back on track after the recession of the past year, because everyone at this company worked hard to keep our fleet busy. We see more growth ahead. We're innovative, and we have employees who really care about this company.

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“All of our employees work hard, but our six sales representatives have done a particularly outstanding job. Fuel consumption for our customers was down 8% to 10% in 2009, but volumes are returning to normal. We held our ground by adding more customers.”

Long history

Al Warren Oil Co Inc was established in 1948 as a heating oil jobber and built a thriving operation that serves customers across a region spanning a 100-mile radius of Chicago. The petroleum wholesaler works closely with sister company Altom Transport, which was started in 1978 and built a premier for-hire carrier operation that handles a diverse range of petroleum and chemical products.

“Our petroleum business has actually grown by about 600% over the past six years,” Warren says. We have also seen very good growth in bio-fuels.”

Al Warren Oil handles a full range of refined petroleum products that include gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and biofuels. Service is provided to customers in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and parts of Michigan.

“Heating oil used to be a central focus for our business, but it is steadily declining in this area,” Warren says. “We've maintained market share by acquiring other heating oil operations. We continue to serve a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial accounts.

“Our biofuel division continues to show more potential for the future. We are an approved biodiesel blender, and we sell about a million gallons on blended diesel every month. With a soy-based biodiesel being a solid choice by our customers, our company is proud to provide a green solution.”

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Biodiesel is blended at Al Warren Oil's Chicago terminal, which is also one of two bulk plants operated by the petroleum marketer. The facility has 130,000 gallons storage capacity in above- and below-ground tankage. A second bulk plant about four miles away has refined product storage capacity of 200,000 gallons.

Customer variety

Refined fuels are going to a wide range of customers. For instance, commercial fueling operations are expanding steadily. Customers include foodservice distributors, marine operations, bus companies, municipal fleets, railroad facility sites, and emergency generator owners.

“We are doing more on-site fueling, and we are adding metered equipment specifically for that activity,” Warren says. “Our commercial fueling business is growing steadily, and we are benefiting from increased opportunities across the industrial sector.”

Mark Ivers, Al Warren Oil vice-president of sales, adds: “During the last couple of years the growth of our company has been based on achieving a win-win relationship with our diverse customer base. Each customer has a specific goal to achieve when we meet with them. We develop a fuel program that allows the customer to exceed these goals. Al Warren Oil provides a level of service to our customers that we believe is second to none in our market. This level of service extends throughout the entire organization.”

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Al Warren Oil has a growing number of industrial accounts. The company fuels locomotives and supplies bunker oils and heavy oils to asphalt plants and other customers. Vehicle fuels also are available through six company-owned cardlock sites in the greater Chicago area and Northwest Indiana. The cardlock locations offer ultra low sulfur diesel, biodiesel-blended fuel, off-road diesel, and gasoline. Al Warren Oil strives to be a true partner with customers, not just a vendor. This is achieved through progressive thinking and strategic concepts presented to customers.

If a customer needs its own fuel storage tank on-site, Al Warren Oil can provide it. “We can provide our customers with portable or permanent storage tanks,” Warren says. “We deliver and install the storage tanks ourselves. It's all part of the full-service fuel management program we offer our customers.”

Al Warren Oil is US Coast Guard approved for marine deliveries, and it offers pump-out service for petroleum products. Sister company Altom Transport runs dedicated equipment to haul a variety of aviation fuels. The sister company also has a 24-hour emergency spill response team, and has developed specialized capabilities for staging equipment for quick response to events such as hurricanes.

The wide range of products and services enable Al Warren Oil to provide customers with complete fuel management from offices in Chicago and Summit, Illinois, and Hammond, Indiana. Fleet operations are directed from the central dispatch center at the Chicago terminal.

Driver management

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Dispatchers communicate with drivers via PeopleNet on-board computers. The cellular-based system also provides satellite tracking, which enables managers to pinpoint drivers and load locations.

The drivers working with the dispatchers are among the best in the tank truck industry, according to Michael Crawford, safety director at Al Warren Oil. The carrier has achieved less than 5% driver turnover during the past 10 years, and average truck driving experience is 15 years.

“We have good driver retention for several reasons,” Crawford says. “We provide competitive compensation and 100% company benefits. We provide excellent training, and we run one of the best-maintained, best-looking fleets in the industry.”

