Local business FleetNet America setting the pace

Press Release – By Gaston Gazette Business Editor

CHERRYVILLE – Some people might have trouble envisioning this small town in the northwest corner of Gaston County as a national hub for a company that’s known coast to coast. But thanks to FleetNet America Inc., that’s just what it is.

“We’re the AAA for trucks,” was how Oren Summer recently summarized FleetNet America.

He started the operation as Carolina Breakdown Service Inc. in 1993. At the time, it was part of Carolina Freight Carriers, the trucking company that connected this community with the world of commerce in more ways than one. Carolina Freight was sold to Arkansas Best Corp. (Nasdaq: ABFS) in the mid-1990s, which meant closing Carolina Freight’s terminal and offices. By that time, Carolina Breakdown had become FleetNet America, and it remained a subsidiary of Arkansas Best.

Currently, about 60 people work at FleetNet America. About half of them are involved in the call center, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Summer, their leader, was recently recognized by the trade magazine Commercial Carrier Journal with its 2005 Technology and Maintenance Career Leadership Award. In its 29th year, the award acknowledges a career of dedication to professionalism and excellence in vehicle maintenance management. It recognizes personal and professional integrity, along with the recipient’s reputation within the maintenance industry. Pleased as he might be with this, Summer would rather talk about what the company does and how it does it. It all starts when a trucker breaks down somewhere in the continental United States or Canada, somewhere between Alaska and the Florida Keys.

Based on information from the driver, the call center selects one of 60,000 companies that will provide some sort of repair or towing service. Fleet-Net’s call coordinators average more than 20 years of truck maintenance and repair experience. Its ability to link with customers through the most modern means available has been a major factor in success, according to Summer. “We tout ourselves as the technology leader in this industry,” he said. “We communicate by satellite and electronically by a proprietary system. We have an interface product through which we become connected to our customers’ operational systems. “That means in real time we feed their system with the information in terms of what is going on,” he added. “The most important part is communication – keeping the customer notified so he can communicate to his customer the status of what’s being shipped.”

Old Dominion Freight Lines Inc. of Thomasville has en exclusive agreement with Fleet-Net America that links the two with a “virtual screen.” On the Old Dominion end, a computer can update information within three minutes regarding any shipment. “We can walk by any time and see what’s happening anywhere in the country,” said Tom Newby, Old Dominion’s director of field maintenance. “To our operations, it’s one of the most important things after that truck is dispatched and gone.” Before hooking up with FleetNet America, Old Dominion handled all its breakdown calls through two telephones in one small location in Greensboro. With an average of 400 calls a month, its system became “overwhelmed,” according to Newby.

“We have guaranteed services, which means if it’s not there, it’s free,” Newby said. “And we don’t use satellite tracking, because we’re an LTL (less than a full load company). The way we were doing things, a towing company we’d be using only that one time could hold our equipment hostage until it received payment from us. “Now, we know when it’s getting fixed and when it’s gone,” he added. “We’ve had a lot of savings in the back office, because FleetNet takes care of things like paperwork and the various sorts of checks used to pay invoices.” Robert Young, CEO of Arkansas Best, mentioned that all the statistics compiled on customers’ trucks can help with preventive maintenance and even what to choose when buying something new.

“Everything’s in writing and that tends to make it much more effective,” Young said. “A lot of credit goes to Oren Summer on that. Oren’s very savvy – he understands the value and he understands the possibilities and he has created some incredibly good technology.” But Summer hasn’t come this far to start sitting still. “The thing on my plate right now is something that via satellite would connect to the black box that monitors the engine,” he said. “We’d know before the driver finds out that something is wrong. It’s exciting to be working on something like this. “We’ve got somebody in training every day here,” he added. “We’re constantly bringing people into the training department because it’s such a vital part of what we do. We have people who have been here two months to 10 years and everything in between.”