When Jeb Lopez got a two-week contract to deliver auto parts to supply his uncle’s dealership, he noticed that the other delivery services didn’t represent the professional image of the dealership — and a new business was born.
“I noticed that the independent contractors delivering parts were unprofessional and were not true ambassadors of car dealerships that had strong automotive brands,” said Lopez, mentioning those drivers’ sloppy dress and tardy deliveries. “We wanted to model ourselves as the UPS for automotive parts delivery for dealerships. We are an extension of the dealership in terms of the employees.”
Providing express courier delivery service to auto dealerships in the D.C. metro area, Wheelz Up achieves this goal through project management, efficient logistics and proper driver screening and training.
Starting in 2010 with one Ford Econoline van, Lopez’s minority-owned business has grown to a fleet of 45 cargo vans. “As a Pilipino-American business owner, I applied for the SwaM (small, women-owned and minority-owned business) certification in Virginia,” says Lopez. “I wanted to get the certification because the company’s goal is to also obtain government delivery contracts.”
Lopez switched from the Ford Econoline to Nissan NVs in 2012. “They had a larger load capacity and were easy to maintain; we liked the ladder frame. Plus, they have held up very well in small fender-benders and protected our drivers in one major accident.”
When the Ford Transit cargo vans were available this past summer, Lopez immediately added seven Transit 250s. “We wanted to diversify our fleet,” says Lopez.
With an average 8% growth rate per year, the company continues to add more vans to its fleet through commercial accounts at Ford and Nissan. “The first year, we grew from one to eight vans and then doubled the next year,” says Lopez.
Instead of pickups, using the more spacious cargo vans minimizes deliveries, but the vans still put on an average of 800 to 1,200 miles per week. In service Monday through Saturday, the vans cover the areas of Virginia, Maryland and D.C. — even as far as Delaware and New Jersey on occasions. According to Lopez, 80% of the vans clock in at 30,000 miles per year.
In an innovative logistics tactic, the cargo vans are parked overnight at the dealership client locations — drivers consistently deliver to the same dealers. Because of the dispersed fleet, Lopez sends two fleet managers to conduct site visits at the dealership. “They make sure that the clients are happy with the service. They inspect the vans and the drivers, and they also help with dispatching out from that site.
Wheelz Up has also implemented a GPS device in each van, which tracks the drivers in real-time as well as helps in routing and mapping and maintenance monitoring.
“Every 90 days, we catch up with each driver and go over their performance — what they are doing well and what they need to improve on,” says Lopez.
Featuring white and silver vans, each vehicle is wrapped with the company branding. According to Lopez, white and silver were the top choices since they are easier to keep clean.
Inspired by the “Top Gear” TV show, Lopez developed Wheelz Up’s logo with an image of a gear wheel. “Wheelz Up is a play on words. ‘Wheels Up’ was used in the military to refer to the time an operation begins. Every time we are in operation, we go. And ‘wheels’ refers to the car parts of the business.”