Meet the Fleet: Growth spurt

Growth spurt

After surviving bumps in the road the past two years, Tennant Truck Lines is ramping up again in open deck hauling

By Max Kvidera

This year Tennant Truck Lines is expanding after cutting operations in late 2008 and 2009. The Orion, Ill.-based carrier recently took delivery of five new International ProStars and plans to buy another 5 to 10 new trucks later this year. It’s also looking to hire 10 to 15 more company drivers and is recruiting another 20 independent contractors.

At its peak, the company had 126 trucks, including those operated by independent contractors. The number is down to 103, with most of the fallout happening among contractors. The company employs 84 drivers and leases 19 owner-operators at present.

Tennant specializes in open deck hauling of construction equipment and agricultural machinery, using flat beds and drop deck trailers. Its prime customers are John Deere and Case New Holland. A smaller operation — 80 dry vans out of 278 total trailers — transports parts and supplies, such as steel, panels, seats and glass, supporting heavy equipment manufacturers, plus pet care supplies from Nestle Purina.

The recession forced the 64-year-old family-run company to reassess its priorities. “We had to take a look at lane density to focus on outbound traffic lanes where we could load the trucks back, whether it was to the ports or dealerships in Ohio where we could backhaul steel, or out in Kansas where we could grab other farm machinery equipment,” says Vice President of Sales Aaron Tennant, whose grandfather Sidney founded the business in 1946.

“We also took a look at points we were serving sporadically, like the West Coast or Arizona, and decided it didn’t fit and cut that traffic lane out,” he says.

The company now works east of the Rockies, concentrating on the Midwest and Southeast. It hauls finished equipment from John Deere factories to ports in Baltimore; Savannah, Ga.; and Galveston, Texas, for export and picks up and delivers imported equipment to dealers.

Tennant mounted a more aggressive expansion program several years ago. Aaron Tennant says customers like John Deere wanted carriers that could provide national coverage instead of only regional hauling. From about 30 trucks in 2002, the company gradually grew to 60 power units in 2006. Even more growth followed until 2009 as the carrier decided it had to get bigger. “Our major customers were very strong back then and we wanted to grow with them,” Tennant says. “We didn’t see where a 30-truck fleet was sustainable. We felt we had to grow to survive.”

To recruit drivers, Tennant offers a pay package that Aaron Tennant says is above-market, offering extra per-mile pay for over-dimensional loads, multiple stops, pick-ups and tarp use. Owner-operators are paid 70 percent of line-haul charges and receive 100 percent of fuel surcharges.

Tennant says the company is picky about who it leases. It looks for operators with good safety records, financial stability and experience pulling flatbeds and drop decks. “We’re about 80 percent drop and hook,” Tennant says.

Tennant’s power unit of choice is the ProStar, powered by a MaxxForce engine. Out of 84 company-owned trucks, about 75 are Internationals. “We like ProStars because they’re quiet, their ride is out of this world and for the fuel efficiency and our relationship with Navistar and our local dealer,” Tennant says. “We feel it’s the most economical truck we can put in our fleet today. We’re demanding our van trucks get at least 7.5 mpg and open decks get 6.8 mpg, because of weight and aerodynamics of pulling a 12-foot wide load.”

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