Bruce Hoger has BECO Inc. dialed in to reliability, on-time performance and fuel economy. The fleet is as dependable as the mail, which is what you expect from a company that delivered its first load for the nation’s post office in 1951 and is now the fifth-largest mail hauler in the U.S. It’s a market segment that remains in demand.
“While we’ve seen a decline in first class mail, there’s been a huge increase in demand for package deliveries,” says Hoger, BECO’s general manager. “Everybody shops online now, and it’s got to go on a truck.”
BECO primarily covers the western U.S. with its headquarters in New Salem, North Dakota, and its main hub in Denver. It is a family-owned company, with Etheleen Hoovestol its president since her husband Burton passed away in January 2009.
Operational efficiency is very important in BECO’s hub-and-relay system, Hoger says. “For example, we run from Denver to Seattle. We have a driver who will leave here and go to Ogden, Utah. He gets out and another driver gets in and takes it to Hermiston, Oregon. He gets out and another driver from Hermiston will take it to Seattle and right back out while the guy from Ogden is taking his 10-hour break. It’s a system that works really well.”
Denver is the main hub for the mail operation, with two main U.S. Postal Service facilities within a mile of the fleet’s yard. “We haul anywhere from 75-80 loads of mail in and out of Denver every day. That’s 75 to 80 outbound, and 75 to 80 inbound every day.”
BECO operates about 240 trucks and has about 350 employees. Roughly 180 drivers are based out of Denver, with relays and terminals in New Salem, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Ogden, Salt Lake City, Billings, Missoula and Omaha. In addition to hauling mail for the USPS, the fleet has a smaller truckload dry freight division.
The fleet has relied on Mack® Pinnacle™ models for years and recently started taking delivery of Mack Anthem® models. The long-haul mail runs give trucks a workout every day, as BECO day cabs average about 220,000 miles a year. Some units rack up as much as 350,000 miles per year on certain routes but get rotated out on an accelerated basis.
Obviously, there is great pressure for mail to be delivered on time and without problems. So Hoger cites durability, performance and lack of downtime as critical elements of the fleet’s success.
Fuel economy also plays a major role in BECO’s operations, and Hoger has honed his specs to get the best results: Mack MP®8 415E engine with 3:08 rears and full aerodynamics, with close attention to a tight trailer gap on the 180-inch wheelbase. “I change the kingpin setting on my trailers to suck the trailer up farther to the back of the truck.”
Some of his recent trucks have been spec’ed with Mack’s 6×2 liftable pusher axle to reduce weight and improve fuel economy. “Those work well,” he says. “Fuel mileage is probably a half to three-quarters of a mile to the gallon better than a 6×4.” In the summer, the 6×2 trucks can make it from Denver to Tucson and back on one tank of fuel.
The results fleet-wide are impressive, especially considering the altitude, terrain and temperature extremes the trucks encounter throughout the course of a year.
BECO handles all maintenance in-house, with warranty work going to their Mack dealers. He finds Mack’s Uptime Services effective and makes use of the features on GuardDog® Connect and ASIST for managing service events. The fleet is also using Mack Over The Air for remote software and parameter updates without having to take the truck out of service to go to a dealer.
In recent months the company has added about 20 Anthems to the fleet, and the models have been popular, Hoger says. The truck’s visibility, safety and driver comfort, along with Anthem’s bold looks, are selling points for drivers. It’s a bit of a change, but it is a big help with the intense driver shortage.
“Drivers like them, I like them. They’re smooth, they’re quiet. They’re very driver friendly. Used to be that you didn’t care what you spec’d for a truck, as long as it got fuel mileage and made it back and forth. Now, with the shortage of drivers, you’ve got to spec them for what the drivers like. It changes your philosophy on how your operation works with the driver demands right now.
“Up until this year, I never spec’d a truck with a refrigerator in it. Now I am, just because of driver needs. It attracts drivers.”
The USPS has strict standards for who can and can’t handle mail and who can drive a mail truck. All drivers have to be screened to get a postal ID badge. With the exception of a few minor misdemeanors, anyone who has a criminal record can’t have access to the mail.
There are a few things that work in BECO’s favor. “Most of our drivers are home every day or every other day; that’s a benefit. And hauling U.S. mail is relatively easy on the driver,” since the cargo doesn’t require much handling on the part of the driver or detention at facilities.
Work is done under bid, but he says that once you get the postal contract and do a good job, the USPS doesn’t usually don’t take the contracts away, so driver retention is not much of an issue. BECO has held some of its mail contracts for decades, some even for as long as 50 years.
“BECO has a very good reputation with the postal service and we’re looking all the time to expand,” Hoger says.