Fully Loaded

Local focus and gradual change has steered trucking company, Jetco Delivery, to solid growth.

In a recent edition of “The Extra Mile”—a monthly newsletter distributed by Jetco Delivery—the company informs customers about the high cost of diesel fuel, its efforts to be environmentally friendly and the various grades of hazardous materials Jetco trucks can transport.

It’s all useful information for the trucking company’s clients, and it tells a lot about Jetco’s business philosophy—providing an extra level of service to anticipate customers’ every need.

“You might think that trucking is simple. It’s just going from Point A to Point B,” says Brian Fielkow, Jetco owner and president. “But it is anything but simple, especially in the intermodal world of containers and import and export. There are so many details that need to be addressed.”

Ensuring that the details are taken care of is at the heart of what Jetco provides its customers, Fielkow says. From the comfort of knowing the company holds $1 million in cargo and workers’ compensation insurance, to the convenience of an in-truck GPS system that allows customers to pinpoint their cargo to the nearest intersection, attention to detail has helped the company grow, he says.

The trucking company provides transport service for everything from single pallet loads to oversized loads upwards of 200,000 pounds. With a fleet of 90 trucks, ranging from small delivery trucks to semi-trucks, Jetco is equipped to handle just about any delivery need, Fielkow says.

“Our customers are any regular shippers of freight,” he says. “Our focus is definitely on business-to-business. A lot of our customers are, for example, freight forwarders who are in the import-export business.”

But while the trucks are licensed for travel in 48 states, Fielkow says he likes to remain focused on Houston and the Gulf Coast region.

“We’re not limited, but I really believe you have to have a focus,” he says. “For a fleet of our size to say our focus is the whole country, that would just spread us too thin … Our bread and butter is Houston, Texas and surrounding states.”

It was a convoluted path that led Fielkow to Houston and then Jetco. He started his career practicing law in Wisconsin, and then left that to work for one of his favorite customers—a recycling company. That company eventually merged with Waste Management Inc., bringing him to Houston.

Ultimately, Fielkow knew he wanted his own business, and that desire led him to Jetco, a longstanding company with an owner looking to leave the business.

“I was just fortunate to find a 30-plus-year-old company with a really solid track record,” Fielkow says. He financed the deal himself with a couple of outside investors, along with Frost Bank. Fielkow now owns about 78 percent of the company, and retains all management control.

Although the business was in good shape when he purchased it, Fielkow says one of his first major challenges was making certain not to make too many changes too quickly.

“I was very careful not to break what was working while at the same time, making the changes … to bring it to a new level and enhance the company,” he says.

It was that willingness to take things slowly that made the company a good fit for Frost Bank, says Richard Mann, market president for the Frost Bank Wayside Branch. The bank helped finance the purchase of Jetco.

“A lot of times, when I deal with an acquisition, they (the new owners) want to change everything from day one,” Mann says. “Brian was very methodical and patient from day one.”

The fact that he put so much of his own money into the deal also made it very appealing to Frost, Mann says.

“I think the greatest strength of the deal was how well capitalized it was with owner equity from the beginning,” he says. “He put up a lot of his own equity. He was basically putting his money where his mouth is.”

In making the changes he thought necessary to the company, Fielkow focused on a few major areas: employee retention, the quality of the fleet and improving technology.

To keep good employees, Fielkow improved benefits and offered bonuses for safety and productivity. And he highlighted another perk of regional delivery—the opportunity for drivers to make it home almost every night.

“We really want to retain our drivers,” he says. “They believe in us, we believe in them. I think that continuity may be hard for a customer to put a dollar sign on, but they know there is value to it.”

To improve the fleet, Fielkow took advantage of funding offered by the Houston Galveston Area Council of Governments to purchase new trucks that are more fuel-efficient and produce lower sulfur emissions than any other trucks on the market.

Those trucks are subject to routine inspections at both the in-house maintenance shop and by outside inspectors.

“I believe that showing up with newer trucks, well-maintained equipment and professional drivers says something about your company,” he says. “We put a huge amount of effort into our maintenance and into doing it right.”

In terms of technology, Jetco installed GPS systems in all of the trucks, allowing its customers to know exactly where their load is at all times.

“If you have a high-value load, I think it is important that you know exactly where it is,” Fielkow says. While larger operations such as FedEx and UPS have similar technology, most smaller, regional companies don’t, he says. Each truck is also equipped with an e-mail system, allowing dispatchers to send an e-mail to truckers to notify them of their next delivery.

The e-mail system saves time, because drivers have ready access to complete delivery information, and don’t have to wait to hear about their next assignment over the radio. The e-mail system also allows dispatchers to quickly alert drivers in case of bad weather or other important announcements.

Those changes have helped the company grow each year. While Fielkow says he intends to keep growing, it will be at a slow and steady pace, rather than through large acquisitions or mergers.

“I have been down the path of growth for growth’s sake,” he says. “Honestly, I’m interested in being the best, whether that is 80 trucks or 180 or 500 … I don’t want to grow and compromise the quality we are used to giving.” Any growth will likely center around the Texas Gulf Coast region, he says.

“If we expand, it would need to be in a place and market that we have operational control, doesn’t spread us too thin, and that has some geographical synergies—maybe freight moving in both directions,” he says.

“But right now, my belief in the Houston market is so strong that I would rather spend my time for the foreseeable future just digging deeper in this market.”