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Distribution: Adapt or die

Distributors encouraged to embrace latest software

January 21/28, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 17

By Ken Ryan

 

The transportation industry is being transformed by advancements in fleet management software, and flooring distributors are at the center of this push. In light of recent freight increases and other inflationary pressures, as well as a need to be more efficient, wholesalers are depending on new technologies for answers.

It has often been stated that a business has two choices when it comes to embracing new technology: adapt or die. For flooring distributors, it may be closer to “adapt or be left behind,” as lagging behind new technology will no doubt hurt those companies that don’t get on board.

“The current reality in logistics is folks need to adapt to technology changes,” said Scott Rozmus, president and CEO of FlorStar Sales, top 20 distributor based in Romeoville, Ill. “FlorStar certainly has done so and will continue to do so. For example, we have long been utilizing fleet tracking systems to improve efficiency.”

Madison, Wis.-based Jaeckle Distributors has long been a leader in automation. It currently uses a system called Telogis that complies with the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate and tracks the company’s hours of service (HOS) and the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) DOT compliance. “It allows us to route our drivers efficiently based on deliveries and track their progress via GPS,” said Bill Simonson, COO. “As a distributor, our routes are the same every day, so there is only so much we can do to be efficient without compromising service.”

To varying degrees, all flooring distributors are dealing with driver shortages and rising freight costs. How they respond to these pressures is another matter. “You can already see those who adapt and change, and those who don’t,” Simonson said. “If you’re not currently investing in technology, you’re already way behind and you’ll have a hard time catching up. It isn’t just the technology investment; it’s the culture you have to build to get everyone on board with using and embracing it.”

When Owings Mills, Md.-based Elias Wilf was looking to upgrade its transportation technology, it turned to Roadnet Technologies (now Omnitracs), which at the time was looking to beta test the first integration from what had been half a dozen acquisitions on their end. Working together for close to a year, and implementing more than $500,000 of joint expenses, the final product came together. “While the savings have been phenomenal, the real benefit is the ability to reduce unnecessary expenses without compromising service or raising costs,” said Jeff Striegel, president of Elias Wilf.

Omnitracs, which offers fleet management products, has started working with other flooring distributors. Its Omnitracs Roadnet Anywhere program, for example, combines cost-efficient routing, real-time data collection, analysis tools and signature capture.

Not all the changes in transportation technology are occurring in the vehicle. Much of the efficiencies emanate from the office or the warehouse. Before implementing its new ecommerce solution with Dancik, Adleta’s customers were calling into the wholesaler’s main distribution center to check stock and pricing, place orders and check the status of orders. While its ecommerce solution provided Carrollton, Texas-based Adleta with multiple opportunities for improvement with regards to internal processes, the decision to implement an ecommerce solution was driven primarily by the fact that today’s flooring retailers and contractors demand an online presence from their vendors.

For Bridgeport, W.Va.-based distributor Abraham Linc, its decision to implement a warehouse management system was necessary so it could maintain the most efficient inventory. The system ensures when customers’ orders are received, the product is available to process for delivery in the most efficient way possible. “We invested significant resources to upgrade our warehouse and refine our delivery system,” said Robert Marra II, CFO. “Having the ability to scan all of our products in and out is a tremendous benefit.”

As Canada’s national distributor, Gesco Shnier is recognized as an industry leader in applying technologies with collaborative efforts. In fact, Shnier is the only fully automated flooring distributor in Canada using advanced integrated real-time warehouse management systems.

Before implementing its system, Shnier employed over 60 full-time and temporary employees in its hub facility. Following the implementation and utilization of the system Shnier reduced its head count by more than 25 employees while simultaneously growing the through-put volume.

“We are now doing more lines of business with lower cost per line, less people, better automation in an error-free environment,” said Paul Green, president, Gesco Shnier.

ELD
This device is electronic hardware that is attached to a commercial motor vehicle engine to record driving hours. The driving hours of commercial drivers are regulated by a set of rules known as the HOS. An ELD monitors a vehicle’s engine to capture data on whether the engine is running, the vehicle is moving and miles driven as well as the duration of engine operation. Previously, paper logs were used for hours-of-service tracking.

Telematics
This software collects information about a vehicle, such as its location and speed, how hard it has braked and fuel consumption—to name a few metrics. That information is relayed wirelessly to the vehicle’s owner or an authorized third party.

While telematics has traditionally been used to monitor vehicle location and travel duration, recent advances have made it critical to the future of fleet management, especially in terms of monitoring and improving driver performance.

The ability to collect driving data through smartphone technology is a game changer for trucking and makes improving driver behavior easier and more effective than traditional solutions based on plug-in or hardwired devices.

GPS fleet tracking
These tracking services are a hardware and software bundle that tracks and owner’s vehicles, records the driving habits of employees, issues status reports on a particular fleet and alerts the boss when incidents or other events occur. These services can also be built out to adhere to government compliance laws such as ELDs, IFTA and a driver vehicle inspection report (DVIR). The main function of these services, however, is to gather data to better improve the efficiency, safety and overall functionality of a distributor’s fleet.