Fresh Freight in Phoenix, Arizona, is a refrigerated fleet serving the West Coast that has a familiar evolutionary path. In 2016, the carrier started out as a freight broker. It quickly moved to hauling produce and other food using leased trucks to supplement its large base of contracted drivers and small carriers.
In 2019, Chief Executive Officer and President Matt Heroux and his management team decided that it would be a good strategic move for Fresh Fleet to take another big step and acquire its own fleet of trucks. Fresh Fleet’s footprint spans Southern California and up to Seattle, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and even Texas.
“We started to realize that – to use a football analogy – while being a broker gave us a strong offense, having our own assets would also give a strong defense … in terms of giving us additional operational diversity, flexibility and stability in uncertain economic times,” Heroux says.
He also believes that having its own fleet gave them “some scratch in the game.”
“It changes the way people look at you” as a broker, he says. “They feel like ... you understand their business concerns as fleet operators and aren’t going to do things that will put them in a bind.”
Once that was decision was made, Heroux and Fresh Freight decided to take an even bigger step – their first order for 15 trucks would be all brand-new, Peterbilt Model 579 UltraLoft tractors. Heroux’s grandfather was an owner-operator back in the 1970s who had a penchant for Peterbilt. And so, he says, the decision to go with what is essentially a “family brand” was an easy one.
“I’ve worked for other fleets that ran different makes and models,” Heroux says. “But when you talk to drivers and get their perspective, it seems like Peterbilt has always been put on another level. And that fit in with the vision we had for what our fleet wanted to be and what we wanted to offer our drivers.”
Heroux wanted a “premium brand” that would attract top drivers and help promote Fresh Freight’s image. He also did not want a mixed fleet, for simplicity. And because Fresh Freight is focused on moving food and not on doing maintenance, he wanted a strong outsourced maintenance provider.
“We really try to be the best at what we do. And Peterbilt does a hell of a job with their corporate branding,” he says. “But it was the really strong Rush Truck Center dealers in the Phoenix area that was a big attraction for us. In fact, we were an early entry into their new Rush Care Service program, and helped them get it up and running.”
In building a single-brand fleet, Heroux says his main concerns were maintenance and safety. To him, a uniform fleet is key because it helps with all aspects of fleet management, from parts, total cost of ownership, and consistent fuel economy performance. Externally, he says it helps when pricing loads for customers by removing intangible and hidden costs.
“If all the trucks are the same, it really doesn’t matter which one is pulling the cargo,” he notes.
Heroux says Fresh Freight upgraded its Model 579 specs a “little bit” from the base model.
“We went with Cummins engines because I have a longer history with them,” he notes. “And we thought it was extremely important to spec all the safety systems we could get. This was key for us and both Peterbilt and Rush have been great about supply additional safety resources to use for driver training. But my drivers like having a safe truck, as do our customers and Great West, our insurance company. And having them on the trucks definitely helps me sleep better at night.”
The decision to go big on its first fleet order has already paid dividends for Fresh Freight, Heroux reports.
“We went from having zero drivers to picking the absolute best candidates possible to come and work with us,” he says. “We’re proud of that. We wanted a higher caliber of driver from the jump, and the Peterbilt Model 579 helped us meet that goal. We felt like if we could offer them premium equipment and treat them well, we’d do well. We pay our drivers a base starting salary of $78,000 a year before adding benefits. And so, that package, along with a premium truck, we now have a waiting list of drivers who want to come to work for us.”
And soon, some of those waiting drivers will get the chance. Heroux says Fresh Freight is now preparing to add another 20 New Model 579 tractors, which Peterbilt introduced on Feb. 3, to its fleet.
“We’ve changed our spec a bit, based on our experience and driver feedback with the truck,” Heroux says. “We’re going to change from double-bunk configuration to one that is better for single occupancy, and add some additional storage space, including a new locker, in the sleeper. But overall, we’re anxious to get the order for the new trucks in and put them to work.”