Joe Torrente, Director of Transportation at the NJ-based field services business at Stavola, joins us for an in-depth conversation about the challenges he faced while trying to navigate disconnected paper-based processes, a lack of safety monitoring, and a complicated range of construction, asphalt, and recycling equipment. His experience illustrates the difficult transformation emerging companies undergo as their fleet of vehicles and assets grows.
In the conversation, we talk about the underlying causes of common fleet operations inefficiencies – and how Joe has overcome them to gain back hours of time in his day, and cut costs to drive profit to the company’s bottom line.
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Podcast Episode Transcript
John Carione: Thanks so much, Joe, for joining us. We’ve got Joe Torrente, Director of Transportation for Stavola Construction. Stavola is the largest asphalt supplier in New Jersey and the company is also in the construction business with multiple job sites. They’ve got an array of construction assets and hundreds of contractors at any given time on those job sites. So it’s clearly a very complex operation, lots of moving parts, a real need for visibility, a real need to drive efficiencies and productivity, and that’s what we’d love to talk to Joe about today. So welcome, Joe. Let’s start things off real quick, if you could tell us a little bit about Stavola, your operations overall, and your role at the company.
Joe Stavola: Thanks, John. So Stavola is an asphalt company. We have a construction wing, we have multiple quarries, we have multiple plants. So basically the overall operation in terms of my job as the director of transportation is anything that moves. So that could be anywhere from 250 rental trucks a day to one of the 500 pieces of equipment we have needing to moved, all the way over to our rental trucks on the asphalt side, on the quarry side. We deliver basically anything you could imagine out of a quarry, and then we also have the 12 asphalt plants. So that’s kind of basically what I do, I like to sum it up by saying anything that moves is really what I take care of.
John Carione: Excellent. And, you know, when you think about that complexity and you’re trying to think about it from a variety of different angles like you do every day, you’ve got very diverse, very distributed, geographically, job sites out there and many different types of specialized equipment, and all of that equipment, job site to job site, you’ve got a lot of strict requirements about when that equipment can be on the road, when it’s moving between projects. Can you tell us a bit about the biggest challenges you’d say that you’re facing when it comes to asset tracking and being able to manage those resources across all those sites?
Joe Stavola: Yeah, absolutely. The biggest problem or issue I was having was inaccurate locations. When you have so much equipment, especially for rocks, I mean, I have six-to-seven low beds out there moving equipment daily, sometimes day and night. When you track equipment inaccurately especially in a small state like New Jersey where the GPS’s tend to lag, I mean, they lag and it’s showing a piece of equipment sitting on 95 still and you need it on the parkway 30 minutes away and you’re going to move a low bed over there, it’s a wasted trip. I’d like to think of moving a low bed as $500 every time you turn the key. I mean, some of the biggest problems I would say are definitely inaccurate location information, data not updating frequently enough to be reliable, that’s kind of the same thing in terms of the GPS’s lagging.
John Carione: And the accuracy is incredibly important, right?
Joe Stavola: Yeah, the accuracy is your money maker. I mean, you’ve got to know where it is, low bed wise, fuel truck wise, even our union operators wise. I mean, it’s going to touch every phase in terms of what you’re doing out there in the field.
John Carione: Yeah, absolutely. So following up on that, now that you’ve got better access to accurate, real-time information using IntelliShift for all of your vehicles and equipment, what are some of the savings you’re realizing when you think about your KPIs?
Joe Stavola: Well, not only on the fuel truck, saving time on that, and the low beds daily, I mean, you know, you look at some of the jobs we do. I’m sure a lot of people that are going to listen to this are going to be familiar with the term “mill and pave.” Mill and pave is a job you bid. I’ll give you an example: the Garden State Parkway this year for us is a $20 million job. Every night it’s going to take between 30 to 40 trucks.
Having a reliable GPS, having a GPS that you know you can trust, it’s going to save you money, because if I can cut three trucks off of that because I know where everything is and I’m able to track these guys efficiently, I mean, three trucks at $1,000 a truck a night times 250 work days in a year, you can do the math, you know what I mean? So the money is there to be saved for sure.
John Carione: Do you know, on average, how much you would think you save per supervisor per day? Are there estimates?
Joe Stavola: Oh sure. I mean, anybody in this business knows the super has his hands full with 30 different things. I mean, you’re going to save him – not only are you moving out the fuel truck, one less thing off his mind, equipment moves, now the low bed drivers know where everything is, they don’t need instruction. You know what I mean? It’s from Point A to Point B.
