Windmill Farms Nurseries, an hour’s drive due east of Sarasota, is one of the largest commercial flower and plant suppliers in Florida. For a family-owned business that ships its product to home-improvement stores throughout the southeastern U.S., reliable–and affordable–fleet management is critical. But over the years, Windmill found it difficult to manage its core business while also maintaining what amounted to a transportation network.
Enter Ryder, which in 2011 began providing Windmill with trucks, drivers, and maintenance personnel at both peak and off-peak levels throughout the year. For Eric Cord, the president of Windmill Farms, the relationship with Ryder has meant not only a heightened ability to focus on the nursery’s true calling–growing flowers and other plants for market–but has brought unforeseen cost savings, too.
“Ryder suggested that we upgrade our trucks, for example,” Cord notes, “which, ultimately, will save us on fuel costs.” When a company’s drivers travel 800,000 miles a year, an efficiency gain of even a mile or two per gallon looms very large, indeed.
Cord, and Ryder logistics manager John Sandusky recently spoke about the ways in which a logistics company of Ryder’s experience and scope can help small and medium-sized businesses thrive in unexpected ways.
Eric, in the four years you’ve been partnering with Ryder, was there a specific moment when you realized that this relationship provided Windmill with exactly what Ryder had promised it would?
Eric Cord: There was. Not long ago, I had a customer ask me to take on a new market. Before we partnered with Ryder, we would have faced real concerns about how to even deliver our product to that market. But this time, I didn’t hesitate to say yes, because I knew we had Ryder’s assets to help out on the freight side. A few years ago, we would have had to really look at how much it would cost to add more equipment, perhaps hire more drivers, all of these things we’d need to expand our reach. Being able to say yes, with confidence, to the question of tackling a new market–that’s a big deal for us.
How difficult was it to give up control of that core portion of your business–the transporting of your goods–to an outside enterprise?
Eric Cord: To be honest, at the start, we didn’t really know what Ryder was capable of. Our business has been built over the years on our ability to deliver product in a timely manner, and a big concern was that we didn’t want to lose that momentum. But after Ryder came in, and we saw what they were able to do–with their own equipment, their own drivers, their network, everything–it became very clear that contracting out that central aspect of our business was certainly the right choice. I’m glad we did it.
John, as a manager at Ryder, what’s the single most transformative innovation you’ve seen during your time in the shipping and logistics business–especially as it relates to the needs of a company like Windmill?
John Sandusky:It may come as a surprise, but it involves safety, which is a sector where Ryder’s long been an innovator. We’ve taken an industry that really looked at safety as something that was almost an afterthought and we’ve ingrained it into the fabric of our culture. In fact, in pretty much every metric of safety performance, we lead the industry. We use video recorders both in the tractor and outside of it, for example, so if there’s an accident we can see exactly how it occurred, and whether it is our driver’s fault or somebody else’s fault. Knowing they’re going to work for a safety-first company allows us to attract and retain the best drivers. That consistency and quality in our drivers has a direct impact on the sort of service we provide to partners like Windmill.
Eric, how central to Windmill’s mission is sustainability–alternative fuels, recycling, energy-efficient trucks–and how has Ryder been able to help in that regard?
Eric Cord: Ryder has taken up the burden on the trucking side–focusing on fuel efficiency across the entire fleet, for example–which has freed us up to concentrate on sustainability and renewable energy sources for the farm itself. Implementing a water-collection system so we can recycle and reuse water in a variety of ways, scouting for bugs before we actually spray insecticides, recycling all of our plastics and all of our cardboard and, of course, all of our plant trays–there are a whole lot of things we’re doing to avoid wasting both resources and money.
But we’re also involved in larger projects, like looking into building specialized trailers. We’ve been talking about it with Ryder–the idea of designing trucks that are, in effect, shaped for our racks. We figure that sort of redesign alone, which makes far more efficient use of space and fuel, could increase each load by as much as 12 percent. That’s the sort of thing where doing well goes hand in hand with doing the right thing.