At this point, telematics has become a “household name.” In 2022, most fleet personnel have a basic understanding of what it is and how it can aid in managing vehicles and drivers. Three directors at Superior Plus Propane, a North American distributor and marketer of propane, distillates, and related products and services, spoke to Work Truck about how they’ve used the technology to not only keep employees safe, but also help them become the best leaders they can be to aid over 780,000 customer locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Protecting a Large Fleet
The fleet is comprised of a total of 2,300 trucks, including 600 light-, 1,640 medium-, and 60 heavy-duty units. The majority of medium-duty trucks are used to deliver propane and distillates to customers. Superior Plus has many crane trucks that set propane tanks on a customer’s property. The light-duty trucks form a support system for customer visits, equipment repairs, and more. Heavy-duty trucks are used to pick up product at various supply points and bring it to field facilities.
“We have a strong safety culture in our organization, and everything we do keeps that front of mind. Each year we have a Builder’s Conference with all of our upfitters and plan out the truck design for the next year. Our safety group headlines meetings and we are always looking for ways to build a better truck through changes in ergonomic design, steps into the back of our trucks with three points of contact, and more,” explained Bruce Ruppert, director of business development at Superior Plus Propane.
Surviving Supply Chain Snags
Like many other fleets, Superior Plus faces the challenge of limitations on purchasing new trucks because of limited supply and high demand, various supply chain issues relative to parts, and finally, cost control. Strategically, the company, by design, has already placed all or most of its orders for its next builds as its vendor partners keep them updated on the market as well as the optimal time to place orders.
For other supply chain issues, the company is buying ahead when it can and leaning on its approved national vendors to keep it well supplied.
“We place heavy emphasis on preventive maintenance to catch issues early and prevent the need for larger repairs,” Ruppert said.
Samsara for Safety
Superior Plus has been using the Samsara telematics in-cab camera system for about a year and a half in 550 of its bobtails (medium-duty delivery trucks). The cameras have provided insight into driver behavior the company has never had before. The two-sided camera is both outward and inward facing, which, naturally, caused some initial hesitation.
“We communicated our objectives early and often with the drivers and have exclusively used the results as a coaching tool. We want them to come home safely each and every day,” Ruppert stated.
An important part of getting the most out of the telematics system was setting goals. The first involved reducing speeding over 15 mph. In six months, speeding in this category was reduced by 90%. Each week, management reviews speeding reports and ensures proper coaching is conducted to stop it from reoccurring. Superior Plus sees its drivers as ambassadors on the road and wants to make sure their behavior aligns with company values.
For 2022, the company will refocus its efforts to prevent back-up incidents. They’ve installed back-up cameras on the vehicles and tied them into the Samsara system so it can accomplish the same coaching practices.
Ryan Quiggle, director of HSE, said one of the reasons the company picked Samsara over its competitors was that they were a great fit and felt the two could grow together.
“Samsara actually developed a connector cable to tie into our existing backup cameras,” he said. “Now they can also use that with their other customers as well. There was a problem and we worked together to develop a solution.”
Another project the company is tackling is creating a driver recognition program.
“We want to be able to recognize those individuals going above and beyond by continuing to support their efforts in hopes other drivers see this as a positive move,” Quiggle said.
In changing behaviors and thought processes out on the road, the company hopes to continue to reinforce a safety culture that recognizes the sometimes-monotonous job of “stop, make a delivery, rinse, repeat,” and ensure drivers remain concentrated on being cautious while out on the road.
Quiggle also mentioned the company started a driver committee in 2021. Comprised of drivers out of each region the business serves, the committee meets once a month to participate in new initiatives.
“We want them to own the process. We want them to come up with better ideas because we aren’t out there seeing what they see. This way, we can take that all into consideration. It certainly helps with buy-in,” he explained.
Encouraging a New Fleet Generation
Drew Meeker, the company’s new director of fleet, recently left the Marine Corps as a Captain where she worked as a Logistics Officer. One of the reasons she joined Superior Plus is because of the comradery she felt there.
“Superior Plus has a family atmosphere where everyone is there to help you be successful and grow. This company has a great community and work culture, where you look forward to solving problems and working together. Everyone is open to new ideas and conducts themselves with integrity,” Meeker explained.