t takes a lot for grocers to keep on truckin’.
Managing a truck fleet is one of the biggest
challenges in grocery logistics. It involves
complex issues that apply to all truck fleets,
The challenges vary depending on where you are in the
supply chain and who owns the trucks, but regardless of
the specifics, the stakes are high for all parties involved.
Stores operate on ever-narrower delivery windows,
seeking to use floor labor as efficiently as possible. Bottlenecks in loading or delivery can waste driver salaries
and even food—all of which wastes money.
Many grocers are taking advantage of fleet-manage-ment systems (FMS) software, which can systematize
and smooth out the rough spots in a delivery schedule.
They also can keep track of maintenance, interface with inventory
and other software, and help
manage drivers. By analyzing
data from onboard hardware,
they can record drivers’ hours
and even help evaluate their performances.
Grocers have the same options as all businesses that
use trucks: own, lease or hire. Michael Hane, senior director of Chainalytics LLC, a supply-chain intelligence and
consulting firm, says the majority of grocers own their
own fleets, but that can vary according to what they’re
hauling, and on which leg of the journey. Inbound trips
from suppliers, for instance, are more straightforward
and have less potential to go wrong than outbound trips
to stores, so it might make more sense to hire a third-party
hauler for those (or pay the supplier to do it, if that’s an
option). In addition, outbound trips with little or no backhauling are sometimes candidates for third-party carriers,
especially with nonrefrigerated goods.
But a lot of grocers want the flexibility and the security
of owning their own fleets, even if it costs more, Hane
says. “You do have a lot of capability sitting around in
your fleet,” he says. “You might be overpaying for certain
stuff, but you do not have as much risk of failure if you
have that fleet asset, so a lot of people use it almost like a
Hours or Miles
One of the biggest differences between private truck fleets
and hired ones is that drivers for the former usually get paid
by the hour; for the latter, it’s by the mile. This gives private
fleet owners an added incentive to make sure that their
trucks get loaded efficiently, says Dan Murray, vice president of the American Transportation Research Institute.
“It seems anecdotally that they’re more efficient with
their own trucks and drivers, for a couple of reasons,”
Murray says. “Most private fleet drivers are not paid by
the mile, so when you’re paying your own employees by
the hour and they’re sitting around doing nothing, that
shows up pretty dramatically, almost in neon lights, as a
major inefficiency that has to be addressed.”
Drivers for hired carriers, on the other hand, can find
themselves sitting for hours at a grocery warehouse or dis-
tribution center, waiting for a load, he says; many have
responded by assessing customers a surcharge for exces-
sive wait times.
Private fleets have another advantage: It’s usually easier for them to attract and retain drivers, because they
make shorter trips and don’t need to spend a lot of time
away from home.
“It’s a lot more attractive for the drivers to drive for a private fleet where you’re going to get home, if not [literally]
Tracking the Trucks
Fleet management presents unique challenges for grocers,
but software coupled with onboard hardware can help.
By Pan Demetrakakes
Total hours a driver
can drive before he
or she must take a
Operations & Supply Chain
generate images that can
be analyzed by fleet-management software to
gauge driver performance.