Experienced tank truck drivers are the preference, and applicants typically must have two years of verifiable truck driving experience. Al Warren Oil also began requiring Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards within the past couple of years. We move drivers around throughout our operation to keep them diversified to meet our customer needs,”

Driver candidates selected for a position at Al Warren Oil start with a three-day orientation focused on hazardous materials handling, and incident prevention, and mitigation. The Emergency Response Guidebook is covered in detail. Each section of training concludes with practical essay tests.

The Smith System is used for the defensive driving part of the orientation. Newly hired drivers also receive hands-on training in the handling of all fuels.

A recent financial grant from the City of Chicago funded a range of training improvements. Exercise and other lifestyle factors were part of the training upgrade.

“We teach our employees a series of stretching exercises for back, hips, and legs,” Crawford says. “The exercises take 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of the work day and can be done at small workout area we set up at our Chicago terminal. We believe the exercise program has contributed to a happier work environment, no lost-time accidents in 2008 and a very good worker comp rating.”

Throughout the orientation, drivers learn that the company has a passion for excellence that extends from driver attitude and performance to every other part of the company.

Premium trucks

The passion for excellence clearly is evident in the fleet. “Image is very important to us,” Warren says. “We specify premium vehicles, and nobody has a better looking fleet as far as we are concerned. We really dress up our trucks for the drivers that take the best care of their equipment.”

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Virtually all of the trucks and tractors in the fleet are Peterbilts, and the newest tractors are Model 389s. The petroleum wholesaler buys Peterbilt Model 340s for tankwagon applications.

“Peterbilt has been the truck of choice at this company through three generations of the Warren family,” Warren says. “We have a good Pete dealer in this area, and Peterbilt builds a product with great quality, dependability, and resale value. Our dealer, Great Lakes Peterbilt in Portage, Indiana, told us about the Consolidated Fleet Solutions rebate program, and it has been great for us. We get the rebates for truck and tire purchases.”

Altom Transport began specifying Cummins engines in 2007, and that will continue. The company uses ISX engines rated at 500-horsepower in the tractors and the Cummins ISL 330-hp engine in the tankwagons. Eighteen-speed Fuller Roadranger transmissions are standard in all of the tractors. Allison automatic transmissions are ordered for the tankwagons.

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Cummins allows biodiesel fuel blends up to B20 (20% biodiesel), and Altom Transport runs B11 in as much of its fleet as possible. “Biodiesel is good for us for several reasons,” Warren says. “In Illinois, we don't pay state sales tax on any biodiesel blend above B10. We've also seen engine performance improvements with biodiesel.”

Biodiesel is credited with boosting fuel economy by 3% to 4%. Cold flow improvers help ensure that there are no winter problems with the biodiesel.

Most of the petroleum trailers in the fleet were built with a 9,500-gallon capacity and have four to five compartments. However, the company also runs two 8,000-gallon distribution trailers that have dual product meters and hose reels.

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Ninety-percent of the trailers were supplied by Polar Tank Trailer LLC. “We've been buying Polar trailers for more than 30 years, because they build a very good tank that is very reliable,” Warren says. “We get a competitive price, and the Polar management team is very responsive when we have special requests.”

Tank trailer hardware includes Civacon and Emco Wheaton valves and bottom-loading adapters, Scully overfill protection, and additive injection systems. New trailer running gear includes Hendrickson Intraax air-ride suspensions with Tiremaax inflation control and Bendix roll stability. Trailers and tractors are ordered with
aluminum wheels and run on Michelin, Bridgestone, and Continental tires. A number of tractors and trailers have been fitted with Michelin X One widebase tires.

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The petroleum wholesaler buys 4,200- and 4,800-gallon aluminum DOT406 cargo tanks for tankwagon applications. The aluminum truck tanks are supplied by Polar, Boston Steel & Manufacturing Co, and TransTech Industries. Hardware on the newest units includes
Bayco's FloTech overfill protection and hose nozzles, Civacon bottom-loading adapters, Tuthill Fill-Rite additive injection system, Blackmer product pump, Liquid Controls meter, and Goodyear hose.

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Truck-mounted tanks have a long life and go through multiple chassis before being retired. Transfer from one chassis to another is handled in-house at the company's Chicago maintenance shop. In fact, company mechanics provide most of the fleet maintenance. Preventive maintenance is emphasized, but the mechanics can handle virtually any tractor or trailer issue. Emergency road service vehicles are ready to go at all times.

“We have the systems, personnel, and equipment in place to meet our customers' needs today and tomorrow,” Warren says. “This company is solidly focused on the future.” ♦

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.