By Tim Heston
Shop operations may be stellar, procedures documented, everyone trained and en- gaged, the operation a well-oiled machine.
Quality parts flow through laser cutting, bending,
welding, and finishing quickly. They get to packaging, are loaded on the truck … then arrive at the
customer’s facility late or damaged. Or perhaps
the driver was rude or otherwise unprofessional.
A fabricated part that’s damaged or delayed, or
both, during shipping basically destroys all the value that went into making it—the painting, polishing,
grinding, welding, bending, cutting, engineering,
and order planning. It’s a reason that many custom
fab shops decide to deliver at least some products
with their own trucks. It gives them more control
and direct customer contact. Drivers chat with
people at customers’ loading docks, ask questions,
receive feedback, find out what the customer likes
and dislikes, and returns to the fabricator with valuable information.
Considering this, when should a custom fabricator make the leap, buy its own trucks, and hire its
A Fabricator and a Trucking Company
For a unique perspective, The FABRICATOR spoke
with Shane Dittrich, president and CEO of Watseka,
Ill.-based T&D Metal Products and its sister company C&L Trucking and Maintenance. Dittrich and
Managing Partner Jay Morris operate a network of
firms that together form a unique business model.
Named for Dittrich’s sons, Cole and Lance, C&L
has grown tremendously since it launched in 2004.
“We’ve got 23 trucks on the road every day, servicing ourselves and other customers,” Dittrich said,
adding that three are box trucks while the remaining are full-size tractor-trailers.
Dittrich and Morris got into the delivery business
in an unconventional way. Typically, a fabricator decides to bring delivery in-house to gain control over
the process. T&D’s delivery didn’t start in fabrication at all but instead with another sister company,
this one in the landscaping business. That business
required trucks to deliver plants and supplies to job
sites. That landscape business no longer exists, but
the trucking company it helped create is thriving.
“We bought our first truck to service that landscaping business,” Dittrich said. As the landscape
business’s trucking capability expanded, managers
realized they could start servicing T&D and, eventually, other businesses.
Today C&L delivers the raw material and products
to and from not only T&D but also other area companies. C&L also expanded its truck maintenance
operation, recently moving from a 14,000-square-
foot facility into a 34,000-sq.-ft. building that can
hold about 44 trucks, double the current fleet. The
facility services C&L trucks as well as trucks for other operators—another revenue stream.
Building more revenue streams is the whole idea
People, Training, and Regulations
behind Dittrich and Morris’ network of sister com-
panies. This network also includes 22 NAPA stores,
which rely on C&L’s delivery capability, primarily its
three box trucks. All these companies were launched
to build a business model of diversification, and
their revenue lines are complementary. More work
for T&D and the network of NAPA stores means more
work for C&L Trucking and Maintenance. All in all,
about 30 percent of C&L’s revenue comes from work
within the T&D family of businesses, while 70 per-
cent comes from outside customers.
T&D doesn’t always use its own trucks. For certain
jobs, less than load (LTL) carriers offer better service
and pricing, especially for nonlocal shipments and
jobs delivered on shipping lanes where another carrier might be more competitive. Deciding whether
to bring trucking in-house is really like anything else
in business. It has risks and rewards that shop managers should consider before making the leap.
Consider the challenge of finding and hiring qualified truck drivers. Metal fabricators are no stranger
to the skilled labor crisis, and neither are trucking
companies. As Dittrich described, good delivery drivers can be an extraordinarily valuable employee for
a fabricator. The best drivers even help grow a company’s business by asking questions and uncovering
current and future needs at the customer’s plant.
But a fabricator’s truck drivers must also be good
ambassadors. And if the job leaves a fabricator facility on time, the drivers need to deliver on time to
Also, people can’t learn to drive a big rig overnight. Insurance companies require people with
commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) to have experience before they can drive alone. And if a driver has
had multiple infractions, like two speeding tickets
and a wreck, he could be uninsurable. This is where
gross vehicle weight (GVW) can make a big difference. It’s easier to find people to drive smaller trucks
with GVWs of 26,000 pounds and less, and with air
brakes. When a company operates big rigs—vehicles
with GVWs of 80,000 lbs., with hydraulic brakes—the
driver skill requirements are much more stringent.
“Finding good, safe drivers is the No. 1 challenge
we have,” Dittrich said, adding that safety is one reason that C&L maintains its own trucks. “We service
our own trucks, and we have a full-time mechanic
who maintains the fleet to meet all the CSA 2010
Should a fabricator buy its own trucks?
In truth, it depends
Photo credit: Getty Images
C&L Trucking and Maintenance, a sister company of
T&D Metal Products, has 23 trucks, three of them box
trucks and 20 of them big rigs.