Hiring and training drivers to deliver fuel to a wide variety of customers, each with different fuel storage requirements, is especially challenging for Sun Coast Resources, a petroleum distributor based in Houston. Company owner Kathy Lehne says delivery applications include everything from dropping fuel into underground storage tanks to pumping it directly into equipment, and even into ships.

“All the numerous fuel storage devices vary in size,” she notes, “and therefore require different unloading equipment. Also, because we bunker fuel over water into ships, the drivers involved in this portion of the business must be trained in accordance with OSHA and U.S. Coast Guard standards for over-the-water fuel transfers. This is in addition to the extensive training already required by DOT for hazmat drivers.”

Due to the nature of the product the company's drivers must deal with, safety is stressed strongly at terminals and in the field. When loading tankers in the terminals and when delivering the product, drivers must wear hard hats, safety glasses, steel-toed boots, fire-resistant clothing and chemical protective gloves.

Spill and accident prevention are key elements in the Sun Coast driver training program. Drivers are taught to remain vigilant when delivering fuel, always checking for leaks and planning ahead as to what steps they would take in an emergency.

Sun Coast Resources purchases petroleum products directly from refineries and delivers it to customers in nine states. “We use common carriers to distribute petroleum out-of-state. In Texas, we deliver fuel with our own fleet, which includes over 70 trucks and 37 transport trailers,” Lehne explains.

In addition to Texas, Sun Coast Resources markets petroleum to customers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Kansas and New Mexico.

“Our competitors offer the same products at essentially the same price as we do,” says Lehne. “So to set ourselves apart we must also sell good customer service. This means consistently delivering product on time.”

With a focus on servicing customers, Lehne leaves the business of maintaining her truck fleet to Rush Truck Leasing, the PacLease franchise in Houston from whom she leases her equipment on a five-year, full-service program. In addition to freeing her from the time-consuming task of tracking inventory and maintenance schedules, leasing also frees up working capital and helps with budgeting truck expenses.

Lehne says: “Another advantage leasing offers us is that when one of our trucks is down either for routine service or repair, we're provided with a replacement vehicle. Since our operations are 24/7, minimizing vehicle downtime is very important.”

With the exception of a few older vehicles still in the fleet, Sun Coast Resources leases all Peterbilt units. These consist of about 50 Model 385s, as well as some Model 379s are being introduced into the fleet. The 379's longer 210-in. wheelbase provides drivers with a smoother ride. The tractors are powered by a Caterpillar C-15 diesel rated 430-hp. matched with an Eaton Fuller FRO series 10-speed manual transmission.

There are also three Peterbilt 330-model medium-duty trucks in the Sun Coast Resources fleet, along with 37 Heil 41-ft. aluminum tanker trailers. “PacLease does some of the maintenance on the trailers as well as all the work on the tractors,” Lehne states. “We don't have the time or the resources to invest in a maintenance shop and mechanics.”

According to Lehne, the success of her business is tied to the reliability of her fleet. “Take our retail fuel station customers. They can't go an hour without gasoline to sell. And for our marine accounts, large container ships are only docked for a short time. If we were late, we'd have to pay additional mooring fees that could run into the thousands of dollars. This has never happened,” she adds.

“Great customer service requires a dependable fleet,” says Lehne. “Leasing ensures we get that.”