Chemical attraction: Andrews Logistics accelerates expansion

March 1, 2023
Family-owned bulk hauler built its brand hauling lube oils. Now, after 25 years in business, it's growing chemical services, with four new and upgraded terminals—and a fleet of new trucks and trailers

There’s more than one way to build a business.

Mergers and acquisitions make the headlines, and accelerate fleet expansion in a driver- and equipment-constrained environment. Organic growth, on the other hand, is harder to detect because it happens over time, but as trucking partners J. Darron Eschle and Brian Jarvis are showing, slow and steady can win big, too.

The 50-50 owners in December celebrated the 25th anniversary of Andrews Logistics in the same year the two-family tank truck carrier realized Darron’s long-standing goal of surpassing $100 million in annual revenue. “I always dreamed of reaching that mark,” admitted Darron, chairman and CEO of Andrews Logistics. “The list of carriers in the tank truck industry is pretty short when you start talking about $100 million-plus. 

It’s even shorter when slashed to the top family-owned and -operated carriers still standing. But to maintain a leading position, they can’t afford to fall asleep. That’s why Andrews Logistics spent 2022 building out its chemical-hauling infrastructure, with new and upgraded terminals, and a fleet of new Peterbilt trucks and Polar tank trailers, to help supercharge diversification beyond its roots in the lube-oil sector. Eschle said Andrews grew chemical activities by 34% last year, and fueled by chemical expansion, it’s eyeing a further 20% in overall growth in 2023.

“Now we’ve got the opportunity, because we’ve grown and improved our finances, to go out and do more—and chemicals are where it’s at,” said Marc Miller, chief operating officer at Andrews. Their team is committed to winning the right way—caring for employees, satisfying customers, and operating safely. And the best way to do that, Eschle insists, is with long-term, stable relationships.

“Many of our competitors focus on buying and selling, quarterly profits, short-term goals, and those kinds of things, instead of the customer,” agreed Jarvis, Andrews president and CFO.

“That’s backward if you ask me.”

‘Instant credibility’

Darron, 54, started moving forward in 1997 with the help of the Andrews family.

Brothers Bill and Gary Andrews were running Andrews Transport, the trusted tank truck carrier their father founded, at the time; and Eschle was looking to enter the industry after coming up as an analyst and dispatcher with J.B. Hunt, Ryder System, and UPS. “I identified it as a niche,” he recalled. “I’d been in the dry van business, with flatbed, package, and supply chain-type work, and decided this was where I wanted to be.”

Fortuitously for Darron, Bill was searching for someone like him—ambitious, hard-working, and passionate about trucking—so when Darron reached out to gauge potential partners’ interest, Bill agreed to meet, and they clicked. With the financial and reputational backing of the Andrews family, he and Bill created Andrews Logistics as a nationwide carrier focused on contractual, instead of transactional, liquid freight. “Bill was the perfect partner,” Darron said. “He has great business acumen, ethics, and integrity, and he knows how to operate a business the right way.” Teaming with Bill gave Darron “instant credibility” and helped him avoid the pitfalls of starting a new business by working with the best accountants, lawyers, and insurers from the outset. “I signed up on Day 1 with people he’d vetted over 25 years,” Eschle said.

By emphasizing service and safety, Andrews Logistics evolved into Bill’s exit and succession plan, so the partners purchased Andrews Transport’s in 2013 and merged them with Andrews Logistics. With Bill also retiring in 2013, the Andrews family now is represented by Jarvis, Bill’s son-in-law, and president and CFO of Andrews Logistics, who joined the business in 2001. It also includes Madison Eschle, eldest of Darron’s three daughters, and Colton Pittman, Darron’s son-in-law.

The operation now boasts 14 terminals, along with 477 trucks, 940 trailers, 410 drivers, 56 office employees, and 47 mechanics.

But as far as they’ve come, they’re not feeling content.

Chemical expansion

The company based in Southlake, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, always serviced the chemical sector, but their initial expertise was in transporting single- and multi-compartment lube-oil cargoes. At one point not too long ago, its commodity mix still was 75% lube oils. After several years building up the chemical business, it’s now closer to 55-45—and chemicals still are surging.

“We think 2023 is going to be a huge year for us in the chemical sector,” Darron predicted.

That’s because the bulk hauler has upgraded or acquired four terminals to better serve chemical customers in the last several years, including a state-of-the-art facility in Neville Island, Pennsylvania, in 2020; new terminals in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, and Little Rock, Arkansas, added in 2022; and a newly improved site in Beaumont, where Andrews Logistics previously operated out of a tank wash.

Now Beaumont is one of the carrier’s flagship terminals, along with Deer Park, which is strategically located near the Port of Houston; and when the Neville Island terminal opens in late spring/early summer, it will have three first-rate facilities. But the highly coveted St. Gabriel terminal may be the grandest prize.

