Major Acquisition and a Peterbilt Fleet Pay Off for Heniff Transportation
Plenty of carriers claim a mission statement that defines their aspiration to be the best at what they do.
Few, however, can back it up to the degree that Heniff Transportation can.
For example, the Oak Brook, Ill.-based chemical carrier has two recent Innovator of the Year awards to its credit. The 450-tractor fleet, made up primarily of Peterbilt Model 579s, has helped make Heniff a destination job for drivers. And that fleet, with a spec that includes the PACCAR MX-13 Engine and a variety of aerodynamic enhancements, achieves fuel economy greater than 8 mpg, a rare standard for tank haulers whose load often defies such efficiency.
“We had a couple key periods in the growth of our company that really transformed us into a formidable player in the industry that had the best service, the best safety record, and the best equipment,” says Bob Heniff, who founded the company with four trucks and six tanks in 1998. “Our primary focus is, we don’t want to be the biggest in the industry. We want to be the best, and we want to work with drivers and customers who appreciate our levels of service.
“It’s really pretty simple.”
Heniff grew up in the petroleum business, where both his dad and grandfather had achieved success. After working for them out of college, he recognized an opportunity in the chemical industry at the age of 25 and struck out on his own. Within three years, he had grown his fledgling company to 30 trucks and about 50 tanks when he acquired a company twice as big as his.
“That was the catalyst,” says Heniff. “That changed us from one primary customer and a handful of secondary customers and gave us exposure to all the big players in the industry.”
The move was not without significant risk, he recalls.
“There were a lot of doubters at the time. I had to maintain at least 65 percent of the new customer base or I would’ve been in big trouble. So basically I went around to every new customer and said, ‘We’ll maintain the same rate basis. Just give us six months to swallow this acquisition and you’ll see comparable or better service levels.’
“We ended up maintaining 100 percent of that customer base and grew it 18 percent the following year.”
By 2003, Heniff began investing in new Peterbilts and transitioning from an owner-operator-based fleet to a company fleet that he could standardize and develop a spec for maximum efficiency. Those efforts continue today.
“We needed the consistency of weight and the uniformity of the fleet. With that, we really didn’t find it difficult to hire quality company drivers.”
The economic downturn in 2008 stalled the growth of the company but helped set it on a course for future success, according to Heniff.
“We were growing very rapidly as a company up to that point when we realized we had to sit back and maintain our size for the time being, but really build the back office and re-do everything on an IT basis,” he says. “From that point forward really came a push for fleet metrics, and we measured everything from utilization and safety to fuel economy. That’s really when we transformed.”
By 2012, Peterbilt had launched its Model 579. Heniff had been happy with the performance of the soon-to-be-discontinued models that made up the bulk of his fleet to that point.
“That was kind of upsetting to us at first,” he recalls. “That was until we drove the Model 579. We were so impressed with it that we immediately saw it as the future and started buying that model.”
The conversion to Model 579s went so seamlessly that Heniff had little trouble jumping on the PACCAR MX Engine platform. Soon afterward, a movement toward progressive shifting, spec choices such as horizontal stacks and Super Single tires and a bonus program that rewards drivers for maximizing fuel economy helped push fuel economy from an average of 5.8 mpg to the 8 mpg threshold.
“We beat everyone on fuel economy,” Heniff says. “Converting to PACCAR power — that was big for us. Plus, we saved almost 1,000 lbs. over the previous engines we had used.
“We’re so happy with our spec. We’re standardizing everything in our fleet as much as possible, and that includes the use of disc brakes from a safety standpoint. The stopping distance is significantly shorter.”
Confident in PACCAR’s recent product launches, Heniff already has trucks on order with PACCAR’s recently introduced Automated Transmissions.
“We’ll be picking up a couple extra gears, and I think that will smooth it out that much more,” Heniff says. “We’ve driven it, and we’re excited about it.”
It all adds up to a spec that serves his shipper partners most efficiently and effectively. But Heniff says there’s one group just as important, and perhaps more so.
“As much as the chemical carrier’s customer is the chemical shipper, our customer today is the driver. We want to be the carrier of choice for the driver.”
Heniff says he experiences little turnover, which he credits both to the quality of equipment he operates and the training program he runs.
“Our training programs are flexible to where if we find a candidate coming through our orientation and training school who doesn’t have enough confidence, we’ll keep him or her in the safety program another week or two. That’s one of the bigger things – our filter on the way in. We’re not just pushing people through a turnstile. We want to make sure the driver is comfortable and able to handle the job.
“It’s a continuous thing for both our shippers and our drivers. Safety and service sells. Period.”