Nussbaum Transportation

Normal, IL
While expanding in recent years from a regional to a nationwide carrier, Nussbaum Transportation has not lost sight of what made it a successful operation in the first place— paying close attention to customer needs and employee concerns, especially those of its drivers. “Our motto is ‘Setting New Ideas in Motion,’ and that sums up our approach to managing the fleet,” says Phil Braker, vice president of operations. 

“We spend a lot of time figuring out what we can do to help our customers by being innovative,” he continues. “That involves everything from saving them money by having the most fuel-efficient fleet out there to developing trailers in-house for specific requirements.

We also must be innovative in our approach to drivers. Staying on top of what they need from us is working. Our turnover rate is just 27%, which is down from 34% last year.”

Founded by Alden Nussbaum with a single truck in 1945, the company is still family-owned, headed by CEO Brent Nussbaum. Nussbaum Transportation is now a 48-state operation providing truckload, dedicated contract carriage and third-party logistics services to a diverse customer base engaged in such industries as automotive, agriculture, construction, steel, tire, paper, food and consumer goods.

The fuel efficiency Braker speaks of comes from continually reviewing specs and keeping an eye peeled for new innovations. For its latest purchase of 120 tractors (the fleet runs some 200 trucks), it opted for aerodynamic Freightliner Cascadia sleepers powered by Detroit 15L diesels. “We bought heavy in ’07 ahead of the emissions changes,” Braker advises. “In 2010, we jumped in pretty heavy with testing because there was said to be a fuel economy gain with those engines, which there is.”

Going beyond engine efficiency and stock aerodynamics, Nussbaum has done everything to boost mpg—from switching to wide-base tires, installing Andersen Flaps’ Eco-flaps on both tractors and trailers, reducing fuel tanks from 150- to 124-gal. capacity, eliminating left-hand spot mirrors and sun visors on tractors, and relocating license plates on trailers to cut drag.

The fleet is also installing ATDynamics’ TrailerTails and Transtex side skirts on the majority of its 450-trailer fleet to further improve aerodynamics. “Once [the devices are] paid for, they’re saving you money from there on out,” Braker says. He estimates a 14- to 15-month payback for the devices on trailers expected to be run for 10 years.

To eliminate deadhead miles and make loading/unloading more efficient for appliance-maker Electrolux, Nussbaum approached Wabash National to build a hybrid dry van trailer. Dubbed the X-Duty, this double-duty trailer is ruggedized to support loads 50% greater than a typical van. It’s used inbound to haul steel coils to Electrolux for use in manufacturing freezers. Outbound, it cubes out with new freezers headed to market. Rolled out in 2010, there are now 25 X-Duty trailers in service.

Nussbaum innovation is also amply applied to keeping drivers satisfied and motivated, whom CEO Brent Nussbaum regards as “the backbone of our business” and therefore should be provided with “the means for an enjoyable, comfortable lifestyle.” There are about 230 company drivers as well as 30 owner- operators. Braker reports that company drivers enjoy a weekly minimum guarantee, consistent weekend home time, late-model trucks (average age of two years or less) and trailers, complete medical benefits, a company-matched 401K program, referral bonuses, and performance-based quarterly bonuses.

The carrier recently implemented a 1¢/mi. pay hike for company drivers as well as loading/unloading pay increases and added an “East Coast Premium.” Three other pay increases came through in the past year, including a switch to “practical miles” to more closely match paid miles to actual routes. “Beside pay,” Braker observes, “we believe it is crucial that our drivers feel they are a part of our team and not just a number. That relationship will be especially important to maintain as we continue to grow.”

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