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« Delivery Driver Issues – What’s a beer wholesaler to do? | Main | The Middle East, Beer Battles, and Wholesaler Consolidation...Is it time to go? »

The Market for Delivery Drivers

The response to my last piece on delivery drivers (see article below this one) was overwhelming and a few questions were raised.  Here’s a little more on the subject.

First, let’s step back and take a big picture view of the potential market for Class A CDL beer drivers.  There are a number of issues which significantly impact this market:

1.                  The position is physically demanding.  Delivering 500 units from a side loader (and handling them twice, and sometimes more) is lifting around 25,000 lbs. per day or 12.5 tons. In addition to rolling the product through whatever weather there may be, this happens every single day. How many people have the ability and desire to do this?  As a nation, the pool of people who were raised doing hard physical labor continues to shrink.  Most of us (I’ll put myself at the head of this line) are not as physically tough as our parents were, and no where near as tough as our grandparents.  This is not a moral issue; it simply is based on how we live our lives.  Therefore the pool of individuals who both can and will work this hard every single day continues to shrink – and this trend probably isn’t going to stop any time soon.  In addition, most of our competitors for these Class A delivery drivers do not demand near the physical exertion that the beer (and beverage) delivery driver position does – ours is one of the most physically demanding of all delivery positions.  This is one of the reasons I believe the straight truck/lift gate and cart system is the future for beer delivery. Use of a side-loader will only be when required.


2.                  So we start with the pool of applicants who can and will work this hard.  Then we narrow it down even more by the requirements of the CDL – they must be able and willing to drive and have the ability to pass the written test.

3.                  The pool shrinks even more because the drivers have to pass the drug test – something that sadly whacks many applicants.

4.                  Lastly, we shrink the pool even more because the drivers must have a relatively clean driving record so that our insurance company will cover them.  Again this eliminates many.

What you’re left with is the potential pool of Class A beer delivery drivers. 

But wait, we’re not done.  In addition to being one of the most physically demanding of all delivery positions, our drivers also have complete control of a rolling warehouse with product that is in high demand (in some markets there is more than a little risk to this position).  They have to check this warehouse out and in, take care of all financial and bookkeeping functions on the route, in many cases handle money, practice proper rotation (often handling the product a third time), hopefully do some merchandising, have fairly good people skills (drivers in many ways are our customer service reps), and take the heat from retailers since many of our organizational mistakes sooner or later end up in the delivery driver’s lap.  Oh, and this position generally starts very early in the day – something young workers just love.

So now add up all of that and compare it with our competition for these Class A delivery drivers.  And you want to pay on the low end of the scale?!  Perhaps my economics is a little rusty but I don’t see how this is possible – especially when overall demand far exceeds supply.

Do you fight the problem of being a training ground for Class A drivers who then leave to take other “better” jobs?  Pull back a minute and think about this from an economics viewpoint.  You get these employees for the compensation you offer because they are not yet licensed and/or trained.  With this training, licensing, and experience their market value goes up – substantially - yet do you attempt to retain them at the same compensation?  If so you end up right where you are, using your energies to build Class A drivers who then leave to work for someone else.

In the last company I co-founded (www.vericept.com), during the Internet boom we had to pay software engineers (programmers) around $125K just to get anyone to show interest.  Today I could purchase those same skills for less than $75K!  I didn’t enjoy paying this much, especially for a start-up, but it was the market value of these skills.   I could have offered $75K compensation and had no one on our software development team.  Sure tough to build a software product with no programmers.  Sure tough to deliver product without delivery drivers.

But we do have some unique arrows in our quiver.  Never underestimate the power of culture and emotion for any employee.  Being the beer guy (or gal) is still cool and is a significant feature of the job.  Make the most out of this.  Actively attempt to help the driver take personal ownership of the entire position.  Simple things like putting the driver’s name on the cab can have a profound affect.  They spend a lot of time in the cab, how can we make the experience better?  Do they have decent tools to help them do their job?  Help the driver make that route theirs.  Help the driver make those retailers theirs.  Help them take ownership.  Do your drivers feel part of a total team?  Or do they believe they are pretty much all alone?  If you want to get bitched at all the time you’ll get married (sorry about that), regardless of your position you don’t need it to be a constant at work.

The goal of good management is to have employees voluntarily, willingly, and happily do what you want them to do.  It’s a win – win.  Then you don’t have to manage them to ensure they are doing the required tasks. Rather, the employees are doing these tasks for their own purposes – which just happen to be the same as yours.  Then your management focus can be where it should be, helping your employees succeed (since their success is your success…).  Helping them grow, learn, advance and ultimately helping them enjoy their job.  Remember that all enduring, long-term relationships must be win – win.  This is not a philosophy — it’s a fact.

When you really analyze the position, the beer delivery driver position is fairly complicated and physically demanding – probably more so than the vast majority of our Class A driver competitors.  Accept this reality and design your organization accordingly.


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I am impressed, you hit this on the head. We in operations hope our co-workers in the beer biz. read and understand the difficulty we have finding good drivers.A pat on the back from the sales dept. to the driver is way under rated.

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