Small delivery "reefer vans" making inroads in seafood distribution

Published on
October 12, 2016

Gary Graves’ business, Keys Fisheries, is quickly gaining a following around its home state.

But with growing success came a logistical problem: how could the processor and distributor of lobster and stone crab, based in Marathon, Florida, in the state’s southern tip, quickly and efficiently make deliveries to all of its new customers across the state?

Many of these first-time orders are small, test orders, and are coming from restaurants or retailers located in urban locations in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville. After much thinking, Graves said he decided to buy a Ford Transit 350 extended-height freezer truck.

“This truck can get into tight spaces, like restaurants in the middle of cities. You can get it anywhere you can take a car,” he said. “If I got a bigger truck, I would have been restricted in how I could make deliveries.”

Graves said he wants the focus of his job – and his company – to be on seafood and not the intricacies of delivery driving. So his goal with the small truck is to build up a loyal customer base and then pass off distribution onto someone else, he said.

“The whole idea of the small vehicle is that we don’t want to manage a whole fleet of trucks or the complication of hiring and managing a bunch of drivers,” Graves said. “We want to establish some good business and then find other ways to distribute, working with other people already driving the route if possible.”

Stephen Mullin, the vice president of marketing for Bush Specialty Vehicles, which sold Graves his van, said the popularity of “reefer vans” like the one Graves purchased is one the rise.

“The things that can be done with these vehicles, such as temperature control, isolation of product – it’s hot-shot stuff that you can’t do with larger trucks,” Mullin said. “People in the seafood business see what these trucks can do and their eyes light up.”

Bush Specialty Vehicles, based in Wilmington, Ohio sells a variety of models of reefer vans, but the Ford Transit has been the most popular with seafood purveyors due to its extended length and high roof, which allows the stacking of dual pallets. It can also be customized with side doors and rear swinging doors and Mullin praised the ThermoKing refrigeration units his company uses in its seafood-customized build-outs for their effectiveness and temperature accuracy in both refrigeration and freezing.

“The system is connected to the engine, but we can put in an auxiliary plug for use if you’re not driving,” he said.

Graves, for his part, said his new van has been great for business, especially since he got it wrapped in a lime green that advertises his business and its wares.

“Everything about the vehicle has been great. We’re even getting phone calls from people wanting to buy seafood out of the truck when they see it out on the road,” Graves said. “It has worked out very well.”

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