Maintaining customer service on rural delivery routes proves to be an ongoing challenge for jobbers. However, smartphones and GPS are improving efficiencies in delivery.
Delivering parts quickly and efficiently is a daily challenge for all jobbers, but those in rural areas have a particularly unique set of conditions to overcome.
“It’s really about establishing relationships with your customers and their expectations,” explains Ian Creaser, Owner of Bumper to Bumper stores in Lunenburg, and Chester, N.S. “We work to build relationships with our customers where they are willing to work with us to make it happen and not expecting a shotgun delivery every time they call. You have different customers who expect that delivery every time, and the customers who are farther away will usually work with you rather than make things harder on you.”
“Some of our customers are outside of town, and we do a shotgun delivery. We get the order, and we leave,” says Allan Wood, General Manager for Ideal Supply stores in Orangeville and Flesherton, Ont. Ideal Supply is an independently owned NAPA associate store. “We also use a program called Road Show. All our vehicles have a GPS data enabled phone in them so we can see in real time where they are and what the estimated time of arrival is at the next stop. This program is well-suited for our customers who are outside of town.
“We do a combination of shotgun delivery because the shops are in the same situation. They have a car on the hoist, and they need to get the job done. I try and get a delivery or two in that direction if I can before it has to go out,” adds Rob Dow of Jack Dow Automotive, a Bestbuy member with stores in Niagara Falls and Welland, Ont. “If it is one of our premium customers, we will send it out right away. I wish I could set routes, but it doesn’t work that way. We lean more towards the shotgun approach, but we try and hold back a few minutes to collect more orders before we send the delivery out so we can catch another shop on the route.”
“We have some customers in our Chester location that will come and meet us halfway,” explains Creaser. “We don’t mind helping out when it’s something they missed or a customer says they need it right away; we will do that. But over the years you do get customers who cry wolf all the time, and I guess if they don’t get the service they go elsewhere. You do lose some customers over delivery, but you can only do what you can do with the resources you have.”
Creaser recently had a call from a customer who wanted to know where his driver was. “He just wanted to see which supplier could get there the quickest.”
Dow says his gas costs are higher in the city than on his rural routes. The stop and go traffic cuts into the mileage. “We use Chevy Cobalts, and in the city, we get 10.9 L/100 km (26 mpg). On the rural routes we get 6.7 L/100km (42 mpg).
“The biggest thing is working with your customers and managing their expectations with your resources. I must say that our rural customers are understanding. The ones that aren’t understanding, we don’t have them as customers,” says Creaser.