Hybrid Offers Ferrellgas Delivery Versatility
When Ferrellgas completed its merger with Blue Rhino Corporation in 2004, the Overland Park, KS-based company reinforced its position as one of the country’s premier propane providers. Today, the company boasts approximately 1 million residential, industrial, commercial and agricultural customers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The addition of Blue Rhino, the nation’s largest provider of propane by portable tank exchange, was a perfect complement to Ferrellgas’ thriving industrial business. While Blue Rhino “grill bottles” keep homeowners fired up for their favorite barbecue foods, thousands of big and small businesses also count on Ferrellgas propane cylinders to keep their forklifts running.
The synergy between the home and forklift exchange programs was significant enough for Ferrellgas to explore “blended” filling and delivery operations for the Blue Rhino grill bottles and the company’s 33 lb. forklift cylinders.
“Over the past several years we started blending our operations to process both forklift cylinders and Blue Rhino grill bottles under one roof, where historically they had been separate business entities,” explains Mike Abrams, Director of Ferrellgas Fleet Services. “That presented an opportunity to service both types of customers off the same truck. We’d been looking at the concept for a while when Steve Mason [Mickey’s Midwest Regional Sales Manager] approached me with an idea for a body that might allow us to blend those deliveries more seamlessly.”
The idea came to fruition as a unique 14-bay “hybrid” body with 4 full bays in the front for the propane grill bottles, and 3 partial bays in the rear for the taller 33 lb. cylinders. There are no walls separating the back bays, but a center “spine” divides the “open” space in half. The space offers both rear and side access, and the truck features a tuck-away rear lift gate for dock deliveries.
Prior to the hybrid, Ferrellgas had been using the standard beverage and forklift cylinder trucks for these applications.
The greatest benefit of the new hybrid is its versatility, says Abrams. “Our field managers now have an asset that can be used in multiple roles.” He considers the truck to be a universal platform that can be used to run grill bottles exclusively for three days straight, “and then turn around without missing a beat to run nothing but forklift cylinders for 3 consecutive days. Or on a blended route we can use it to run both Blue Rhino tanks and forklift cylinders.” In addition, the open bays in the rear section can be used for cages and racks to set up new customers and distribution locations. “We now have a single asset that can be deployed for either application, or in a blended environment, and that can also service customers from the ground or the dock.”
Ferrellgas employees who have worked with the Mickey hybrid have been impressed, according to Abrams, “and not just the drivers. It doesn’t look much different than a traditional 14-bay body until you open it up, especially the rear bays. The drivers like it because it’s very easy to work from, and the techs in the field, who load and unload it, also like the design. We’re all very excited.”
The full bays feature cargo straps and removable shelves for greater flexibility and easier loading and unloading. The open space in the back with the single spine down the center “is unique, and gives us the opportunity to work in a wide open cargo space that we lacked in a traditional body,” says Abrams. “We can use the space for racks, or to double-stack forklift cylinders, or palletize Blue Rhino grill bottles. These are all features that Steve and the Mickey engineers were integrally involved in throughout the design process, along with our field managers, who are most familiar with these assets.”
Abrams says the hybrid “is going to become the new standard model for grill bottle and blended deliveries. As with any new design, we want to tread slowly. After the prototype rolled out, we received very helpful feedback from the field in terms of design enhancements, and we worked with Mickey to incorporate those changes in the second unit,” which is now in the pipeline.
Whether the Ferrellgas shopping list calls for hybrids, 18-bay stretch trailers, used equipment or reconditioning work, one of its first calls is to Mickey. “We respect that fact that Mickey is a solid industry leader and that its bodies and trailers give us a long, reliable life,” Abrams says. “We strive to get a long life out of our assets. We take good care of them – that’s one of the tenets of our strategy – but at the same time we need assets that are designed and built to withstand the day-to-day rigors of our business. Mickey products have done that. That’s one of the reasons we’re excited about the new hybrid; it’s clearly designed with our needs in mind, and it demonstrates Mickey’s industry leadership and innovation. We value that.”
Abrams should know. For 75 years, Ferrellgas has exhibited plenty of industry leadership and innovation of its own.