Sprint establishes ‘supersite’ synergy

July 8, 2024
Tank truck carrier’s new La Porte headquarters unlocks a full array of bulk supply chain services

LA PORTE, Texas—Josh Noworatzky currently serves as president and CEO of four Sprint companies: Sprint Transport, Sprint Logistics, Sprint Rail Partners, and Trident Tank Wash. But they operate as one cohesive unit Noworatzky and his team of carefully selected leaders want to grow into the country’s most comprehensive provider of bulk transportation services, offering everything from tank trailer and container cleaning and maintenance to tank car staging and maritime movements.

The linchpin in their plan is Sprint’s new headquarters in La Porte, Texas.

The 30-acre property boasts rail, barge, and deep-water access, helping tie all those services together; the four-story building with a giant yellow “S” streaking across the top is a central hub for all Sprint’s businesses, and a highly visible billboard for every truck driver who crosses the Fred Hartman Bridge; and the entire enterprise is expected to serve as a blueprint for Sprint’s operations going forward. “The goal is to use this site as a template for adding these entities and bulk liquid services and developing into a provider of holistic supply chain solutions to our customers,” Noworatzky said.

“And as we do that, we want to replicate this format across our other locations.”

Sprint only moved into its new home, and established Sprint Logistics, the group’s ISO tank container depot, in December 2023, and it’s already winning business from chemical shippers, tank operators, and container lessors, who combined to fill the depot with 550 tank containers at one point in April. The group expects to complete Phase 1 of its Sprint Rail endeavor in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in the second quarter, and introduce a new rail-to-truck transloading business in La Porte later this year.

“We’re not done yet,” Noworatzky vowed.

“Customer needs drive our growth. And in nearly every instance, that expansion comes from customers asking, ‘Can you do this?’ and our response is always, ‘Yes.’ Then we figure it out and hire subject-matter experts to deliver exceptional results.”

Family-backed service

Sprint traces its roots to Sprint Sand & Clay, the mining company Joe Swinbank and his family formed in 1982. The family founded Sprint Transport in 2010 and continues to manage an array of businesses that work together where possible, as with the synergistic services today’s Sprint transportation companies supply. “That has worked for Sprint for 40 years, so we’re going to stick with the winning formula,” Noworatzky said.

Swinbank continues to attend weekly meetings and provide valuable insight. The family also empowers leaders with decision-making autonomy and capital support, allowing them to seize new opportunities, like ISO tank services, without delay. “I said, ‘I’m seeing a trend and want to pursue it,’ and they said, ‘OK,’” Noworatzky said. “By moving quickly and being innovative, we’re going to beat our competition.” And he expects to maintain a leading position with a deeply ingrained culture of goal-oriented guidance, customer and employee transparency, and people-first accountability.

“Sprint will always go above and beyond to take care of customers,” said Alex Prejean, Sprint vice president of strategy and innovation.

Extra-mile assistance also includes inventive problem-solving, bespoke remedies, and dedicated services and equipment. “We’ll re-spec or reconfigure our trailers,” Sprint CFO Jason McCreight said. “We’ll go out to a customer’s loading rack and modify our procedures or provide different loading options.

“We’re always looking for creative solutions.”

And many customers and employees are seeking family-owned stability amid persistent private-equity disruption, added Noworatzky.

“People like a family feel,” he said. “They want to know they’re not just a number.

“We focus on building strong relationships with our customers and retaining our drivers. As a people-focused company, I carefully evaluate our customers, rates, and lanes, and ask, ‘Will this keep my drivers happy, provide them with a good paycheck, and deliver excellent service to our customers?’”

“At the end of the day, that’s my goal.”

Transport prosperity

That people-centric approach already is working for Sprint Transport, which grew from 65 trucks and 160 tank trailers in 2013 to 100 tractors and 400 tankers in 2018 and 200 trucks and 750 trailers this year. The company also has “almost tripled” its 2018 revenue of $26.6 million in the last six years, Noworatzky said, crediting mutually beneficial partnerships for enabling expansion in good and bad times.

