While providing reliable freight hauling services has always been the focus of the SAV Transportation Group, maintaining a high level of quality service has meant continued readjustment. Perhaps nowhere in the diversified company is that more apparent than at its asset-based SAV Express operation.
“We’re currently readjusting our fleet based on current market and economic issues that impact the operation of Class 8 trucking equipment,” says Terry Maynard, SAV’s vice president. “What we’re doing is creating a dedicated regional fleet that will eventually serve shippers in eight states. That focus gives us drop and hook opportunities that allow us to keep trucks on the road longer under new hours-of-service regulations.
“Under this new scenario,” Maynard explains, “our average length of haul is dropping from more than 900 to less than 750 miles, but we’re actually running more miles than when we were a purely long-haul operation. Currently, about 70% of our business is over-the-road, but we’re aiming for a 50/50 split between 48-state long-haul service and regional operations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri.”
Originally a freight brokerage founded in 1987, Coon Rapids, Minn.-based SAV Transportation Group now consists of SAV Enterprises, a truckload brokerage offering dry van, refrigerated, flatbed, ocean/rail cross docking services and drayage; and SAV Logistics, which provides LTL services in the U.S. and Canada; and the aforementioned SAV Express. Overall, the company provides transportation services to businesses in a wide variety of industries.
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Maintaining service quality
“As our brokerage operation grew, we decided to buy trailers and use the services of owner-operators to meet some of that demand,” Maynard relates. “However, we soon realized that we couldn’t maintain the service quality we wanted to provide. So about two and a half years ago, we converted our entire fleet to company-owned tractors. It took 10 months until we had our initial fleet of tractors in place, but it was the right choice to make.”
Today, SAV Express fields 125 tractors. All Freightliner Cascadias, the power units are 2014 through 2016 models. Growth in freight volume and the move toward regional operations have helped expand the trailer fleet to 250 units, including new Hyundai dry vans.
“We recently started converting our trailer fleet over to Hyundai HY-Cube trailers,” explains Barry Amatuzio, the company’s maintenance manager. “Hyundai came to us with a proposal for the same type of trailer we’ve been operating but one that not only costs less but that we believe is more durable, and it’s 500 to 700 lbs. lighter.
“The reduction in empty trailer weight not only helps boost carrying capacity,” Amatuzio continues, “it also provides for a fuel economy improvement. Fuel costs are a big concern for us, even when they are at historically low levels, and a key factor in our specification decisions.”
Just as important to SAV Express, adds Maynard, are safety and driver comfort. “When we started buying tractors, fuel prices were high so that became a key focus,” he says. “Today, fuel costs, driver comfort and safety are all equally important considerations.
“We’re especially focused on driver comfort because it ties directly to retention,” Maynard continues. “It costs money to keep drivers and it costs even more to find new ones. Our turnover rate, at about 90% annually, is actually very good compared to the industry. We believe that spec’ing for driver comfort and treating them as employees who are no different than anyone else at SAV—they just have a different job description—is what keeps drivers here. In fact, out of 10 drivers that left in the last six months, seven have come back.”