Amber Waves of Grain
Each month NPTC President and CEO Gary Petty writes a column in Fleet Owner magazine that focuses on the individuals, companies, best practices, and resources that make private trucking the force that it is in the American economy. Reaching more than 100,000 subscribers, three-quarters of whom are private fleet professionals, this column provides an excellent forum to communicate the value of the private fleet. Click here to view the archive.
Gary Petty | email@example.com | Private Fleet Editor for FleetOwner Magazine
Gary Petty has more than 30 years of experience as CEO of national trade associations in the trucking industry. He has been the president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council since 2001.
Amber Waves of Grain
One of the most glorious vistas on a sunny summer day is the “amber waves of grain” that coat the Great Plains states, immortalized in “America, the Beautiful.” The wind-blown wheat fields of Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota and North Dakota inspire the heart and lift the spirit of patriots and poets alike. The miller takes notice as well.
One of the great pioneers in the business is the Mennel Milling Co., founded in Fostoria, OH, in 1886. Fostoria was chosen as the site for the flour mill because it was served by five major freight railroads and had abundant natural gas. Over the years, the company built mills in Dowagiac, MI, Mt. Olive, IL and Roanoke, VA, and to this day, railroads deliver wheat to the mills and flour to customers located beyond an economical trucking distance.
In the 1960s, however, bulk truck delivery became the company’s primary transportation mode. Responsible for a large part of total flour delivery, the company’s private fleet plays an important role in customer quality and service. Mennel Milling maintains a private truck fleet at the Roanoke mill. The two grain elevators without rail service have tractors with hopper bottom trailers for hauling grain; they haul feed from the flour mills to feed-product customers.
Three years ago the Fostoria fleet was set up as MMC Transport Inc, a contract carrier. Although it serves as the house carrier, it derives 15%-20% of its income from other customers. In addition to flour, MMC hauls lime stone, steel and non-hazardous materials.
Mennel is also in the truck repair business. The company owns Class 8 Truck Repair, located in Fostoria, which provides services for MMC trucks and several local fleets.
“Responsibility for the different fleets is a challenge in order to stay profitable, and stay in compliance with constantly changing regulations, technological advances, customer needs and food security issues,” says Gary Strausbaugh, CTP, vp-transportation. “The most important asset is honest, competent and caring people in leadership positions to oversee day-to-day operations.” Open communication enables managers and employees to feel free to ask questions and make recommendations for improving asset utilization and the work environment.
For the fleet manager, numbers are the controlling force in planning, monitoring and implementing profit-center budgets. Fleet efficiency drives the profitability that’s so important to corporate management. Mennel’s fleet has separate profit centers, making it easier to identify problems. This also makes it easier to do cost comparisons when outside companies submit proposals to take over the fleet. Being able to demonstrate profitability, ROI, and on-time deliveries adds value to the fleet in the eyes of upper management.
Mennel’s fleets do not try to haul the company’s entire product line, which includes more than 80 different varieties of flour. The company seeks a balance between meeting customer service demands, availability of contract carriers and predetermined pricing levels to move the product. In the commodity business, cents-per-pound can affect profitability quickly.
Strausbaugh stresses the importance of communication skills in achieving success. A manager needs to be pro-active in communicating with all levels of personnel. The quality of information is essential and the ability to use it creatively is critical for success.
Especially for a company that makes happy customers and profitable companies from amber waves of grain.