This past October in Dallas, at the annual American Trucking Association (ATA) meeting, out of five categories in which it was nominated, Roehl Transport of Marshfield, Wis., took home three awards, including the very prestigious SmartWaySM Award of Excellence. Roehl was presented the award in recognition of the many ways in which the company has helped the environment by cutting down on pollution and increasing fuel efficiency.
You could say the award topped what has been a good year for Roehl, but that would be an understatement. It hasn’t only been a good year, it’s been a good, long, successful haul for the 44-year-old company built out of a cloud of sawdust when Everett Roehl’s father closed his sawmill and sold Everett one of his trucks, which he used to haul bulk gravel and building material. Since that day in 1962, Roehl has achieved many distinctions but it might be safe to say that the year 2006 will go down as truly one of the most eventful.
Going the smart way
Let’s begin with the SmartWaySM Award of Excellence. SmartWay was initiated by the EPA and designed to help the freight industry save fuel dollars. The initiative also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from freight transportation exhaust by 33 to 66 million metric tons within six years. At the same time the initiative would save up to 150 million barrels of oil annually. “We were a bit surprised, that we met someone else’s definition of what elite energy efficient carriers should be doing,” recalls Executive Vice President Bob Rader.
And what Roehl does is, indeed, smart. For example: “We made significant changes as far as single wide versus standard tires on tractor tandem axles, direct fire cab heaters, cab extenders for aerodynamics, imposing a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour, as well as idle reduction and we’ve been promoting SmartWay in our literature,” Rader says. He adds that before a company can use the SmartWay logo, it has to meet a certain high level of performance in energy conservation.
“We became a SmartWay partnership carrier several years ago,” Rick Roehl says. SmartWay, he adds, gives points for operation and equipment strategies that reduce greenhouse gases. Roehl Transport was among a handful of trucking companies honored with the award.
With over seven million trucks on the road, ground freight transportation (truck and rail) consumes 35 billion gallons of diesel fuel a year, according to Roehl Transport Vice President of Maintenance Phil Trierweiler. Burning that much fuel releases over 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, he added.
“If individual motorists can make a difference by choosing more fuel-efficient cars, just think of the impact the trucking industry could have,” Trierweiler said shortly after the award was announced, explaining why Roehl was one of the nation’s first major commercial carriers to join the EPA. “Environmental responsibility goes hand-in-hand with our award for being recognized as one of the safest carriers in the nation,” he added. “It’s all part of being a socially responsible company, a good corporate citizen.”
As a SmartWay partner, Roehl commits to reducing fuel consumption and environmentally harmful exhaust emissions from its fleet of 1,550 semi-tractors, one of the top 100 largest trucking fleets in the nation. “Roehl was already a leader in fuel-efficient operations before joining the SmartWay program. In the year since, we’ve become even more environmentally friendly,” Trierweiler said. The company has also improved truck mileage by changing from conventional to synthetic motor oil.
Rader comments: “Ten percent of our fleet now has single wide tires versus dual standard width tires for better fuel efficiency.” Roehl is also attempting to cut down on emissions pollution by testing direct fire heaters to warm the cab in the winter without running the engine.
The long and winding road
It certainly has been a long haul for Everett Roehl (pronounced rail). Today his company is ranked the 32nd largest in the truckload category out of 500,000 similar trucking companies in the U.S. (Truckload means the company hauls full trailer loads of freight from origin to destination.)
Ninety-five percent of the company’s trucks are owned by Roehl, and the rest are owned by independent contractors (owner/operators) who lease their services to Roehl. The company ranks in the top 100 carriers in the country and operates in 48 states, with some limited Canadian runs, and has the following business units: 65 percent dry van, around 20 percent flatbed, 8 percent designated for specific customers, and 7 percent curtainside, in which the trailer’s sides can be opened (like a curtain) for easy unloading and loading from the side. Roehl does not operate refrigerated trucks. The bulk of its equipment comes from Freightliner and Navistar, and to a lesser extent, Volvo and Peterbilt.
“The company’s flatbed division recently received Logistics Management’s Quest for Quality Gold Award for the second consecutive year,” Rader says. The 2006 award is based on a survey of thousands of shippers across the country who were asked to rate transportation companies in terms of five service criteria: on-time performance, value, customer service, information technology, equipment and operations. In the category of industrial heavy loads (flatbed cargo), the shippers once again identified Roehl as the service leader.
But this wasn’t the only arena in which the company’s operators received an encouraging nod. Roehl Transport has been voted one of the safest “for hire” trucking companies in the nation in operation, despite the fact that 50 percent of its drivers are new hires, with less than a year of professional over-the-road experience. Recently, the company turned in one of the nation’s top safety records among large (over 100 million miles per year) carriers. In fact, Roehl was the leading “for hire” carrier in the ATA 2005 Truck Safety Awards large general commodities truckload carrier category. Based on measurable performance, such as the ratio of Department of Transportation reportable accidents per mile driven, the award is considered the industry’s premier honor for fleet safety.
“Approximately 55 to 60 percent of all drivers we hire each year are new to the trucking industry and we achieved this success. It is like a professional football team with 50 percent rookies,” Rader says. “It makes me extremely proud of our organization and our process for hiring and training the right people.”
The company’s drivers consist of former business owners, plant workers, farmers, and engineers, even former ministers and doctors (5 percent are women). “The open road is very attractive for some; there’s a fair amount of freedom,” Rader says of the diverse group.
In total there are three million truck drivers in the U.S., with 1.3 million in over-the-road driving. Because of the demands of being over-the-road – frequently, drivers are away from home for weeks at a time – industry driver turnover exceeds 110-120 percent annually. However, because of the various programs Roehl has designed, giving drivers the choice of long or short routes – the company has achieved a turnover rate that is 25 – 40 percentage points lower than the national average. In line with this distinction, Vice President of Workforce Development and Administration Greg Koepel was recognized as the trucking industry’s Human Resources Professional of the Year. Koepel is the first person to receive the award from the ATA.
Roehl’s safety achievement also snowballed into other recognitions, including Great West Risk Management’s highest honor for safety, the Platinum Safety Award, based on accident and safety statistics. The company’s cargo claims handling operation also was recognized by ATA as the best in the industry for its program to minimize the frequency and cost of cargo claims.
And finally, for some fun and good old fashioned competition: At the 2005 Wisconsin Motor Carrier truck rodeo sponsored by the American Trucking Association to identify the best drivers in the country with a series of physical and written tests, Roehl’s five-person team placed in two of the three divisions it entered and ended the two-day event with three awards, a first place and two third-place honors. Roehl driver Tom Crosby won the Flatbed Division and advanced to compete in the National Truck Driving Championships held in New Orleans in August. To recognize these great drivers, as well as the rest of its roster, Roehl regularly holds a driver appreciation week to show gratitude for the role its drivers play in driving the company’s success.
The Roehl family remains very active in the business with Everett serving as Chairman of the Board, and his son, Rick Roehl, as President and COO, and two other sons, Dan (a former million mile safe driver) as Service Manager of vans, and Rob as a Maintenance Specialist. (Son-in-law Sean Sherry works in the Driver Employment Center and is a former million mile safe driver.) The company has grown and prospered, garnering a huge amount of respect in its industry. Adopting the latest technologies that includes satellite tracking and fuel and load optimization, coupled with a talented workforce, the company has tripled in size the past 10 years. As Rader says, “We have grown and developed a reputation for safety and superior service and the industry has recognized our results. We walk the talk.”