When it comes to delivering bottled water to residences and businesses, the private fleet operated by Nestle Waters North America Inc. covers, well, the waterfront.

The fleet's 2,000 33,000-lb. GVW beverage trucks are stationed around the nation at about 80 distribution points to deliver six brands of bottled water, including Poland Spring and Arrowhead to name just two, in 3- and 5-gallon containers directly to customers' homes and offices.

That's a lot of medium-duty trucks in a lot of places to take care of, but the fleet also fields 125 Class 8 tractor-trailers to haul spring water in bulk to its bottling plants and some 500 light-duty vans, as well as forklifts and other industrial equipment.

Staying on top of this mixed fleet requires nothing less than a powerful commitment to analytical management, according to national fleet manager Richard J. Chavez.

“We've launched a number of significant initiatives recently,” Chavez relates. “These include moving to spec air-ride suspensions on the beverage trucks and developing standardized brake specs and maintenance procedures for our 43 in-house shops.

“Whatever we do is based, first and foremost, on analyzing what we do and how it can be improved,” he continues. “This is accomplished through a process improvement team that studies specs, purchasing, training and operational requirements jointly.”

Process improvement is not new to the fleet but the team is. “We've had a process improvement person on staff for five years,” Chavez explains, “but this year we added staffers to specifically address purchasing and training concerns.

“The end result is we can weigh all the facts before making a decision,” he continues. “With the team fully ramped up, we expect next year to be working on seven to ten major initiatives.”

Chavez points out that a decision to go air ride was reached only after conducting a study with the fleet's preferred medium-duty supplier, Freightliner LLC.

While one might not expect bottled water would need to float on air, he says experiences with “a lot of damaged product” led to installing devices on the trucks to determine what was going on in the cargo bays.

The upshot was “discovering their air-ride suspension would better protect the product and reduce our vehicle maintenance costs.”

Another initiative will help secure the fleet's tankers. “We are working with our main trailer supplier, Brenner, to implement a tanker that is fully enclosed. Coupled with this is an electronic log system to identify the driver at all times.” Chavez notes that Nestle Waters has undertaken this extensive project strictly voluntarily.

Yet another example of the Nestle Waters approach is strictly financial. “We bring in competitive vehicles in small batches and closely track their operating costs,” Chavez says. “We started this process two years ago with beverage trucks and right now the two OEMs are running dead even in maintenance costs. But that means for the competitor to get their truck in here, they would have to look at their overall pricing. Because,” he adds, “at the end of the day, cost per mile is something we want.”

And we imagine a nice glass of cold spring water.