CTL Transportation operated the facility before its parent company, Comcar Industries, filed for bankruptcy. “Everybody wanted to buy it, but it was for lease, and I happened to be the guy who was able to convince them to sell,” explained Darron, saying even if overpaid he didn’t care because it’s in an ideal location to facilitate chemical growth with customers and drivers. “There isn’t a chemical hauler in the country who doesn’t go in and out of Southern Louisiana and drive right by our terminal,” he said.

Andrews Logistics already is the largest, or one of the largest, carriers for many of the major lube oil producers, so chemical expansion “makes sense,” Miller said. It’s also a much larger segment, so the “sky’s the limit,” Darron added. “We’re participating in bids with customers who have $20 million worth of business hauling chemicals and hoping to scrape off $1.5 to $2 million,” he said. Further, chemicals are less susceptible to “commodity” pricing and ripe for value-added services, and the barriers to entry are higher than in many segments, helping “weed out the riff raff” among the competition. “The chemical sector is the place to be—and absolutely the most opportune place for us to grow,” he concluded.

That’s why Madison, recently promoted to chief people officer, says they’re eager to move outside their comfort zone—even hauling food-grade liquid sugar in two markets.

“Diversifying is key,” she said. “Forever, if you heard ‘Andrews Logistics’ and you know about trucking, it was ‘Oh, they’re a lube oil carrier.’ So we want to say ‘Hey, you know what, Andrews Logistics is a liquid bulk carrier.’ They do chemicals and lube oils. We really want to change how we’re viewed in that regard.”

One thing will never change—Andrews Logistics’ dedication to serving its customers and growing organically, so no one feels “neglected or slighted,” Madison emphasized. “We may only add a few high-value customers per year, but we’ll spend the next 10 years growing with them, and end up with ‘compounding’ growth,” Darron said.

“We have that luxury because we’re family-owned and -operated, with long-term thinking vs. what we’re doing today on any one account.”


That family-owned distinction is a great differentiator in an increasingly consolidated market.

“We’ll do things that a big corporate company would never consider to take care of our team,” Madison said. She only learned how far Darron would go from an emotional driver on a ride-along several years ago. The driver’s daughter had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so Darron gave him four months paid time off to ensure her last days were special. “My dad never tells us the stuff he does,” Madison said.

“He doesn’t need recognition. He does it because he loves people.”

Dedication to their “work family” is a guiding principle at Andrews Logistics, where the goal is to take care of employees, so they can take care of customers. “I can’t take care of my customers from a corporate office in Southlake, Texas, so why try?” Darron said. “What I can do is take care of my mechanics, office people, and drivers, and make sure they have the tools they need, and competitive pay levels, and the extra love and attention operating in our organization, so they can go out and take care of our customers.”

That approach keeps driver turnover low—just under 30% last year. A driver-centric philosophy also promotes loyalty, keeping service levels high and aiding expansion, and saves money on recruiting and training, helping protect the company’s bottom line, especially compared to larger chemical carriers who are buying and selling each other, and “bleeding” disgruntled drivers “out the other end” with much higher turnover. “It’s their drivers, mechanics, dispatchers, and terminal managers I’m hiring to grow our company,” Eschle said.

Andrews Logistics drivers are paid by the mile and activity. Pay ranges from $70,000 for local drivers up the six-figure range for hard-working regional and long-haul drivers after the company raised pay by 20% in the last few years. But equally important are the benefits and, more specifically, understanding how to use them, Madison said. She once convinced a driver who was thinking about dropping short-term disability to keep the vital benefit, and instead save money on premiums by taking advantage of Andrews Logistics’ wellness program, which allows employees and their families to save more than $1,000 per year by taking a free blood test and online assessment. “There have been so many success stories from this wellness program, where people were able to avoid catastrophic health events,” Madison said.

While serving as director of human resources, Madison also started an HR taskforce consisting of employees in talent management, operations, safety, customer solutions, and payroll who meet twice a month to brainstorm ways to boost morale. New initiatives include seven-day calls to new drivers, an employee of the month program, newsletters, birthday cards, messages delivered through Samsara electronic-logging devices (ELDs), and a program that provides new boots for every mechanic each year.

“The HR taskforce helps us find new ways to take care of employees, and create ownership in the ideas we implement,” Madison said.

Award-winning safety

Griff Odgers helps them stay safe.

The senior vice president of safety and risk management led the company to National Tank Truck Carriers’ North American safety championship in 2009, about a year after implementing its signature Target Zero program, which aims for zero injuries and incidents, and a return-to-work process that helps injured drivers get back on their feet quickly. “Winning that trophy opened a lot of doors for us,” Odgers recalled. “That’s a big award for the tank truck industry—and our shippers are well aware of what it means.”

