Best Practices for Delivery Service

John Fix III

Ace Hardware of Clarkston in Michigan designed a new wrap for their delivery van that promotes them as the “Neighborhood Grill Supplier.”
Ace Hardware of Clarkston in Michigan designed a new wrap for their delivery van that promotes them as the “Neighborhood Grill Supplier.”»

As the pandemic has continued into a second year, more home improvement retailers have discovered the necessity of offering a reliable delivery service. There has been lots of discussion on Hardlines Digest about the ins and outs of delivery service, so read on to learn some of the helpful advice offered by retailers.

Taylor Cox of Cox Hardware & Lumber in Houston said they are exploring options for using an outside delivery service for local customers. He felt the biggest issues are risk management, diminishing margins and resource allocation (using a full-time employee to deliver merchandise across a large metropolitan area ties him/her up for a while). He wondered if other retailers have set schedules, how they capture the orders when delivered and if they have minimums.

Whitney McKellar of M&M Lumber in Tulsa, Okla., posted, “Orders under $300 have a $20 delivery fee. Orders over $300 are free within 30 miles of our location. Deliveries over 30 miles are assessed $1.50 per mile one-way over the first 30 miles (which are free). We work on about a 24-hour turnaround to get deliveries out. Whatever your fee structure is, make it easy and across all customers.”

Hemlock Hardware in Fairfield, Conn., promotes always next-day delivery service, with free delivery of grills.
Hemlock Hardware in Fairfield, Conn., promotes always next-day delivery service, with free delivery of grills.»

Gary Smith of Ace Hardware at Austin Bluffs in Colorado Springs, Colo., responded, “We have a $50 minimum for hardware items, $400 for LBM. But if the $50 hardware item is met, then we waive the LBM minimum. We only do business with those in our trade area, because I have to be able to resolve a discrepancy. I schedule twice per day delivery. I have two order deadlines: in by 10 a.m., same-day delivery; in by 4 p.m., next-morning delivery. Safety wise, nothing can extend from the bed or the door must close. Product cannot hang off or prevent the door from closing. How you register your delivery truck determines the license needed to operate it.”

Smith added, “I highly suggest you have different employees to pull and verify the orders. And upon delivery, take a picture. To manage your deliveries, I believe you need a management software system. I use DDMS by Epicor. Drivers are allowed to load their trucks after the orders are pulled, verified and packed. I do not allow drivers to return product to its location, nor do I allow drivers to pull an order or any item. I have personnel for these duties. Any item that leaves the building must have a transaction adhered to it. I do not and will never charge a delivery fee. Maintain your delivery truck—the new wears off. Drivers are to observe traffic signals and signs. They are forbidden from taking shortcuts through parking lots. Do random substance tests.”

Donald Butler of Butler’s Hardware and Power Equipment in Madisonville, Ky., was looking for tips on how to start a program to do onsite delivery to contractors.

Keim in Charm, Ohio, has a local express delivery catalog and offers free next-day delivery.
Keim in Charm, Ohio, has a local express delivery catalog and offers free next-day delivery.»

Mike Davies, who has 20 years of experience as GM for 84 Lumber Company, Kenyon Noble Lumber and Bloedorn Lumber, shared what he believes are the keys to a successful delivery program:

• Having an effective delivery program is essential to supporting contractor business and keeping those customers happy. Successful delivery operations start in the yard. Make sure materials being shipped are in good shape and not damaged. Make sure loads are complete and match what is on the delivery ticket or bill of lading (BOL). Make sure you deliver when promised. Nothing gets up the ire of a builder or his subs like having guys standing around waiting for a delivery.

• Load trucks the night before a delivery. Check the load when it is built. Conduct a final check before leaving the yard to make sure all the items are in the truck. Have team members sign off on what they checked and the loads they have assembled. Save that paperwork. Hold your team accountable for accuracy and the quality of the materials being delivered.

• Once you get the load to the jobsite there are things to take into consideration. Never drive on a driveway without permission of the owner or builder. (Or you will be buying a new driveway pad for someone sooner or later.)

• Coordinate with the customer or his appointed agent as to where you can drive, park and unload.

• It’s always best to have someone on the jobsite receiving the delivery. Have them check it and verify all materials are delivered. Have them sign the BOL or delivery ticket. There will be times when no one is on the jobsite to sign for a delivery.

• When the customer (or his representative) is not on the site for a delivery, have your drivers take pictures. We took pictures of every delivery we sent out whether the customer was present or not. Those pictures came in very handy on more than a few occasions.

•  Make sure your drivers are polite and professional. Make sure they are a fantastic representation of your company. Often, they are the last contact your customer will have with your business. Drivers can make or break future business with that customer or his family and friends.

• I don’t know what software you use for POS. When I was at Bloedorn, we used an Epicor product called Biz Track. Biz Track gave us the ability to scan our load picking tickets and delivery tickets to the customer’s account. We could also download the pictures the drivers took to the account as well.

