If you’ve had a Bay Area commute at any point in the last 75 years, the name “Yandell” might ring a bell. Not sure why? Picture the name in green cursive, splayed across the side of a semi-truck. Yes, Yandell Truckaway, Inc. is the company whose fleet of trucks has kept us company on the highways and helped supply many businesses, both local and farther flung, for generations. What you may not know is that Yandell’s headquarters is right here, in the Benicia Industrial Park. We sat down with Yandell’s VP, Alicia Yandell Hamilton, to learn more about this company whose operations have become an integral part of the Bay Area business community.
BM: Please begin by telling us a little about the background of Yandell Truckaway, Inc.
AYH: We are family owned and operated. Our company was founded in 1945 by my grandparents, Jack and Dorothy Yandell. My grandfather was a heavy-duty truck driver – one of the drivers who took the dirt out of the Caldecott tunnel and brought it to what’s now Treasure Island. It was my grandmother’s idea to start the company. Our first office was right down the street from the Owens-Illinois Glass plant, so we were hired to bring empty glass from Oakland up to Napa Valley for various wineries, which established our relationship with the wine industry. At the same time, Martinelli’s Apple Juice was operating in Salinas, so since 1945 we’ve been the sole provider for Marinelli’s Apple Juice in the Salinas/Watsonville area.
In the 1950s, we got into the warehousing industry. My dad says it’s like a salt and pepper operation: when you have a warehouse, you need trucks to bring products in and ship goods out. Our big boon for the warehouse industry came in the ‘80s and ‘90s with the empty glass repacking business. This was around when we began establishing warehouses in Benicia’s Industrial Park and we’ve been present here ever since. Historically, our trucking operations were domiciled in Oakland, San Leandro, and Pleasant Hill. When more space opened up in Benicia’s Industrial Park in 2016, we realized it was the perfect opportunity to combine our trucking and warehouse operations under one roof for the first time in the company’s history.
We are very committed to Benicia. From a logistical standpoint, it’s our sweet spot. You can get to the port of Oakland, I-5, I-80, the Central Valley, Napa Valley, etc., all from Benicia. There’s also quite a talent pool that we can draw from in this area.
BM: What do you have planned for the future of the company?
AYH: As we move into the 3rd generation of this company, we’re really pushing to be on the forefront of technology. We don’t want to just be known as a “mom and pop” shop, but instead to compete with the bigger companies. We want to do that by reaffirming our focus on technology; pushing the tech platforms we’re currently using, ensuring that our clients are getting real time data. This is a time when everyone is used to the Amazon[.com] model when it comes to ordering and receiving, and that’s what we’re looking at moving toward, from an operational standpoint.
We’ve taken on an additional 100,000sq.ft. in the Industrial Park and have outgrown our flagship location. Currently we have four warehouses in Benicia, one in Fairfield, we have a truckyard in Stockton, and we have a facility in the Salinas/Watsonville area that exclusively services Martinelli’s Apple Juice. We are frequently asked if we have plans to expand out-of-state, and while this isn’t off the table, it would take the right partnership with an existing company to make it worthwhile. Instead, we are extending operations here, in Benicia. We feel that this geographic location has a lot to offer.
The predominant industry we service is the wine industry – 50-60% of what we do is wine-related. But we’re also focused on sustainability. We were the first private fleet in the US to make a commitment to Tesla for the Tesla semi-truck. To that end, we’ve been working with Tesla and communicating with the City of Benicia to determine how to power the trucks. We’ve also implemented a 1:2 ratio on the outbound of wine products. For every load of empty wine bottles brought in, we send out two loads of wine. This creates a more sustainable circle of product transportation. We also have the capability of storing wine in our refrigerated warehouses, which assists shippers who might be consolidating distributions before hitting the road to Texas, Missouri, etc.
BM: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected business?
AYH: Under normal circumstances, I work from home two days per week so that I can help balance my kids’ schedules and spend more time with them. But now, with this whole COVID thing, I actually come into work more now than I did before since we’ve had to shift to more of a skeleton crew. I’ve actually been loving spending more time at the office and being more present.
I’ve talked to some of our wine clients and they’ve been seen a boom in sales of value wines, but a decline in sales of higher dollar bottles. So, we’ve seen a shift in volume of business from higher end wineries to those that produce more value product. In light of that we are doing well so far, but when it comes to long-term fallout… I just wish I had a crystal ball. One of the customers we work with is Away Suitcases, who abruptly closed all of their retail. So, we’re just sitting on product, wondering when it’s going to move. Interestingly, we’ve heard from a lot of food manufacturers who are looking for warehouse space. So, it’s making us reflect on our customers and partners and try to determine whether they would be considered “essential” in the event that, God forbid, something like this happens again.
Before all of this happened, truckers and trucking companies had a terrible reputation, especially when it comes to environmental impact. But interestingly, through this horrible situation, we’ve kind of come out as knights in shining armor. People are realizing how essential this industry is in getting their food to grocery stores, delivering their online orders, etc. So, that’s been the one sort of positive thing for us in this situation.
BM: What can you say about the legacy of Yandell?
AYH: We have a powerful story to tell. People like that we’re family owned and operated. We’re reaching the point (the third generation) when a lot of other multigenerational businesses either sell or close up shop, but we’re committed. I always tell my kids “hey, when you reach 8th grade, you’re going to be sweeping the warehouse floors, because that’s what we did, and that’s your legacy.” I’m not forcing my kids into the family business, but I definitely think involving them early will give them a strong work ethic, like it did for me.