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More on delivery and drivers

I’ve had many discussions with wholesalers over the past few weeks regarding delivery drivers, method of delivery, and compensation.  Let’s look at those is reverse order.

Compensation.  As I have stated in the past, in many cases you simply need to pay your drivers more.  Theirs is one of the most demanding of all Class A delivery driver positions yet many want to pay at the low end of the scale.  I don’t see how this works.  If you’re going to pay more you have one of two options – either have the increased payroll come from your bottom-line, or look at methods to re-organize your company to find the necessary savings to cover this increased cost.  I always recommend the second.  Some are looking at giving drivers more time off – this is fine but remember this is simply another method of effectively increasing their pay.  It might be the right choice but I’d make certain my drivers simply wouldn’t like the additional pay (or some combination of both).  I talked to one wholesaler who is considering going to a 4 days on/ 4 days off delivery driver schedule.  Again this is fine (I don’t claim to know your market and people better than you) but in effect it is over a 30% pay raise!  Most drivers I know – and I know more than a few – would rather have the money.  And of course going to a 4 on/4 off also greatly increases the number of Class A delivery drivers your organization requires and all the associated costs of additional people.  I just can’t get behind this concept – I see much better methods to achieve the same goals.

Method of delivery – this needs to be determined by your marketplace.  The goal is to maximize the efficiency of all warehousing and delivery assets – this includes the driver.  Ideally you want to handle the product as few times as is possible – handling the product more does nothing for anyone; it is simply a waste of resources.  Also, your product mix impacts this.  An A-B house which has the bulk of its sales in a few brands and few packages is very different from a Coors/Miller/multi-brand house which might be putting literally hundreds of SKUs on every delivery vehicle.

I’m asked all the time for the “right” way.  My standard response (and my response to almost all questions of this nature) is to BUILD IT ON PAPER AND SEE.  Look at all the various methods for servicing your account base, including warehousing, loading, every possible delivery method, every possible sales method, how merchandising fits in each and compare them.  If we do this we will need X of these and Y of those at this cost.  If we do that we will need Z of these and Q of those, etc.  Build and analyze.  What is the cost of each?  What are the different strengths and weaknesses of each design?  Perhaps you take a little of this and a little of that and combine.  How does that compare with the present?  Are the savings and/or increased bang for the buck worth the effort?  Then and only then can you decide the direction to take.  I am constantly amazed at how many wholesalers make up their minds, “we going to do it this way” without the analysis on the front end.  I don’t magically know what’s “right”, let’s build it and see.  Working with your management team, this process builds the best organizations for today and tomorrow.

A side loader loaded for the route may be the best method for the A-B house, but far from ideal for the Coors/Miller/multi-brand wholesaler.  A side loader loaded by the order can greatly increase driver productivity since they don’t have to work the trailer to find the product, but of course you have to have some place to put each order (and it increases warehouse loading time, but generally warehouse time is less expensive and less precious than driver time).  The loading of trailers is a common complaint from drivers.  Since most wholesalers are pre-sell, the institutional knowledge of how to load a trailer for ease of work out on the route has been lost.  In a driver-sell environment the driver sales-rep told the warehouse how to load the trailer – they knew their routes and it was their back that was working the truck. With pre-sell this guidance is gone, and few warehouse loaders or supervisors have ever worked a truck out on the route.  They load it in two ways – what’s easiest for them and (hopefully) ease of counting, what else would you expect them to do?

Of course this can make working the truck out on the route a nightmare; one day it’s loaded like this, the next like that, this is buried, etc.  For those A-B houses where the bulk of their routes are still driver-sell, keep this in mind if and when you go to a pre-sell system. If possible you don’t want to lose this institutional knowledge. For all those pre-sell houses, very few of your delivery drivers have ever directed the loading of their trucks – and they weren’t magically born with this knowledge.  A little planning and thought here can help minimize many delivery driver complaints and increase driver efficiency as they work their route. 

Bulk delivery (pallet delivery) is almost always extremely efficient, but of course you must have retailers with docks.  Many are going to a cart system with straight trucks and lift gates.  Of course your account base must allow for cart delivery – both in the account’s exterior and interior environments.  A cart lends little when the driver can’t get it into the account and has to re-handle the product.  In the right world it can greatly increase driver efficiency and ease the work-load.  But the dang carts cost a lot and lift gates have a tendency to break – and they’re not cheap.  There is no one right answer.  Build and analyze all options.  And don’t think everything has to be the same – there is no reason a wholesalers can’t have some driver-sell, some bulk, some cart, and some side loaders – some loaded by the route and some by the invoice.  Which mix is the best with your varied account base and your product mix?  Analyze and see.

Delivery Drivers -

Delivering product (both package and draught) is a young person’s game.  No matter how you slice it, it is generally a very physically demanding position.  I don’t believe it is a wise decision from either a moral or business perspective to simply work your drivers until they break.  You may have lots of drivers but only a handful of supervisory positions so all of them can’t work their way higher in your organization.  Coke and Pepsi used to have a 5 year “up or out” policy (they probably still do but don’t broadcast it as much).  So what to do?

I think we need to re-think our approach to the entire position, from locating and hiring to “up or out”.  First, finding and hiring.  Is there a local community college or tech college in your area?  Talk to them about starting a Class A CDL program – no one with a Class A will ever be out of work for many, many years to come and the pay is great.  Help them fund it.  Perhaps have your people help teach it.  Offer discounted tuition to those who commit to coming to work for you for a period of years.  Talk to your beer/beverage competitors, perhaps they’ll also commit.  It’s a win-win situation; you can do good things while helping yourself.  If you do it, go big for PR. 

Training your own.  Lots of wholesalers do this then complain when the drivers leave them.  Give them signing bonuses that commit them to staying with you for a certain amount of time.  Sure 5% are going to screw you – so what?  The other 95% aren’t.  For those who do, send an aggressive bill collector after them – it takes almost none of your time and sends a message to your employees that you expect them to live up to their commitments. 

Look at how you deliver product.  Are there methods where you can help lesson the physical demands placed on drivers (bulk, cart systems, etc.)  This shouldn’t be the over-riding factor in determining delivery methods but it must be factor in the mix.

As your drivers age, at some point in time most are going to have to go some place else.  Accept this.  Plan for it.  Help your delivery drivers move on – expand your career path thinking to beyond your company.  Instead of viewing the other businesses that need Class A drivers as competitors, make them partners.  Form an informal partnership with a pool of them so that when your drivers are ready to move to other less physically demanding positions, your partners are waiting for them.  This allows your drivers to look at all their options and choose the one that is best for them.  Is over-the-road where they want to go?  It does no good for over-the-road companies to hire drivers only to have them quit in a month or so because they don’t like the life style.  Have a try it before your buy it plan.  The driver can go on the road for a month and test the water, knowing if it doesn’t work out they can always come back to you until they find something more to their liking (perhaps the over-the-road people even compensate you for this).  Every body wins – the driver, you, and the over-the-road company.

Or for those drivers who have supervisory potential but you just don’t have the positions for them; you can help them take a step up.  Again a win – win.  The new company gets a trained Class A driver who is ready for management and you help an employee take a big step in their lives.  The positives you can gain by these actions go on for years.  The word spreads to the new comers too; you become the company that people want to work for.  Again an excellent opportunity for PR.

Your partners commit to stop attempting to steal your drivers and they gain an on-going stream of trained, quality drivers coming their way.  The opportunities for everyone are tremendous – you simply have to expand your vision.  You win, your drivers win, and your partners win. 

The Class A CDL changed the landscape.  Don’t just react to the present, work so that the future that comes is the one you desire.


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