All too often, I find fleet managers who are reluctant to talk about even the most basic details of their operations, generally because they’re afraid they might “give away” an advantage to their competitors. On the flip side, I’ve found that many of the best fleet operators in the beverage industry also are the most willing to share not only the details that have made them successful today, but also their plans for staying ahead of the game in the future.

The old adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” can be just as applicable to knowledge as it is to prosperity. Even after nearly a half-century around trucks, it’s pretty rare that I don’t learn something new when I interview a fleet manager, and it’s almost equally as rare that I can’t offer at least one solution to a problem that the manager is experiencing.

Innovative solutions are just as likely to come from a single-location mom-and-pop distributor with a few dozen trucks as they are to come from a global mega-bottler with tens of thousands of trucks spread across a continent. Even though the mega-bottler might have the best possible talent among their fleet leadership, they are no more immune to problems with elusive solutions than the rookies at a start-up in a niche product segment.

Obviously, the pages of the distribution column here in Beverage Industry are a great place to share your knowledge and find innovative solutions, but other opportunities also are available. Many industry events offer the opportunity to participate in panel discussions and seminars, while new telemeeting technology offers a nearly face-to-face experience in a webinar format without ever leaving your office.

As fleets of all types venture into the uncharted territory of alternative fuels, the Clean Cities coalitions organized by the U.S. Department of Energy provide a great forum for sharing alternative-fuel knowledge on a local basis. The lack of a similar program in Canada led one beverage distributor to join with local fleet operators from other industries and with a regional government council to create its own “clean fleet” organization with a mission to first establish a hybrid grant program and eventually evolve into a forum for sharing best practices.

Emphasizing the two-way nature of information sharing, Bill Osteen of Tucson-based Golden Eagle Distributors relates his experience during the company’s move to compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel, saying: “During the research portion of switching to CNG, we visited several other beverage distributors across the country who shared their alternative fuel projects with us. Now that we’ve chosen CNG, I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to share the knowledge I gained with other fleet operators.” BI

Trucking veteran Tom Kelley steps into distribution columnist role at Beverage Industry


As always, the new year brings new opportunities, and the distribution column here at Beverage Industry is no exception. As my good friend David Kolman steps out of the driver’s seat, there are some pretty big shoes to fill as I take over his role here in these pages. Like David, I have a wide range of industry contacts and experience to help guide my reporting here, but I hope I also can rely on many of you to guide my reporting by expanding my knowledge of your operations and by sharing your needs for the information and resources you want brought to these pages.

As a third-generation truck operator and a second-generation trucking journalist, I didn’t just grow up in the truck business; it was virtually a genetic predisposition. Between organizing my father’s library and keeping truck sales data books updated, I had a pretty good handle on fifth wheels and tandem axles by the time my classmates were just graduating from kiddie bikes to their first 10-speed bicycles.

Later, splitting my education between automotive technology and electronics proved fortuitous as the auto/truck manufacturers went “all in” with electronic control systems, and publishers of repair information needed communicators who could operate in the world of chips and circuits just as capably as in the world of nuts and bolts. Not just a book-learner, I also gained hands-on experience as a mechanic, driver, manager and fleet owner.

After more than a decade managing fleets, I began sharing what I had learned from books and the real world in dozens of vertical and mass-market truck-related publications. For nearly two decades now, the journalism phase of my career has allowed me to learn from and share knowledge with drivers, fleet managers and a diverse audience of other transportation professionals.

For the last few of those years, I’ve had a great opportunity to learn about the unique needs of beverage fleet operations from many of the top executives and fleet managers in the industry. I hope to bring that knowledge to these pages, and I hope to continue learning from each of you. BI