Trailer Access: The Last Frontier For Scale Delivery profits?

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Case delivery is getting harder to do…profitably. What used to be a generous delivery footprint (“Park it anywhere, just get it in here”) is now a tiny navigational nightmare with speeding motorists, city ordinances and delivery windows that limit time in and out of the stop. An available driver pool full of ex-farm boys waiting eagerly to make great pay is now limited to pockets of Gen-Xers with very limited “heavy work experience.”

Top this off with the moving target of Hours of Service (HOS) rules, tightening emission standards and painful workmen's comp issues and it's easy to see that NET revenue growth can not pace GROSS revenue growth without big changes.

The average broadline distributor reports 10 to 12 stops per day. Multiply this factor by expanding city populations, delivery motions required per stop and an aging core workforce (fatigue and injuries) and it's easy to realize that profitability may “flat line” or actually diminish as sales increase without realizing scale improvements from existing assets.

So how do foodservice companies grow revenue AND increase scale profitability when more drivers, more tractors and more trailers are needed in such a harsh delivery environment?

The last frontier—trailer access: Although emerging technology in tractors and trailers is seen annually, given the attention those larger ticket items demand; one area receives little attention by comparison: trailer access. Trailer access, the ability to get products in and out of the trailer quickly and safely, may be the last unexploited frontier in achieving scale savings from existing assets. Most traditional designs are from an era no longer recognized by today's rigorous challenges.

Old designs on new trailers: For instance, take the old side door “stirrup step.” Most designs require the driver to kick like a Vegas show girl to merely get their foot on the step's rung. Then (pulling with one hand on the trailer's grab handle) the driver can get a knee into the door's threshold. This “tree house” access, demands a great deal of strain on the driver's body (shoulder, back, hip, and knee) and none of the step surfaces avail much friction for slip resistance. Although this design hails from the late 30s, it can be found on most trailers with side doors.

“The first stop”: As cube space is at an all time premium, most drivers open the trailer door to the first few delivery points to realize there is nowhere to stand and grab the first top cases (safely). So they learn from their predecessors (the drivers that taught them), how to stand on the threshold of the door while bracing themselves within the frame for leverage. Of course, the only place for those cases to go is…the ground.

Side door ramps—crossing crossing traffic: Additionally, if the driver does have the benefit of a walk ramp, coming out the side door will require a “perpendicular offload” (see Inset A) that requires a larger delivery footprint and may put the driver into direct competition with motorists for right of way during off loads.

Simple solutions: help on the side: Although these challenges seem daunting, the solution to many of these instances can be a simple one. Most case delivery drivers agree that a platform with adequate steps and available standing room would substantially increase their cycle time at the delivery point, while providing them the safety they need to avoid lost time injuries. These same side door platforms can divert ramp traffic down the side of trailer (see longitudinal delivery in Inset B) to avoid running into the path of motorists.

Side door platforms can come in aluminum or steel and are available in many sizes, configurations and installation methods:

Underbelly syle: Mounts under the frame of the trailer at the place it will be used.

  • In floor (tunnel) style: Installed at the trailer factory in the trailer's floor.
  • Portable style: Carrier and platform are mounted under the trailer's frame, enables the driver to move the platform to different doors.

Whether in aluminum or steel, be sure to specify open surface material which provides the best friction and keeps walk surfaces free of debris (snow, rain, ice, mud, etc.). Also ensure that the published load ratings are given a published safety factor and not merely ultimate break strength.

As trailer real estate gets more expensive, trailer access and other modular solutions will determine the safety and fluidity at which foodservice companies deliver their goods. Who knows, maybe they can make more by doing less.

Williams serves as president of Bustin Industrial Products, a trailer access equipment manufacturer since 1928.