You’re going to save multiple hours a day with your supervisors, with your foremen. And then on my end, I had teamsters. They take care of my fuel trucks, my low beds. You start getting into the end of the week, you’re talking about close to $100 an hour. Now I’m saving 2-3 hours on fuel. Now I’m saving 2-3 hours on my low beds. Now I’m saving 2-3 hours with the supervisors.
John Carione: You go straight to the bottom line, right, because construction margins can be pretty thin so you have to track them tightly. So do you see that go right to your profit margins?
Joe Stavola: Absolutely. I mean, you have such a slim margin when you bid these jobs. I mean, every little avenge you need, you can try to get, you need to get. So definitely GPS, for us, would be right near the top.
John Carione: Got it. Now, when you think about that complexity, it does go beyond just resource tracking and job sites and equipment, but you also manage the billing and time cards for all of those drivers and operators that come in and out of your quarries to pick up material. So when you think about that process, whether it’s using paper, PDF, or Excel spreadsheets or clipboards or sticky notes, it could be anything, right, what are the challenges you had getting the job done with those paper-based processes and how did they negatively affect your goals?
Joe Stavola: Yeah. Yeah, that is an absolute nightmare. I can’t believe for nine years I actually used paper – I don’t know how I got it done. So we use the electronic time sheets, and what we do with the quarries is we have a self-designed scale house that ties right into our IntelliShift. And to understand our billing, it’s kind of complex. So during the day time, most of your work is going to be our quarry work, which is going to pay per the ton.
When you integrate both those systems, now being able to track what’s in the truck, the ticket, I can reprint tickets, everything is tied in. They’re not hourly employees, but I have a complete record of everything tied in together. You flip that over to when I rent trucks, which is one of the biggest things in terms of getting efficiencies out of those trucks. When you’re paying $85, $100, $115 an hour, you want to make sure you’re maximizing it.
And where I use the GPS for that is in the state of New Jersey, you have to pay a thing called the milling wage, so for milling I’m paying $115 an hour, for paving I’m paying $85. Well, I don’t want to pay someone $115 an hour if they’re only doing the $85. The GPS enables me then to differentiate those times and that’s what I do each morning with the billing, is I break it down, boom, $85, $115, $85, $115.
John Carione: Yep. And beyond that, even just the delays you’ll see – it must be difficult to drivers and operators to turn in their time cards and to make sure that they’re fully filled out the way you want and the technology can help you improve that process, right?
Joe Stavola: Oh yeah. I mean, just when I started out at Stravola, I had two years of back billing to undo. Chasing time sheets is a thing of the past, and I’m glad it is. You can’t rely on people to work ten hours and then worry about their time sheet getting turned in, and efficiently. With the electronic time sheets, it gives me, in a sense, all of the power, in the sense of I log them in, I log them out. It just makes – billing now, I mean, I’m done billing by 8am every morning for the night before.
I haven’t had an issue on the billing side in 18 months, I think. That was a game changer for sure. I mean, that’s definitely my favorite part of working with IntelliShift, has definitely been the electronic time sheets. I mean, time alone with paper, just to get 75% of it done, it was taking me until noon. It’s saving me…it has been a complete game changer. I mean, it’s definitely been my favorite part of working with IntelliShift for sure.
John Carione: Excellent. I’m just curious because you talk about payments, the visibility is so critical. Are there other folks that view the reports and get distributed the reports and analytics, or is it mostly just folks in your group?
Joe Stavola: I’m sorry, John, can you repeat that question?
John Carione: The analytics and the reporting for understanding what’s happening with those EBIRs, does anybody else get those reports or is it just you and your team?
Joe Stavola: Oh, absolutely, our whole contracting division uses it. A good example of that would be I just renegotiated with the Teamster Union with a new three-year deal with them. I get a daily driver report sent to me. I schedule it for 5am each morning, so right when I wake up, I can see the report from last night. On my end, that’s probably the number one thing because I’m able to go back to the union with it. I can see who’s slacking off, I can see who’s going to work and doing their job. It’s right there, plain to see. As soon as they’re off the clock, I’m seeing it.
