Even half a cent per gallon can add up to thousands of dollars for fleets, which is why more and more carriers are relying on fuel optimization software to direct them to locations where they can get the most bang for their buck. Software providers told Stop Watch that fuel price, location and amenities all factor into a carrier’s decision-making process. To increase their odds of becoming a location of choice, truckstops and travel plazas can ensure information on their amenities, geographical location and fuel prices is correct.
The Nuts and Bolts
Optimizers pull the latest pricing and amenity information from daily raw data feeds that typically originate from the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) or a fuel card company. Optimizers look at rack pricing, tax information and the transportation cost to get the fuel to the stop.
“When we get that information, we build the cost we use in the optimization program. A customer can then put in their negotiated discount, and we consider that when making a recommendation,” said Rick Billingsley, director of client services for TMW Systems, which offers IDSC Expert Fuel. The average fleet using Expert Fuel has 400 trucks, but there are also several fleets that have 50 or less.
Optimizers overlay fueling locations with a fleet’s route to determine where a driver should fuel and how much he should purchase. “We download the price of fuel four times a day at all of the truckstops along our routes,” said Mike Alexander, director of driver services at Paschall Truck Lines, Murray, Ky.
The optimizers also factor in any fleet discounts. When it comes to buying fuel, fleets either pay the retail price that is posted or negotiate a contract rate in advance. Major fleets typically establish discounts with several chains and independent locations.
For example, Alexander said Paschall works with all the major chains and independents. “We let price [determine our fueling locations] in areas where there is a lot of competition. In some areas, if there isn’t a lot of competition, we will reach out to independents and ask them if they can give us a discount. Even a penny a gallon for a fleet our size adds up to $1,000 a month,” he said.
Fleets with established discounts still rely on the software since prices can vary even within a chain. C.R. England, a refrigerated carrier based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has used Expert Fuel for the past 10 years and negotiates rates with all the major chains and some independents, said Mitch England, director of fuel for the fleet.
In addition, C.R. England purchases about 5 percent of its fuel in bulk and also uses the optimizer to determine when the fuel at its own terminals is the best bargain. England said the fleet has a 95 percent compliance rate among its company drivers and an 88 percent compliance rate among its owner-operators.
While large fleets like Paschall and C.R. England are in demand, operators shouldn’t overlook those with 50 trucks or less. Vickie Roberts, vice president of Comdata Fuel Consortium and Fuel Management, said smaller fleets often don’t have the buying power to negotiate a contract with a chain but could still bring in significant gallons.
Location, Location, Location
It doesn’t make sense for a driver to spend time driving out of his way for minimal savings, so fleets want to know the exact location of a truckstop. That means a location’s latitude and longitude need to be correct.
“We need to know exactly where the truckstop is. If you tell me a truckstop is downtown, but it is 20 miles east of downtown, that creates an issue,” Billingsley said.
To determine their latitude and longitude, truckstop operators can use a GPS device on their own or turn to a company, such as Maporama to get the coordinates. Next, an operator can confirm its data with OPIS and fuel card providers to ensure optimizers have the latest information.
Tony Stroncheck, president of ProMiles, a fuel optimization software provider based in Bridge City, Texas, told Stop Watch he is surprised at how often the data needs to be corrected.
The amenities truckstops offer can help drive traffic to their locations even if they don’t have the lowest price on fuel. ProMiles and Expert Fuel both allow drivers to search by amenity.
“It is amazing what the fleets — even small fleets — do to let their drivers pick out their stops even if it is optimized,” Stroncheck said. “Optimizers are smart enough that the driver can say, ‘I want to stop for fuel. I need to rest and I need a barber to cut my hair.’”
Alexander said, “We take several things into consideration, and we do look at the amenities at a location.” For example, he evaluates the size, amount of parking and dining options.
England said C.R. England selects locations primarily on price, but will eliminate locations if drivers have trouble parking there. “If there is a stop we know doesn’t have enough parking, we’ll turn it off. If a guy can’t park and go in, that is a waste of time,” he said.
Since amenities matter, it is important for them to be accurate. Unfortunately, according to Billingsley, a lot of information on amenities isn’t very reliable. “Between T-Chek and OPIS we have information on 11,000 stops. There is room for 10-15 amenities per stop, so it can be hard to keep up with,” he said.
While it may be difficult for truckstops to keep their list of amenities updated, the effort could be worth it. “If you invest a lot of money in amenities, you need to get that information out,” Stroncheck said. ProMiles allows truckstops to share information on everything from free food to discounts on certain items.
To ensure their amenities are current, truckstop owners can work with software and data providers to verify their listings and should update the information when amenities change.
Spread the Word
Even with the mountains of information fleets have at their fingertips, driver preference still comes into play. Truckstops have personalities and can compete on the quality of their service and the variety of their offerings.
“Try to promote what you have to the drivers who come in and tell them to make sure to give feedback to the branch managers or fuel directors,” said Glen Sokolis, president of the Sokolis Group, a fleet fuel management and consulting company.
KEEP INFORMATION CURRENT A How-To Guide
In just a few simple steps, truckstop and travel plaza operators can verify their latitude and longitude and ensure their amenities are current. Most fuel optimizers pull their data from OPIS and fuel card companies, so operators may want to update their information in more than one location. Here’s how:
Locations that would like to update their amenity information can email it to MerchantSolutions@comdata.com.
Operators can email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a list of their location and amenity specifics. OPIS will produce the list and forward it to an operator for updating.
Operators can visit www.e-stop.com to view their listing. If the information needs updating, operators can call T-Chek’s Merchant Services group at (877) 767-2435 or e-mail email@example.com.
Operators can visit www.truckstopguide.com and search for their location. After reviewing the amenities, they can click on the blue “Submit corrected information” link. They can also add current specials. Randall-Reilly Publishing Group will verify the data and update it. Robert Lake, vice president and group publisher of Randall-Reilly’s Truck Stop Group, recommends locations include the name and title of the person providing the information to expedite the process.
The Trucker’s Friend
Although The Trucker’s Friend does not provide information to optimization software providers, operators can update their amenity information in that directory by calling (800) 338-6317.
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