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Holland freight company works to optimize loads

Zip Xpress owners strive to make shipping by truck leaner.

January 17, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Mike Dargis and Dina McKnight Dargis are making sure their trailers are filled to capacity as part of an effort to increase profitability and efficiency in the industry. Courtesy Zip Xpress

A truck driving down the interstate can be a drag on the environment and the economy, from the plumes of exhaust to low miles per gallon of gas.

But one West Michigan freight company is working to fight these negative impacts without taking a toll on the supply chain. Zip Xpress, along with sister company Green Transportation Inc., is making an effort to change the way the shipping industry works.

Owners Mike Dargis and Dina McKnight Dargis have a simple philosophy: Make sure trailers are filled to capacity. Their efforts started 23 years ago and have made considerable headway.

Zip Express in Holland offers freight services to most of the U.S. and western Canada, and a new California location will allow customers to also ship to the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Instead of shipping out a small order as soon as it is placed, Zip Xpress encourages customers to share space — an option that saves money and cuts down on fuel that is wasted by shipping nearly empty trailers.

“Customers wonder why they are paying to ship so much dead air along with their precious cargo,” Mike Dargis said.

He said some companies pay up to $8,000 to ship a few pallets of items inside a mostly empty trailer, making those customers less competitive in their markets.

“If we can help businesses with their profitability by fixing our shipping practice, why the heck don’t we?” Dargis said. “How does it save my drivers’ jobs to slowly bankrupt some small business, or damage the bottom line of a bigger one?”

Companies’ transportation departments are partially to blame but they also are key to the success of greener trucking policies. Dargis said most companies are OK with a transportation cost of about 8 percent of the budget, so executives shift their focus to other areas to increase efficiencies and profits.

“Too often, company owners and managers can’t crack the nut of what’s going down on the docks, so they virtually wash their hands of it and remain under-informed,” he said.

“Everyone in the organization has to believe that the owner or corner office really cares about getting the shipping department right. What’s happening out there? What are we really paying for per truckload? What questions aren’t we even asking?

“That’s how deep this has to get in order to get it right.”

Aside from the inflated cost of light loads, other factors that can be alleviated by shipping shared loads include:

  • Wasted fuel
  • Inflated driver shortage numbers from wasted driver-per-tonnage-per-mile
  • Premature road/bridge degradation
  • Wear on truck engines, tires, brakes and mechanical systems.

Dargis said it just doesn’t make sense to have a truck carry two pallets — a trailer can hold 28 — from Boston to Los Angeles.

“If firms up and down the line just raised by fractions the load-weight ratio per-mile, per-driver, there would be an overnight reduction in the employment crunch,” Dargis said. “That’s how optimistic I am that true load optimization is a major step yet to be embraced by the industry — and the benefits will be huge once it becomes the operational standard.”

Conserving public infrastructure and wear and tear on truck parts also are important parts of the equation. Trucks see many more miles put on parts by running multiple trips instead of consolidating loads. 

Dargis is a 52-year veteran of the trucking industry and doesn’t see any reason the shipping of light loads across the nation should continue — and yet it does. The shift in hauling has been a long time coming, he said.

“Many trucking companies clearly see the writing on the wall: True optimization and load consolidation is way overdue in their industry,” Dargis said. “Despite that sense of what lies ahead, they just keep on shipping light loads simply because a given customer is willing to pay a full-load price.”

The decision to run more efficiently isn’t just a business practice for Dargis.

“This isn’t smoke and mirrors. Our job isn’t (just) to be sustainable,” he said. “It’s to help others to be sustainable, as well. We’re trying to help companies grow their business and, in the end, it all equates to more Michigan jobs.”

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