And then as far as our contracting, we made sure to get every foreman, every supervisor, everybody who’s been here a minute, we get them a GPS log-in, because the more eyes, the more everybody knows, the easier it is out there. At night time, especially mill and pave, especially where we’re from, New Jersey, it’s chaos out there. I mean, especially you start getting to the summer time with the beach and everything, it gets hairy out there, and so the more knowledge everybody’s able to use, the better it is. I would say the biggest savor has definitely been the fact that when you tie those systems together, especially on the contracting side, we’re able to track how long it’s taking those trucks.
So our truck numbers, in the last year, if you look at two years ago compared to now, we’re nailing it. We’re saving an average of three trucks a night, which take it for what you want, but that’s $700 to $1,000 per truck per night, just by being able to track that stuff. I mean, that was the goal we set out. Some common issues you’ll see are everybody always blames the truck because there’s no one to defend them, so that’s always going to be the first thing to blame. You’re always going to blame the truck. “Oh, the trucks run slow, that’s why we didn’t make our 1,500-ton or our 2,000-ton last night.” Well, now we’re able to record it and see. Okay, well the trucks waited at the paver. The trucks waited at the point. It wasn’t our trucking issue. Alright, well, listen, if I have to put 2,000-ton down and I need 80 loads, well, I know now, I can see it takes 15 minutes per trip, I know I need 23 trips to get through the night, and maximize it. In years past, we’ve been off on that. It’s been 25, 26 trucks. Sorry to go off on that, John.
John Carione: No, that’s great. It just sounds like you just have the visibility into the data and it allows you to get at the root cause of these things to allow you to make better business decisions for the future, right?
Joe Stavola: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been working, I’ll put it that way.
John Carione: Great, great. Yeah, so let’s switch gears a little bit to talk about how the accuracy of the GPS and telematics data can help your maintenance department. So is there anything about your how maintenance team leverages that real-time data to help them do their job more effectively and more efficiently?
Joe Stavola: Yeah, absolutely. So, one, I’m not a mechanic, so take it with a grain of salt, but it does log hours for you, it does tell you when you need the oil changes. It tells you the last greasing, it tells you fuel is in there as well, so pretty much everything, at least from my eyes, that a mechanic would need, you can get to in IntelliShift, which is nice. Again, I’m not in charge of mechanics, I’m not a mechanic myself, I like to keep my hands nice and clean, but I have seen the added benefits just from speaking to our mechanics in terms of how they have used IntelliShift in terms of tracking hours, tracking fuel and tracking maintenance in general.
John Carione: Great. And so we’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about efficiencies and productivity of different employees and transparency across departments and reporting, but a topic that’s becoming more and more important it seems, it’s always been important, but it’s really safety management, and I’m excited to hear more about your plans to deploy cameras to your vehicles. Can you tell me about the types of incidents that led you to take the leap into more advanced dash cam video solutions and how it’s going to affect your safety and company financial health overall?
Joe Stavola: Yeah. So this is obviously a big one. So I guess my relationship with IntelliShift kind of started off at the safety end in the sense of I had just come to Stavola and less than a month after being here, we had a very bad accident on one of our contracting jobs. One of the rental trucks fell asleep, started to veer off the road, hit one of our crash trucks, or emulator trucks, if you want to call it that, and almost paralyzed one of our workers who was driving it. That started an immediate push. So what I did was I went to – I want to say it was 13 or 14 webinars, before COVID I used to do things in person, 13 or 14 seminars from Samsung, Verizon, IntelliShift, everybody and anybody who sold GPS’s.
What I was looking for was cameras, and the big thing was, I mean I’m not going to say numbers on here, but it was hefty. Being the company, the parent company, I should say, you’re always going to get sued in the end. And we didn’t have any cameras out there, it was almost like getting caught with our pants down. I ended up going with IntelliShift based off of my conversations with them and that’s why I just had today, I had 12 cameras installed. Basically, it’s a safety issue. You’re going to get the immediate bonus of insurance, which is nice, but it’s always going to be secondary to safety. Having the two-way cameras, one, it’s going to alleviate – I probably get five-to-six claims a week about cracked windshields, accidents that people say our trucks were in that most of the time they weren’t.
On the bigger picture obviously, if I would have had a camera on that crash truck that night, it would have saved us probably a couple million bucks. I’m not going to make that mistake again. Having cameras, I assume it’s going to become common practice in this business sooner than later if it already hasn’t. I think I’m actually playing a little catch-up with it.
