Its origin is a humble one. Launched as a Knickerbocker Beer distributor, the company now known as the J.J. Taylor Companies, Inc. was founded in 1958 by John J. “Joe” Taylor, with two trucks and nine employees. Originally based in and serving Massachusetts the company grew on the back of Miller products and eventually expanded to Florida where it moved its corporate headquarters.
In 1985, the company acquired J. J. Taylor Distributing Company of Minnesota, Inc. a beer distributorship originally known as East Side Beverage. After several other acquisitions it is now the largest beer wholesaler in the state. In Florida the company also increased its footprint, purchasing several distributorships and growing its market territory. To date the more than 900 employees serve more than 12,000 retail customers in 17 Florida counties covering more than 15,000 square miles.
In awarding J.J. Taylor Companies, Inc. its Fleet of the Year award, Beverage World examined all aspects of the company’s business—not only its diverse portfolio and customer and client relationships, but also its commitment to the environment and the use of advanced technologies. Beverage World caught up with Jose E. Rivera, the corporate vice president of administration for J.J. Taylor Companies, about the distributor, its initiatives, and its vision for the future.
BEVERAGE WORLD: When it comes to your fleet, what makes you most proud?
JOSE RIVERA: We have come a long way from when I joined the company in 1998. We had fragmented fleet management by location/warehouse, different specs for trucks, tractors and trailers, as well as a completely de-centralized approach to purchasing vehicles as well as parts and services. In addition we had an aging fleet that needed upgrade as well as better decision making in terms of its components.
Since then we started the upgrade of our fleet, improved the appearance and cleanliness as well as selected the partners that will help us in having the best fleet in the business. Out of our two main facilities in Minnesota and Florida and the two satellite facilities in Florida we have over 540 pieces of equipment. We have also worked in our service [center] to have any vehicle with any minor repair back to service within 24 hours and on major repairs within three days. The latest is the addition of CNG powered tractors in Florida at our Tampa and Ft. Myers locations.
BW: How has the business evolved over the years?
RIVERA: The last 10 years have seen a big change in our industry: the consolidation of brands—MillerCoors, the explosion of SKUs, from around 250 in 1998 to over 1,700 today, the automation of picking product, the use of warehouse management systems (WMS) and the change in the fleet composition. We went from being 100 percent side load trucks and trailers, to a combination of side load, bulk trailers, combo trailers and rear-load trailers. Also, we went from stand-alone warehouses to a main distribution center and smaller satellite facilities where we do cross-docking as well as double trailers transfer...Additionally, we have gone from paper centric to technology driven for ordering, delivering, inventory control, routing and now GPS/Telematics.
BW: What would you say is the guiding philosophy of J.J. Taylor?
RIVERA: From the fleet perspective we try to have a dynamic and flexible approach and have the right equipment that can help us transport and deliver at the lowest cost possible—to have a fleet that can adapt to multiple delivery conditions, big box stores, bars and restaurants, smaller convenience stores and your mom-and-pop independents [and] be able to maintain that fleet in top condition avoiding long down time spells. [It’s also about] having the right personnel with the right skills and knowledge and provide them the best working environment that we can. In conjunction with this, we need to have the right partners and suppliers to help us with the right parts and services at the right time and cost.
BW: What do you want vendors trying to get your business to know?
RIVERA: We ask our vendors for quality, reliability and timeliness at a very competitive price. Through the years we’ve built relationships with our vendors and suppliers where ethics play a very important role. We expect a lot from our partners but at the same time we are very fair in the way we treat them.
BW: How do you utilize new technologies in your fleet?
RIVERA: We use fleet maintenance software to track our fleet maintenance. This tool helps us to identify specific areas where we need to put more attention and highlights units where we are investing more than what we should. Late in 2013 we launched the first phase of our GPS/Telematics program. Our transport tractors now have a tracking device that helps us know any issues with the route and vehicle, keeps records of hours of service (HOS) for our drivers and helps us in assuring the safety of our drivers on the road. This system will be rolled out to all our delivery units in Florida and Minnesota during 2014. We can use the data to improve our operations as well as provide assistance in the development of our drivers. Also, from the point of view of maintenance, now we have data as faults are detected and we can be proactive in our fleet maintenance instead of waiting for the regular monthly checks of the ECM.
BW: What do you hope to accomplish over the next five to 10 years?
RIVERA.: We are in the process of converting our transport and delivery fleet in Florida to compressed natural gas. We converted 43 units in Tampa as well as 10 units in Fort Myers in 2013. We built a fill station in Tampa and are in the process of doing the same in Fort Myers—should be ready by March 2014. Over the next 4 years we should complete the conversion of our 166 power units. This will have a huge impact on the emissions of our fleet and reducing our carbon footprint. We will continue with our safety initiatives by stressing the safe operation of our vehicles and using technology to help us in tracking behavior. In the long run this initiative provides benefits that reflect in better-trained employees, lower cost per mile and better maintenance and appearance of our fleet. Lastly, with the conditions in different states being so different, we are looking at specs for tractors and trailers and building a base spec that then will have a different twist for each location for those items that are very specific to cold and warm weather.