Dedicated fleet operations have been around for a long time, but that has not stopped Schneider National from going to work to redefine what providing dedicated services really means. The result has been a true win-win for customers and carriers alike.

“We are trying to find ways to create value in the true spirit of a dedicated business,” says Dan Van Alstine, senior vice president/general manager of Schneider’s Dedicated Services. “We look for places where we can apply our expertise and our resources to deliver more value—and to receive more value, too. From our perspective, it means truly starting with a clean slate when we look at a customer’s operation and their needs. We are trying to change our mind-set, to set aside any biases we may have, say for automatically using 53-ft. trailers.”

When Van Alstine says a “clean slate,” he really means it, and that can result in everything from spec’ing special equipment to adopting new performance metrics in order to provide better business intelligence.

“Say there is a beverage hauler who needs to maximize payload,” he offers. “That means we have to think about creating a tractor-trailer combination that is much lighter by doing things like removing one fuel tank and switching to 42-ft. trailers and single-wide tires. These specialized profiles cost more to buy because they are not standard configurations, but it may well be worth it.

“Big box retailers are another example,” Van Alstine adds. “They have been very successful serving the suburbs, but now they want to serve more urban environments with smaller, high-velocity storefronts where 53-ft. trailers are not practical or in some cases, even possible.”

Key performance indicators are also established on an individual operational level. “A customer may have certain metrics they use internally while the trucking industry has also evolved its own set of conventional metrics, such as on-time deliveries, cost per delivery, etc.,” he says.

“We are doing business with a grocer, for instance, who wanted us to think in terms of cost-per-case, so we developed a billing model that reflects cost-per-case,” Van Alstine says. “Our job is to put as many cases on our trailer as possible so that the cost-per-case is as low as possible. That is different than our usual cost-per-load measure, but those new metrics really create a new common language with a very powerful meaning to both the customer and to us. This enables us to create a new environment where we can really push the status quo.”

“Pushing the status quo” has also changed the fleet’s relationship with its suppliers and OEMs, according to Van Alstine. “We are proud of our relationships with our suppliers and OEMs,” he says. “They bring a lot to us and we learn a lot from them about best practices. Removing a fuel tank to reduce weight is a good example. That idea came from an OEM.”

Doing business in this new way changes things for just about everyone, as it turns out, including customers. “It requires engagement and trust on the part of the customer right from the start,” he says. “A level of transparency is required. This is really about a commitment to work collaboratively, and in order to do that you have to get closer to the customer and they have to get closer to you. Then you are really working on the future together.”