John Carione: And as far as your drivers and getting them onboard, obviously there’s the concept of big brother and having folks watch you. Is there anything you’re doing – we’ve heard of other fleets where the drivers, after they have the camera, they say “I’m not going to work without my camera because it can be my defense mechanism if someone runs into me or if there’s a collision that’s not my fault,” which is often the case. I’m just wondering if you’re hearing that or if you think it’ll be a bit of a process for your team.
Joe Stavola: No, I fully expect everyone to jump right on board because, you know, it saves your job. A similar story happened, I was just speaking with one of our quarry jobs. He was going to be fired for a car accident, rear-ending someone, and luckily he had his own camera on the pick-up truck and it saved his job. I mean, as far as my teamsters, I fully expect them to jump right in about it just because it protects the driver. I mean, that’s all it’s doing. If you go to work and do the right thing, you have nothing to worry about. So I think they are going to be very pleased with it. It’s an extra layer of protection for them as well.
John Carione: Right. And when you think about insurance, is it just that the insurance companies feel like they’re just going to get more accurate information about the risk of your company and your fleet so that you can get the right policy that makes sense for you? Do you think you’ll see insurance premiums get more competitive or even reduce your costs there over time?
Joe Stavola: It’s going to reduce my costs, and that’s one of the benefits of the cameras on my end, is when you have so much – I mean, by the end of this year, I’ll have about 1,000 pieces on that insurance policy. You know what I mean? So even if I could save 1% of that, it’s going to be a hefty, hefty, hefty bill to save. So it definitely lowers your insurance premiums. I know a lot of the rentals that I speak with that run for me every day, guys that have invested in cameras for themselves, I know speaking to them that it has lowered their insurance, and I’m actually pretty excited about what it’s going to do to my insurance bill being about 500 times bigger than they are. I mean, even if I could get 1%, it’s going to be a pretty noticeable amount.
John Carione: Yeah, fair enough. Well, I really enjoyed having you today on this webinar. It’s really great to talk about efficiency and cost savings and safety. Just sort of one final question, when you think a couple, even two, three years out, what do you think is the next frontier of leveraging technology, analytics, AI? Is there anything specific that you’re excited about even beyond cameras coming down the pipe here? Are there challenges that you really think you’re going to need to tackle in the next few years?
Joe Stavola: Well, for me, it’s going to be, you know, we have New Jersey – we’re pretty much blanketed over the state of New Jersey. Now we’re starting to buy quarries in Pennsylvania, we’re looking in New York, we’re looking in Delaware, we’ve already ventured down as far as North Carolina and Florida. So for me, the biggest thing I would say is being able to tie everything in with the different rules of each state. In terms of the trucking side and transportation side, being able to tie everything into the one system.
I am confident about it because we’re about to tie it in with the scale house, with the billing, with the GPS. And so for me, that’s going to definitely be the biggest challenge knocking on my door, is alright, how do you run a quarry from 150 miles away? How do you run a quarry from 800 miles away? So it’s going to be tying everything in, especially now that we’re expanding out of New Jersey. That’s definitely going to be the biggest challenge and the biggest thing I look forward to to be honest with you, in terms of tying everything together.
John Carione: I think what I heard there is as you move into other jurisdictions, there could be different regulations or business rules and policies that you need to update across different divisions, and being able to update those rules easily and allow it to automate across your different teams and locations is just a problem that you’re looking to solve, right?
Joe Stavola: Yeah. I mean, just look at your neighbors in Pennsylvania. Their gross weight rating is 73, 2,080. Over here on Jersey, obviously we’re at the 80,000. In New York, most of the time you want to run flow boys. I don’t own any flow boys right now. Jersey and Pennsylvania are going to be tri-axles. Delaware, I don’t even know what it is. It also brings in axle-weight distribution, which is a big one. You have a state one, you have a federal one, and you have it different in each city, state. So in Jersey it’s 24,400, but the federal law is 20,000. So it’s just a lot to tie into one thing, but luckily I’ll have time. It’s going to be a challenge, but I look forward to it for sure.
John Carione: Yeah, the more data, the more complexity, the more chance there is to have errors and omissions in that data and you’re out of compliance and there’s problems from that, so I totally understand. Thanks so much for joining us today. It was great to get your perspective on everything you’re doing with IntelliShift and we really enjoy the partnership and look forward to working with you for years to come, so thanks again for your time, Joe.
Joe Stavola: Thank you, John.
John Carione: You’ve got it.