Eliminating Delivery Bottlenecks

Powell Slaughter - Furniture Today, November 28, 2017 - HIGH POINT — A shortage of drivers and stricter adherence to the hours they can work through implementation of electronic logging devices have specialized furniture carriers operating at or beyond capacity.

Retailers might not like hearing it, but those who consistently delay LTL drivers on their receiving docks could find themselves relying on commodity carriers less skilled in handling furniture. There’s enough demand out there for specialty truckers’ services that they’re getting to a point where they can be choosier about the stores they serve.

The carriers themselves would rather not see that happen.

Murrow’s Transfer began sending out cards with its drivers to educate retailers’ receiving operations about ELDs and their impact on hours of service. The company also is emailing retailers directly to inform them of the restraints it’s facing now.

When it comes to retailers who don’t accommodate deliveries, Steve Ennis, vice president of sales and marketing, said Murrow’s will start with a soft approach.

“If ‘ABC Retailer’ is constantly holding us up, we’ll pick up the phone and let them know they can’t hold up our driver three hours for 20 pieces of furniture. We don’t want to have to roll out a detention charge.”

Ennis added that “geo-fencing” technology set for installation next year will allow Murrow’s to get exact information on where drivers are getting held up.

Brooks-DeHart Furniture Xpress began training personnel on handling the impact of ELDs on hours-of-service regulations two years ago, and that education comes into play at the point of delivery.

“We have really good drivers who know how to be a ‘stick handler,’” said Co-owner Anthony Brooks, referring to their ability to help speed delivery by unloading goods themselves in a pinch. “They know if you have 15 or 20 deliveries a day, you can’t let two sofas hold you up for two hours if no one’s there to unload.”

Sunbelt Xpress will look to build more business with retailers willing to accommodate the new environment for specialty carriers. Retailers who provide an adequate window for delivery, for example, will get priority.

If we can't unload a delivery in two hours, we’ll look at leaving that account,” said Stan Froneberger, general manager. “We’re looking at accounts that are hurting us from an ELD standpoint.”

Froneberger said some retailers understand it’s not business as usual anymore for their LTL service.

“They’re coming around, it’s being communicated. We’ve had retailers call us and ask where Sunbelt is with ELDs,” he said. “Right now, carriers have some leverage, because they have the business. Driver flexibility (of schedule) is a thing of the past.”

Richard Tucker, national sales manager at Shelba D. Johnson Trucking, said shippers have helped by communicating with their retail customers that an LTL truck can’t wait two or three hours to unload.

“If we have a customer who consistently delays us, we’ll drop him,” Tucker said.

He noted that larger retailers appear to understand the new LTL reality.

“Mom and pops used to closing their docks Tuesday or Wednesday have to keep someone in their warehouse to unload that truck and sign the bill,” Tucker said. “We’re seeing more people willing to work with us. I had a retailer at furniture market ask ‘What can I do for you?’

I said ‘Get my truck in and out of there.’”

What else can retailers do?
Froneberger said they must understand that the driver is on the clock, and the retailer needs to see that driver as a member of their team.

“Educate your customer service and receiving departments on what’s happening in the trucking business,” he suggested.

More flexibility on receiving hours was a common suggestion from carriers.

“If your dock is closed one day a week, you might not get two deliveries a week,” Tucker pointed out. “If (retailers) want specialty carrier service, they have to get those trucks in and out.”

Mississippi Furniture Xpress President Greg Skoog said retailers’ “back door has to start being as friendly as the front door.”

“With electronic logs, if someone’s dock is closed on Monday and they complain about service, they need to realize 60% of our deliveries are on Monday,” he said. “Our next dispatch is Wednesday for Thursday and Friday deliveries.”

Constant delays at a retailer could put them on a “do not ship list,” he added.