After cutting back in the recession, Harris Trucking eyes increased business in 2011
By Max Kvidera
After scaling back operations in 2008 to weather the recession, Harris Trucking Co. sees new opportunities and aims to grow 10-15 percent this year.
The Lynchburg, Va.-based carrier, which hauls for industrial customers such as Advance Auto Parts, Tennessee Eastman and Weyerhaeuser, is targeting more business both from existing customers and new operations. President Jim Harris says he’s seeking dedicated routes and short hauls east of the Mississippi River, where his company concentrates its runs. “If capacity remains constrained the way it has been, there are some opportunities,” Harris says. “We want to try and diversify a bit more.”
The company wants to secure additional short overnight runs to get more of its 147 drivers home more often. Harris hopes that will help deal with driver turnover, which is about 53 percent.
Harris says one of the biggest hurdles to turning a profit is the high cost of diesel. “Fuel surcharges are not keeping up with fuel prices,” he says. “We’ve raised some rates and are asking for more in fuel surcharges every instance we can.”
Harris says his company is testing different products to improve fuel economy, which averages between 6 and 7 mpg fleetwide. Tests have been run with wide single tires, oil products and fuel additives. Harris says results from a fuel additive test look promising. Also, 2007 and newer trucks in the fleet are equipped with auxiliary power units to reduce idling.
Harris says he hasn’t been able to substantiate single tire mileage gains. He says the company does considerable stop-and-start city driving that probably reduces the effectiveness of wide tires.
Harris Trucking operates 150 tractors, down from more than 200 in 2008, and about 500 53-foot dry van trailers. A separate similar-size, all-independent contractor division in North Carolina includes Harris Transport Co. and Titan Transport.
The company has owned International trucks since it bought its first new truck in 1972 after Harris took over the business following the death of his father, Dick. The current lineup is all International, with 2006-08 9200s and ProStars. Harris says the company will take delivery of 50 ProStar+ tractors powered by 13-liter MaxxForce engines beginning this month.
Harris says an International dealer in Lynchburg provides the company with handy access to parts and major repairs. Routine preventive maintenance is handled at Harris, which operates “safety lanes” where mechanics inspect tractor-trailers for items such as tire inflation pressure and tread depth.
“We have proved over time that Internationals are the tractors with the lowest cost of ownership,” Harris says. “The best feature of the new ProStar is ride and driver comfort, with so much reduced engine and road noise.”
Just as Harris has bought International trucks solely, the company has been loyal to Goodyear tires from the beginning. It brands each tire with a number to monitor metrics such as mileage before removal, cost per mile and whether the tire gets a flat. “Cost per mile is very important,” he says. “We’re in business to make a profit.”