“We have a history of building long-term relationships, where we recognize we’re all in this to provide for our families and earn a living,” he said. “But we’re committed to doing so in a fair and honest way, and never taking advantage of any situation.

“That has been reciprocated by our partners.”

Sprint leaders also track trends to stay ahead of market changes and work closely with key customers to strengthen bonds.

For example, in 2014, crude oil transport still accounted for 40% of the carrier’s revenue but, recognizing the volatility of oilfield work, they steadily migrated to chemicals, which now account for 95% of revenue. “Rather than investing in more oilfield equipment when business was good, we used the momentum to buy more chemical trailers,” Noworatzky said. And Sprint maintains a large trailer fleet because most of the trailers are leased out to support customer operations, like batch processing. “That allows them to continue making products without the upfront capex of buying trailers,” he said.

The bulk hauler also boasts 200 drivers (120 company, 80 owner-operators) who are flexibly compensated by the hour, load, or percentage based on the type of work they perform and length of hauls they run.

And the new building’s signage already is helping Sprint swell its driver ranks.

“We’ve hired more drivers in the last 90 days than we did all of last year combined,” Noworatzky said. “It’s working.”

Equipment excellence

Running well-maintained, late-model equipment works, too, helping Sprint maintain a comparatively low turnover rate.

The carrier primarily runs Freightliner sleepers and daycabs with Detroit DD15 engines, DT12 automated manual transmissions, advanced driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning, and Paragon’s HydraChem Aux Series compressor with pump, hydraulic cooler, and auxiliary hydraulics. Sprint took delivery of 25 new Freightliner tractors last year—all to support fleet expansion—and ordered 25 more for 2024. Robert Sandlin, Sprint Transport director of maintenance, aims to trade in trucks at five years and 500,000 miles, but pandemic-related supply chain struggles extended cycles. “We should be back to where want to be in another 18 months,” he predicted.

Keeping trucks longer increases maintenance expenses, but Sprint still maintains a 78% clean-inspection rate by performing extensive preventative maintenance every 45 days, Noworatzky said. “What Robert brought to Sprint [from Sentinel Transportation] is proactiveness with our trailer preps, resulting in basically zero rejections, and advanced, in-depth, and thorough PMs on all our equipment.” OEM software helps technicians diagnose issues, and extended warranties cover most major repairs, Sandlin added.

“Freightliner was a great partner for us during Covid, and over the last several years, when truck procurement was the most difficult we’ve seen,” Noworatzky said. “They went above and beyond to take care of us.”

New tractor technology includes digital dash displays, Isaac Instruments electronic-logging devices (ELDs) and fuel efficiency coaching, and Lytx forward-, driver-, and side-facing cameras that detect unsafe behaviors, like drivers holding cell phones or passenger vehicles unexpectedly changing lanes.

Trailers are DOT 407 Wabash and Polar Tank trailers made of 2205 lean duplex stainless steel, which reduces pitting and increases corrosion allowance. “Of all the things our industry has tried over the years, that’s one that is going to stick with us for a long time,” Noworatzky contended. Trailers feature Betts Industries ground-level vapor recovery and Hendrickson air-ride suspensions with zero maintenance damping (ZMD), and air disc brakes. Tire pressure control systems are spec’d on select trailers.

Logistics expansion

Sprint’s equipment fleet also includes two new Toplift Ferrari reach stackers for the growing Logistics operation.

“We’ve had leadership from all the big ISO operators in here within the last several months,” said Prejean, who came from the tech industry last summer. “It’s exciting.”

The massive container handlers can stack up to six ISO tanks, and the depot, built on 14.-in concrete with an 18-in. subbase, is permitted to stack tanks seven high. But four is the “Goldilocks” height as the facility, which can store up to 10,000 20-ft. equivalent units (TEUs), moves toward an ideal operating capacity. “We want to expand and grow,” said Chris Lavan, Sprint Logistics director of business development, who arrived in January, bringing 25 years of experience with ISO shippers and operators, including stops at INEOS, Hoyer, Stolt, and Den Hartogh. “We have the potential to operate the biggest and best facility around here. But we cannot overextend ourselves at the expense of our customers.