• Being able to document what you did and when you did it is extremely important. Lien laws vary by state.  However, in most states, liens are time sensitive. Documenting your delivery of goods and when you delivered them can help preserve your rights if it comes to placing a lien.

• Additionally, pictures and documentation cover your butt when it comes to customer claims of missing materials or damaged products. These issues will arise and covering your backside is the best way to combat these issues.

• Missing products and damages are two excuses that many customers use as a reason to not pay, or short pay their invoices. Protect yourself and your bottom line with proper documentation from beginning to end.

In conclusion, Davies said, “Delivery is a complex beast but very easy to manage with proper procedures in place.”

Melaco Sisters Hardware making a delivery to a customer in Cut Off, La.
Melaco Sisters Hardware making a delivery to a customer in Cut Off, La.»

Delivery Scheduling Software

Steven Metcalf, IT manager for Gillman Do it Best Home Centers in Batesville, Ind., wondered what delivery scheduling/dispatch/tracking or fleet management software retailers were using.

Jade Liechty, information technology director for HRM Enterprises and Hartville Hardware in Hartville, Ohio, responded, “We use Epicor’s Dispatch and Delivery. It is integrated with Eagle. Our two dispatchers—lumber and appliances—really like the software. We were using Samsung LTE tablets in the trucks, but we are starting to make a switch to just using the larger phones.”

Jesse Isaacs, database administrator for PC Home Center in New Albany, Ind., replied, “We also use Epicor’s DDMS and are pretty happy with it. In the last few months, we’ve started to fully explore the system and it’s pretty robust and as reliable as any others we’ve found.”

Town Hardware & General Store in Black Mountain, N.C., offers free delivery within 5 miles to Do it Best Rewards members.
Town Hardware & General Store in Black Mountain, N.C., offers free delivery within 5 miles to Do it Best Rewards members.»

Delivery in COVID Times

Dan Johnson, who operates two Ace stores in Maine, noted that the new business climate seems to ensure that delivery of products is going to be a bigger part of their business. He posted, “We have always delivered grills in our town for free. Ace started to promote that as a standard in the advertising. Ace also started free delivery for online orders (we designate the area) for Ace Rewards customers who spend over $50. We had a customer who knew about the online Ace Rewards offer and came into the store to ask about delivery. We never promoted delivery of any other products but this opened our eyes. So now in COVID time we are seeing more requests for delivery and are trying to hammer out a policy that works for us. We will not make money from deliveries but we will make customer happy.”

Joe Proctor of Proctor Ace in Jacksonville, Fla., replied, “We offer the same delivery policy and delivery area as .com for Ace Rewards members in store as is offered online to minimize any confusion. Any customer could just decide to go online and place the order on their phone while shopping in the store, so why make them jump through those hoops? If they need delivery, we will bring it to them, period! Our average ticket for delivery is much higher than $50 and we charge for same-day delivery. Some customers need us to bring it to them and want to shop with us, why push them to Amazon or another competitor?

Steve Fusek of Fusek’s True Value in Indianapolis posted, “What does Amazon charge for delivery? Nothing. We currently offer free delivery within 5 miles. We have posted that we will charge $20 for anything over 5 miles. I do not think we have ever charged anybody. Grills are always free. We need to look at our competition and what they are doing. Our competition is not a big box, it is Amazon. Do not look at the cost per delivery—focus on winning the customer. Retire on your last sale, not the next one.”

Brandon Buckalew with Local Ace in East Grand Forks, Minn., responded, “On the note of Amazon being our competitor, they can’t deliver the same day (yet) and we can. I’ve always said if you want to increase the value, then you need to increase the value. You can ask for more money if you make it worth it. Amazon drops stuff off at your door and is gone. How many people do you know have had packages stolen from their steps? We can call the customer and coordinate when they will be home to drop it off. Keep in mind since COVID, even Amazon has laid off advertising the “next-day delivery” promise. When you order a grill from Amazon, is getting assembled even an option? Amazon does a lot of things good, but they are very clinical and dry in a lot of areas. We can compete in these areas. Not only compete, but win. The devil is in the details and we own the details.”

Fusek responded, “Amazon stopping same day is temporary. Amazon does have same-day delivery here in Indy although not every product, as they cannot currently keep up with the volume. They plan to get every bit of my business and yours. They are currently looking for ways to do paint online, they have delivery service, they have commercial discounts. I encourage all of us to keep a very close eye on Amazon. They are changing retail forever, as we speak. Many of the things we are doing are reactions to what Amazon considers normal operating procedures.”

John Fix started Hardlines Digest in 1996. The list was run for many years using servers in John’s hardware store, Cornell’s True Value in Eastchester, N.Y., but the list has migrated to Google Groups. There are currently more than 2,300 subscribers reading Hardlines Digest. To read more or subscribe, go to www.hardlinesdigest.com.

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