What do fleets expect from you?

June 1, 2005

"Take us out of the tire business" has been the mantra of trucking fleets for years.

But commercial tire dealers know that's much easier said than done. Three fleet decision-makers recently shared their tire needs and wants with tire dealers at the World Tire Expo. They included:

* Charlie Beavan, tire maintenance supervisor for Rumpke Transportation, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based fleet with 20 locations throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana;

* Jim Ricapito, tire manager for FedEx Ground, which uses more than 20,000 trucks;

* Mitch Windorff, tire systems manager for Schneider International, which has more than 550,000 wheel positions. Each supervisor made it clear that he demands nothing less than top-shelf service from tire dealers. And that can entail a myriad of things.

"We have a need for on-demand service," says Beavan, who buys 4,000 new tires and some 14,000 retreads per year.

Many of his company's trucks haul waste to landfills up to six times a day. "We run into a lot more hazards than the average truck."

Quick, punctual response is critical. "If one of our trucks has a flat, it sets in motion a chain of events," says Beavan. "When I call an outside vendor, I need an accurate, honest estimate on when they'll arrive.

"If an outside vendor makes our company look bad in the eyes of our customer, we won't be very happy with that vendor."

Rumpke expects quality -- even when it comes to doing paperwork. "We require basic information to be included on all work orders to process internal orders and purchase orders.

"Invoices should match work orders and list the correct price. This may seem like a small detail, but it's important. I need reports that our maintenance people can understand and use. It should be easy for your people to get our people the information we need."


FedEx Ground outsources all of its tire work, according to Ricapito, a 20-year-plus trucking industry veteran.

"We give dealers 100% of our business but we expect certain things in return," including thorough fleet inspections.

"We have (tire dealer employees) out for 10 or 12 hours a day. Our object is to make sure that every vehicle leaving the yard -- or as many as possible -- have been checked."

Inspections can start as early as 1 a.m., he says. "Each location is unique." Once tires are out on the road, Ricapito wants to be able to track their performance. "It's important to account for that because tires are our biggest expense."

And if a tire fails, he wants to know why. "I want that tire looked at and I want reasons why it failed. I want to establish a tire failure data bank."

He reports that FedEx Ground's tire "partners" have helped the company keep costs down. "We've reduced our enroute tire failures by 33%. Our tire expenditures have been reduced across the board."

Windorff says Schneider believes that "the training available to tire dealers makes (them) better-equipped" than fleets to handle tire-related issues. But even tire dealers can use a brush-up on maintenance basics.

"We take torque very seriously. We demand our vendors use torque wrenches or torque sticks. The tools aren't cheap but neither is killing someone on the highway" with a wheel-off.

When it comes to valve stem replacement, "our philosophy is, 'Don't replace the valve stem unless it will last for the life of the tire.'"

Repair frequency is another area of concern. "We've been pretty satisfied with (tire repair) advancements over the years," says Windorff.

"But there is a perception that tire vendors change tires more often than needed. We both want to make the sale -- there's nothing wrong with that. The problem comes in when an overzealous vendor wants to change more tires than we want them to.

"Tires are our single highest maintenance cost. Anywhere we can save money and still be safe is going to be a real value-added service."

His ultimate advice to tire dealers? "You need to understand, 'Who is your customer? What does he do? What is his goal? And what can you bring to him to save him money?'"