Story by Carolyn Mason Photos by Kirk Zuitell and FRTL
Florida Rock & Tank Lines in Jacksonville, Florida, doesn’t transport rock anymore — the fleet is known now as an industry leader for transporting mostly petroleum and other liquid and dry bulk commodities in tank trucks throughout the Southeastern United States.
Even though among drivers and customers it’s still referred to as “Florida Rock,” the company has evolved from their original role in the early 1960s as a private aggregate and sand hauler to its present as a publicly traded (NASDAQ-PATI) petroleum, liquid and dry bulk carrier that operates under its parent company, Patriot Transportation Holding Inc.
Robert Sandlin has been president of Florida Rock & Tank Lines since 2003 and CEO of Patriot Transportation Holding company for four years. He has been with the company his entire career, which began in 1984. In fact, many on the executive team have the longevity that contributes to their success in a competitive market.
“Our team now includes a good mixture of seasoned leaders and a new group of leaders with industry experience who adhere to our mission: to safely deliver on time and accurately, to never compromise safety and to offer premier customer service,” he says.
Mack Trucks plays an important role in fulfilling the fleet’s mission.
The company, with $114 million in revenue, currently operates 19 terminals throughout the Southeast and operates more than 350 tractors and 500 trailers, employing 530 company drivers, 40 drivers in training and 23 leased owner-operators. They deliver to gas stations, convenience stores, major retailers and some truck stops.
Delivering petroleum products makes up about 80% of their business with 20% dry bulk and industrial chemicals. But it’s delivering petroleum in up to three to four loads per shift in the crowded urban locations where gas stations and mini markets are tucked away that requires not only skilled hazmat operators but also equipment tough enough to maneuver the tight spaces.
The challenge of keeping those seats filled is one their main pain points and they spend nearly $12,000 per driver for recruiting and training.
Jim Anderson, vice president of safety and risk management, has been with the company for 39 years. He says, like others in the industry, that recruiting and retaining drivers is a constant challenge. While they experience high turnover, he says some of it is due to a strong jobs market. However, he says it’s always a challenge to recruit new drivers because of the higher level of skills needed for a hazmat operation.
“Operating new equipment like the Mack Anthem® does as much for our safety and customer service as it does to attract the drivers we need,” he says. The fleet is comprised of 80% Mack® Trucks, including Pinnacle™ and more than 70 Anthem models.
“Our customers appreciate the safety features and uptime we get from the equipment, and our drivers love the comfort and power.” He says even the drivers initially put off by changing to an automatic transmission now love the mDRIVE™. “Once they experience how much less fatiguing it is to shift gears in rush hour traffic, they never want to go back,” he says.
And Anthem does its share of driver recruitment. Anderson recounts how one of their drivers in Fort Lauderdale said that seeing one of their new metallic charcoal Anthems on the road convinced him to become a Florida Rock & Tank Lines driver, just to drive for them in one of the trucks. He got his CDL and, after getting the necessary experience, circled back and signed on with FRTL. “That’s a direct result of offering equipment drivers want to operate,” he says. And it also goes a long way toward retaining the top drivers they already have. Their top drivers get first dibs on the new trucks.
Dennis Rollins, a company driver with Florida Rock & Tank Lines for more than 18 years, says he’s spent his whole career driving tankers and is thrilled to be driving a new Anthem. Rollins, a former Florida Trucking Association driver of the year, says he’s impressed with the safety features, comfort and cool factor.
“The bells and whistles such as lane departure warnings and adaptive cruise control help me navigate city traffic with a minimum of stress,” he says. Because he delivers petroleum in crowded city locations, the Anthem’s tight turning radius is a game changer and he loves the visibility he gets from the mirrors. “When you are squeezing into a crowded gas station with people walking around and cars lined up at the pumps, you need as much visibility as possible. The Anthem’s fender and panoramic mirrors are situated so that I barely have a blind spot,” he says.
But it’s the look and design of the Anthem that makes him proud to be part of a company that offers drivers a brand like Mack. “I get drivers asking me about my truck and how they can hire on with a company like Florida Rock & Tank Lines so they can get one, too.”
The company’s focus on safety is another reason Anderson says they are pumped up about the safety features on the Anthem. “Going from drum brakes to disc brakes reduces stopping distance and gives you better braking. There’s also an increase in uptime due to more efficient maintenance and service times on the brakes. They have operated the Bendix Wingman Fusion driver assistance system since 2017 and say the driver alerts and blind spotter technology has been helpful to drivers, especially in the urban settings and heavy traffic.
Sandlin says the key factors to buying equipment are first the relationship with the OEM, then the dealer and finally, the total cost of ownership. “I’m looking at the truck over a six- or seven-year time frame and take into account the cost and return on capital for our shareholders. We have a strong dealer relationship and have always found that Mack Trucks stands behind their products,” Sandlin says.
He also is passionate about driver acceptance and says, “I ask drivers all the time how they like the ride, the torque, the safety features and the comfort of the truck.” The relationship between Mack and Florida Rock & Tank Lines goes back for decades.
Brian Henderson, sales manager in Jacksonville for Nextran, a Mack dealer chain in the Southeast U.S., has been working with Florida Rock & Tank Lines for more than four years and says they have a strong partnership with the company. “Everyone from our parts and services guy to our sales department feels a kinship with Florida Rock & Tank Lines. Features like GuardDog® Connect help them stay in communication with our shop where the trucks can be diagnosed quickly, with reduced downtime,” Henderson says.
“The challenge is delivering all over the Southeast, including in bottlenecks like Atlanta where it’s crucial to have the right gear at the right time. Drivers are climbing in and out of the cab multiple times so comfort is of prime importance,” he says.
The key to our continued success is that we offer premier customer service along with conservative fiscal practices including zero debt and focus on a good company culture. Part of the strong culture is the focus on equipment drivers are proud to operate,” he says.