“We have the nicest facility, but if we opened the floodgates to everybody, we wouldn’t be able to handle the volumes right now. So we’re cautiously approaching the market to make sure we maintain our service quality.”

Sprint Logistics doesn’t want to operate a storage yard, leaders emphasize.

Instead, Prejean elaborated, the goal is to drive “pull-through” revenue for Sprint Transport by turning tanks more frequently, preferably with a higher ratio of loaded tanks. Currently, the company trucks ISOs in and out, typically 25 at a time; inspects, stores, and cleans the tanks as needed, then sends them on their way. “That whole turnaround will take two to four days when we’re really running and gunning,” Prejean predicted. And when that happens, ideally within the next 12-18 months, he said, Sprint Logistics will be a top-five customer for Sprint Transport.

“For Trident Tank Wash here in La Porte, it would be twice the size of any customer we have, including the work we do for ourselves,” he said.

“So it’s all about pull-through with all these other entities.”

Synergistic site

Sprint’s new La Porte headquarters ties all its business entities together.

The site features a high-tech, eight-bay, 12,400-sq.-ft. tank cleaning facility, which is the group’s second Trident location; a 12-bay, 19,800-sq.-ft. truck and trailer maintenance facility; an 18,100-sq.-ft., four-story office with a 2,500-sq.-ft. assembly area on the fourth floor; rail access via La Porte Rail and Terminal, which is co-owned by the Swinbank family and another partner. “Logistics and Rail emerged after we recognized the strategic potential of this location,” McCreight said. “Its proximity to the port, and the synergies we knew we could leverage for our customers made it a perfect fit.”

Those synergies include beneficial business for Trident and Sprint Transport, and one central location for collaboration, Prejean added. “We have all our leadership in one spot,” he said. “Josh doesn’t have to track me down at some depot in New Orleans to ask how things are going. And being here, in close proximity to each other, has increased the velocity of our learning curve for how we do all this.”

Sprint Rail, led by industry veteran Beau Maida, director of rail business, operates as a Class 3 railroad, with two locomotives currently moving 30 cars in and out of the La Porte Rail and Terminal facility every day for Chemours, Kuraray, and Foremark. When Phase 1 of the Lake Charles rail project is complete, the location will boast the capacity to store 700 cars next door to the newly expanded Sasol chemical complex. “Our goal there is to have a one-hub location where all loaded cars go from Sasol directly into our facility without passing through another railroad, because we border their site,” Noworatzky shared. “We can manifest and build their trains, and ship them out to their customers, and all inbound cars will come through us, so we can bring them into Sasol’s facility as needed.”

The challenge, Lavan reiterated, is to maintain elite service levels while growing combined offerings with customers who “check all the boxes.”

“At every location, I’m trying to figure out which of our entities make sense, and we may end up securing more locations for ‘supersites’ like La Porte that can provide services across all modes of transportation,” Noworatzky said.

Expanding operation

Sprint’s five-year plan includes further expanding Lake Charles to store up to 2,000 tank cars, working toward moving cars in and out of Houston-area plants in cooperation with Union Pacific, and fully integrating rail to complete Sprint’s intermodal capabilities. “This will allow Sprint to move seamlessly from rail to truck or ISOs for imports, exports, and everything in between,” Noworatzky said. They’ll also be able to help shippers all over the country move products by train to La Porte, where Sprint can truck them to their final Gulf Coast destination.

“That opens up a whole new game for ISO tank salespeople to promote our business,” Lavan said.

Leaders also intend to continue adding Logistics business—which still is a small piece of the overall operation now, but boasts “big growth potential,” McCreight said—while increasing their understanding of the complete bulk supply chain and further embedding themselves with customers as a “one-stop shop” through future services, like barging, deep-water vessel access, and on-shore tank farm storage. “We just want to make sure we do business with the right partners who understand our culture and share our values,” Noworatzky said.

And with La Porte as the keystone, Sprint’s growth is “limitless,” he added.

“The key is sustaining the infrastructure, with our personnel and back-office support, to ensure we can keep pace with our vision and our customers’ needs,” McCreight concluded. “That’s always been the goal.

“You have to be nimble and respond quickly as new opportunities arise.”

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.