Scorecards that utilize Samsara analytics keep Andrews Logistics in the running every year by “gamifying” safe driving. Drivers are scored from zero to 100% based on speeding, sudden starts and stops, harsh turns, miles per gallon, idle times, and more; and those above 90% are considered to have hit Target Zero. Terminal managers regularly post the scores for all to see, and work with lagging drivers to improve. “Guys don’t like being on the bottom, so we get a lot of mileage out of the scorecards,” Odgers said.

Real-time updates on motor vehicle reports (MVRs) ensure there are “no surprises,” and safety personnel also post drivers’ compliance, safety, accountability (CSA) scores monthly. But the key to building an award-winning safety program is establishing processes and procedures that are both practical, and plainly stated, Odgers said. “I look at safety programs like insurance,” he explained. “You can insure yourself out of business. Even with personal auto, if you loaded up on every coverage, you couldn’t afford to drive. So when I look at safety programs, I ask myself, ‘What’s practical, what works, and what isn’t going to overload drivers and terminal managers,’ so we’re not setting them up to fail.”

Those policies must be reinforced, and backed by a top-down safety culture. Andrews Logistics accomplishes this with quarterly safety meetings Madison and Darron regularly attend, and Infinit-I online training videos. All drivers, or field “generals,” have stop-work authority, and Miller says most incidents are avoidable when exercising that authority, so it’s a key part of Target Zero. They also carry waivers for consignees who insist on “non-standard” procedures. “There’s a lot to offloading where our drivers have to be the experts at what they do,” he said.

As a bonus, operating safely includes a sizeable business advantage.

“In the tank truck industry, our customers will rate us on safety before they even look at us on price,” Darron said.

Heavily invested

Money isn’t the driving factor on equipment either. As Odgers says, Darron’s willing “to open the checkbook” to keep the company safe, compliant, and moving down the road in late-model vehicles. “Nobody wants to drive junk equipment, so we work hard to keep ours clean,” Miller said. “We feel if we spend money upfront, and help drivers keep equipment clean, they’ll take better care of it.”

Andrews Logistic sidestepped the supply-chain disruptions hampering many carriers’ growth plans, leaning on a “great relationship” with Peterbilt to add 90 trucks in 2022. “They also like dealing with a family-owned and -operated company because they know I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not going to have a new procurement manager every year,” Darron said. The latest fully loaded, “flame red” Model 579 high-roof sleepers boast Bendix Wingman Fusion with electronic stability control and collision mitigation, Paccar’s MX-13 engine and TX-12 automated transmission, and Thermo King’s TriPac Evolution APUs.

They’re also rigged out with PTO-powered, frame-mounted ThermaFlow hydraulic oil coolers, Roper product pumps, and Quincy air compressors on three-way valves to make adding a compressor or food-grade pump easy.

The carrier also took delivery of 80 Polar tankers split between two 7,000-gallon, stainless-steel configurations last year. Center-unloading, DOT 407s feature 12-in., double conical construction, and rear-unloading trailers are round. Both feature Betts manholes and vents; Girard vapor recovery valves, Dixon FloTech overfill detection systems, Hendrickson’s Intraax tandem axles and Tiremaax Pro tire inflation systems, and Meritor lift axles.

“We’re not afraid to spend money when it comes to safety,” Darron said.

Growing together

That’s just another reason why Andrews Logistics is soaring in a post-pandemic environment.

After falling to $73 million in revenue in 2020, when demand plummeted, it reached $92 million in 2021—and $120 million last year.

Now Darron’s aiming for $200 million, with chemicals as the catalyst. And considering he’s already grown Andrews Logistics into one of the top privately held for-hire tank truck carriers in North America in terms of revenue by “crushing” the industry’s largest players on service and employee care, it’d be unwise to bet against him.

“We’ve come a long way in a capital-intensive business to get where we’re at today, so I’m excited about what we can accomplish in the future,” Darron said.

So is Madison, who’s a key part of Darron’s succession plan—along with Pittman—after “luring” her back to the family business four years ago by telling her, “if none of my girls want to get involved, it’ll be tough to continue growing the company.” Intrigued and inspired, she listened, and, without informing him of her plan, assembled a presentation on the value she could bring, and blew away Darron and Jarvis.

“He didn’t think his plan worked, but it did,” Madison said with a smile.

“Now I wake up and I’m excited to go to work every single day. I love my job, I love what we do here, and I care so deeply about every single person who works for us and with us, so I would love to keep this going.”

About the Author

Jason McDaniel

Jason McDaniel, based in the Houston TX area, has more than 20 years of experience as an award-winning journalist. He spent 15 writing and editing for daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, and began covering the commercial vehicle industry in 2018. He was named editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter magazines in July 2020.