When your business is primarily dedicated carriage, including hauling just-in-time freight, productivity must be top of mind. And it is for Bluegrass Trucking, according to Director of Operations Chris Hart, whose father launched the family business in 1991 with one truck and one driver.
“We capitalize on utilization of our equipment,” says Hart. “Our business consists of roughly 90% dedicated freight, which requires a different structure than a lot of other trucking companies.” The Harrodsburg, Kentucky-based firm, which also operates a terminal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has grown into a fleet of some 70 powered units and 350 trailers operated by a team of 115 drivers.
Bluegrass is the epitome of a niche operation. Even though 50% of the company’s lanes are local, within a 100 air-mile radius of its terminals, its trucks roll up more than 5 million miles annually. About 65% of its business revolves around hauling automotive freight, with general freight, including paper products, accounting for the other 35%.
Some dedicated routes cover less than 20 miles— but they may be run upwards of 35 times a day. Add in all the shuttling and spotting of trailers that entails, and you have a sense of the flow of a workday at Bluegrass.
Providing just-in-time service is a given when serving the automotive industry. JIT means trucks and cargo must arrive within a precise and predetermined window, often open only hours before the ordered parts and supplies are needed on an assembly line. Making JIT work requires keeping every link of the supply chain unbroken. That puts pressure on transportation logistics, which must work with maximum efficiency to keep up.
Making that happen at Bluegrass is a team of in-house dispatchers and account managers who keep track of shipments and make sure that everything is moving smoothly. “We need eyes constantly on the loads,” Hart says. Bluegrass has so many moving pieces, he says, that a fully automated dispatching program is just not the answer.
Instead, the carrier has opted for a solution from Bolt System that “allows a dispatcher or an account manager to take on other roles because of the information that's being compiled and made available within the system.”
Hart points out that the biggest thing driving Bluegrass to leverage dispatching software within its existing operation is customers demanding to be continually updated on schedules and gaining the ability to track progress in real time. He says Bolt provides a customer portal through which the carrier can selectively allow customers the ability to log into the system to view the details of their shipments — whether scheduled, in-transit or delivered. It can also provide automated emails with delivery ETAs based on onboard computer data. The Bolt system handles all electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions with Bluegrass’s customers, which frees up the carrier’s staff even more.
“Before, when we used a dispatch software, it required our people to make manual updates throughout the day and night,” says Hart. “Bolt creates a more effective communication device between the truck carrying a load and the customer, and that lets our team step back and simply monitor things.” He says the dispatching system also “makes it easier for our team to be able to quickly pull up the necessary information should a customer call in with inquiries about a load.”
In turning to Bolt for a dispatching system, Bluegrass wanted to be able to continue using Breakthrough Fuel, a third party that calculates the actual price of fuel paid by carriers on specific lanes each day and aligns freight costs with real-time fuel costs based on time, price, tax, and geography. That enables Bluegrass to manage the fluctuating cost of fuel by assessing a fuel surcharge to pass through to customers that’s based on solid research.
Hart notes that if a carrier is running a lane from Lexington, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee, historically the process would require collecting the average fuel cost for that region via the Department of Energy and applying it to your fuel surcharge chart to obtain a billable rate. Bolt integrated the Breakthrough Fuel program into its software. Breakthrough emails Bolt daily fuel prices that correlate to specific lanes. Bolt then takes that information and applies it in the system so that the carrier can bill from it directly.
Bluegrass had tried out other dispatching programs, but Hart says none proved especially user-friendly. For the most part, he characterizes them as “cookie-cutter solutions” focused on handling the standard business processes of a specific type of company.
“Most dispatch programs are tailored to long-haul trucking situations where guys run routes with varying pickup and delivery points,” Hart says. “But we're completely dedicated and most of our routes are roundtrip. In saying that, a huge advantage with Bolt, as opposed to other fleet management software providers, is their willingness to adapt and be a real player for our specific operation."