Timely deliveries are key to Gemini Coatings' success.

Gemini Coatings manufactures lacquers, primarily for use in paint products. The company distributes lacquer products to other manufacturers, such as Sherwin Williams, and directly to retail outlets, selling under its own brand. It distributes to 38 states from its headquarters in El Reno, OK, and has four other warehouse/distribution centers in Taccoa, GA; Harrisonberg, VA; Dallas; and Reno, NV.

Timely deliveries are key to Gemini's success. "From the time an order is placed, processed and prepared to our customer's specifications, our quality promise is that in three days or less we will have the shipment on its way to the customer," says Transportation Manager Gary Miller.

For many years, Gemini used for-hire carriers to move product between its manufacturing facility and warehouses - and from the warehouses to its customers (both retail and other manufacturers). There were serious problems, however. The frequency of late and even missed deliveries was increasing, along with the problem of product damage. And, Miller says, company officials were embarrassed when long-time customers would call to discuss the problems. Time passed and the problems with the trucking firms did not improve, so company management was open to alternatives.

Initially, management did not understand how a private fleet could turn things around. "They just assumed that it (the problems with the trucking companies) was just the way trucking is," Miller says. "But since day one, with the praise from our customers, our management has been extremely pleased with the change."

It was in 1998 that Steve Fibus of Rush Truck Leasing, the local PacLease franchise in Oklahoma City, sat down with Gemini management to discuss full-service leasing and the benefits of operating its own private fleet. "I worked with them for a long time, analyzing their business plans and transportation," Fibus said. "I told them that a five- to six-tractor fleet would meet their needs. They were excited and wanted to jump right in, but I cautioned that I would be doing them a disservice if I handed them a fleet without the expertise to operate it.

"Instead," he said, "I suggested that they start with just one tractor and trailer, bring on a professional who could get their new transportation division off the ground, and then slowly build their fleet."

Fibus recommended Miller, a former customer who was looking for a new challenge. Meanwhile, Fibus specified and delivered that first leased truck, making routing and operational recommendations along the way.

As Miller transitioned into the job, he started by driving the first routes in the Peterbilt 379 and 53-foot trailer - with a full graphics package - to his customers' delight. "We were surprised by how excited our customers were with the change," he said. "Having the ability to handle our own truck loads, walk into our customers' back door, and shake hands is extremely valuable. A delivery person is in a unique and invaluable position to see and understand first-hand how our company is performing. A private fleet is essential to customer service."

Gradually, as Gemini expanded its PacLease fleet to five leased 379s, an even more pleasant surprise arrived for company management - on the bottom line. Its new division - now known as Gemini Trucking - was generating a profit thanks to brokered backhauls. "Not only were they paying less and achieving higher levels of customer service, they were actually becoming a profit center," Fibus said.

However, says Miller, the fact remains that today, Gemini has "better distribution, no product damage, no late deliveries and happier customers for significantly less money than hiring a trucking company."