Overcoming the Driver Shortage
“Service, Service, Service.”
That’s how Cecil King, Cheney Brothers Vice President of Operations, explains the fleet’s four generations of continued growth. The Florida food distributor was founded in 1925 by Joe Cheney, weathered the Great Depression, hit $3 million in sales in 1977, and has since expanded into North Carolina and Georgia as the fourth generation of family ownership continues to roll large.
“Customer service is our number one priority as we continue to grow,” King said, who credits a comprehensive training program from one generation to the next, the latest in innovative technology, and the right equipment to maintain Cheney Brothers’ high-quality customer service.
Today, the fleet faces two big challenges familiar to operations both inside and outside of the food distribution segment. The first is maintaining an adequate staff of drivers. The latest numbers from the American Trucking Association indicate that the trucking industry will need to hire 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade – an average of 110,000 per year to replace retiring drivers and keep up with growth in the economy. Cheney Brothers continues to stay a step ahead of the driver shortage thanks to an aggressive driver pay plan, yearly bonuses for safe drivers, and the right equipment.
“A major part of our driver recruitment is to provide our drivers with lift gate trailers, electric jacks, and upgraded tractors,” King said. Cheney Brothers has partnered with Great Dane for 22 years as its arsenal of trailers has grown to more than 800. “The strength of our relationship is in the quality of their trailers. Seventy-five percent of our fleet is now comprised of Great Dane trailers.”
King noted that on-time delivery of Great Dane trailers has kept up with the company’s growth. The fleet’s equipment strategy coupled with its driver safety rodeo and driver appreciation week keeps its mobile employees in their driver seats.
The latest technology helps with not only driver recruitment and retention efforts but also tackles the second challenge the fleet faces: increasingly strict documentation of the cold chain operation.
“Our paperless delivery system allows us to capture temperatures of product at the time of delivery, and print it on the invoice,” King said, noting that this paperless process combined with the installation of an on-board computer system to maintain hours of service, and the driver check-in process on a hand-held device has eliminated substantial manual labor, while increasing cold-chain efficiency.
As a brand that runs coast-to-coast importing operations and manages a broad inventory of more than 64,000 stocked items that range from gourmet to everyday, Cheney Brothers knows that its customers rely on accurate and prompt deliveries. The technology solutions might add a new dimension of sophistication as the company expands, but it’s still the time-tested, hard-working, customer-first ethos that founded the company that ensures its success for generations to come.