Retiring drivers, a reluctant younger generation, and the ‘Amazon effect’ create three-way stop
A satisfied customer’s expression is the face that launched 1,000 shipping strategies. In industries that involve delivering the goods (literally), that reaction becomes more elusive when online consumer shopping norms have crept into the B2B world and turned the definition of an acceptable wait time on its head. The human sense of expectation can’t start a vehicle, but it is still a major driver when it comes to running a business.
Brandon Bateman is the director of supply chain for Airefco, an HVAC distributor headquartered in Tualatin, Oregon.
“E-commerce has significantly increased expectations for Airefco to not only deliver products more expeditiously, but to make product information available directly to our customers on demand,” he said.
Consider how two-day delivery was coined “Prime” by a vendor like Amazon, but in some cases, that is now eclipsed by same-day delivery. Rationally, people know the circumstances might be different, but those speedy experiences still have an effect on how much patience feels like enough when ordering equipment or parts.
So how does an organization like Airefco respond? Bateman reported the company has started to partner with local couriers to increase its delivery capacity. It has also opened new branches, reaching customers faster by starting out closer to them.
Before pulling the trigger on a purchase these days, a distributor’s contractor customer also expects that all the pertinent information about a product will be ready and waiting to inform the decision.
“This has required our company to evolve how we handle product data and to make more [material] available on demand to the customer,” Bateman said. “Ways we have been able to do this include providing inventory availability to our online users and creating a new position within our organization to ensure that the product data and content available on our website grows with our customer needs.”
Creating entirely new positions dedicated to that kind of thing isn’t as surprising as it might be, even in the age of a mature internet. The statistics on how long a user will wait for a webpage to load before moving on are well-documented. With no shortage of options, those users will be no more forgiving toward websites that wind up wasting their time with outdated or incomplete product information.
Mark Bray, director of supply chain for ACR Supply in Durham, North Carolina, agreed but noted that companies can tackle increasing delivery expectations from more than one angle.
“We constantly try to make [our software and website] more user-friendly,” he said. “With that being said, great e-commerce storefronts are only as good as the supply chains that support them.”
Finding ways to shave time off the process before a product ever hits the road is worth the trouble.
After all, customers are only concerned about when their shipment arrives, not about the breakdown of how much time it spent in which stage of the operation.
“We are currently making efforts to speed up our warehousing, [for faster delivery options],” Bray said. “Amazon has proven that many people are willing to wait for a product and order online if it is more convenient, but they won’t wait long. Speed of delivery is the recipe for success these days.”
In most cases in the world of HVAC distribution, a truck is still a major ingredient somewhere in that recipe. And for the moment, anyway, those trucks still need drivers, which turns the conversation toward another pair of personnel-related speed bumps that are rattling the world of commercial transportation.
MORE EARN, MORE CHURN
For anyone responsible for hiring and managing HVAC field technicians, familiar strains echo through any discussion about the shrinking base of truck drivers. On the good side for those who do choose to earn a living behind the wheel, the laws of supply and demand seem to be alive and well.
A survey conducted by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) in March showed continued pay increases across the board. Depending on the particular type of job and assignment, salaries…