Brakebush Brothers Inc., a producer of fully cooked chicken products, is no stranger to the trucking business. The Westfield, Wis.-based company got its start in 1925 as a common carrier when brothers Otto and Bill Brakebush began hauling dairy products and animals before evolving into their own chicken processing and egg packaging facilities.
Today, Brakebush Transportation Inc. serves as the private carrier side of Brakebush Brothers’ business, delivering unprocessed chicken and breading to the company’s plants in Wisconsin and Texas and finished ready-to-eat products to Brakebush Brothers’ food service customers.
The company has only 30 trucks, and that means capacity requirements occasionally are stretched beyond the capabilities of its own fleet. In the past, the company used to relinquish some control and broker loads through third-party logistics firms.
But when using a 3PL, “You don’t have real solid control over knowing who has your product,” says Mike Schwersenska, transportation manager for Brakebush Transportation.
Complicating matters, Brakebush Brothers’ production operates in a just-in-time environment, and any delay of inbound shipments could mean significant disruptions in the company’s chicken processing plants. When a 3PL brokered a Brakebush Transportation load to a carrier – who in turn might broker it to another carrier – the company risked losing sight of its shipments.
“If we are making chicken patties and the breading shipment doesn’t show up, we ultimately have a production line that is down with 20 or 30 employees just sitting in the break room waiting,” says Schwersenska. “We had seen numerous issues with a lack of communication from the carriers that were bringing in our product.”
That all changed in 2001, when Brakebush Transportation was one of the few private trucking companies at the time to create its own brokerage arm in order to regain control and visibility of its loads.
The company’s approach to leverag-ing its brokerage business is that the private fleet has first crack at any inbound and outbound freight. Where it makes sense, and when it may be cheaper, the company now doesn’t hesitate to broker the load.
“Our main concern is delivering our finished goods to our customers in the best possible mode that we can,” says Schwersenska. “We obviously want to keep as much of that volume within our private fleet that makes sense. It is crucial for us to know where our product is at all times and how it is proceeding to our production facilities. Moving into brokerage and still being able to maintain control over the supply chain was our best solution.”
Now, when a brokered load from Brakebush Transportation is delayed, the company can react quickly, adjusting and shifting production schedules to eliminate downtime. “We aren’t huge, but when you get into a capacity crunch, it is nice to have the ability to access a whole other list of carriers through the brokerage department,” Schwersenska says.
Brakebush Transportation also has for-hire authority, and the company has seen a significant reduction in empty miles in recent years.
“There was a time when the company would run loads to California and come back empty,” says Schwersenska. Now Brakebush Transportation may haul cheese from a dairy producer in Wisconsin down to Georgia, where it will pick up a load of raw chicken and return to the production facility.
Today, Brakebush Transportation uses key performance indicators and reports to better manage, dispatch and coordinate freight. “We are currently running around 10 percent deadhead miles,” says Schwersenska. “We do very well in managing that percentage.”
Balancing its for-hire business with its private fleet requirements presents an ongoing challenge. “When we say we are going to pull five loads a week for a customer, we had better be able to deliver,” says Schwersenska. “That is why it’s nice to have the brokerage business so we have a larger carrier base in our pocket when capacity gets tight.”
From cooking oil to biodiesel
Much of Brakebush Brothers’ ready-to-eat chicken production requires copious amounts of cooking oil. Looking for a better way to reuse the oil, the company partnered with the Westfield School District to convert reclaimed cooking oil into biodiesel.
The school district installed its own biodiesel conversion system and now runs its entire school bus and equipment fleet on 50 to 90 percent biodiesel depending on the season. In turn, Brakebush Transportation buys back some of the biodiesel from Westfield School District to use in its own fleet operation.
“We have a fuel station in our facility with a 15,000-gallon fuel tank,” says Schwersenska. “We will order a certain amount of diesel, and then the school district will deliver the remainder in biodiesel.” Currently, Brakebush Transportation tries to keep a blend of about 5 to 8 percent biodiesel mix depending on the season.
The partnership is a win-win. Brakebush Transportation is able to recycle cooking oil in an environmentally responsible manner and offset some of its fuel expenses with lower-cost biodiesel, and Westfield School District saves on fuel costs by converting the donated cooking oil.
“This allows the school district to generate revenue in a time of tight budgets,” says Schwersenska. Westfield School District even has created a high school curriculum around the project “so students are even earning class credits for studying the manufacturing process of biodiesel,” he says.
Brakebush Transportation now is exploring the possibility of adding another external tank at its Westfield facility to store and pump 100 percent biodiesel in the summer months on some equipment, including support vehicles and yard tractors.
As a cost center for its parent company, Brakebush Transportation takes fuel savings seriously. It recently began testing tractors with 6×2 axle configurations and is experiencing about an 8/10-gallon-per-mile fuel savings compared to its conventional tractors. The company soon will take delivery of six new 6×2 tractors to expand its fleet.
Brakebush Transportation also was an early adopter of auxiliary power units – one of the first 15 fleets in the country, in fact – to further reduce fuel costs through anti-idling initiatives. The company also uses driver scorecards to incentivize drivers to conserve fuel.