CHICAGO — Bob Doran, routing specialist for Alsco, a linen and uniform rental service headquartered in Salt Lake City, says the most important part of running laundry/linen service delivery routes is providing customers with the best products and service requested safely and efficiently.
“Of course making complete deliveries with quality products as promised will always be extremely important, but we also expect our customer sales representatives to maintain the highest level of communications with all of their customers,” adds Jeff Nelson a director of operations at Prudential Overall Supply, a provider of uniforms and reusable textiles with a corporate office in Irvine, California.
“So often, our ability to retain customers boils down to the relationship between our representative and our customer’s staff.”
To accomplish these goals, route reps/drivers need the latest technology, and the proper training.
Doran says that in the past, technology focused mostly on customer placement. Then it shifted to how to service all customers per day in an efficient manner.
He says today’s programs incorporate much more technology and features. Not only is routing software utilized, but it is also used in conjunction with GPS—where a service team can see, in real-time, where their route personnel are.
Over time, the program records the route information and that information can be analyzed to check if the route is running as efficiently as possible, and then it can be used to reroute to improve efficiency if necessary.
“The first program I used had been in existence since the late 1980s and performed well but needed periodic updates to maps, which is costly,” Doran shares. “Also, the process was more of a ‘plot the customers and route the days.’ We could tell the program how much time we needed per stop based on the products being delivered.
“The newer programs allow us to put in so much more information, like time windows for servicing the account, such as accounts that do not serve breakfast and/or lunch. We can tell it not to go there between the hours of 1 and 4 p.m. If a customer does not want disruptions during the lunch hours, we can tell the program to not service that particular account between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“Many medical offices are closed on Monday or Friday, and we can input that as well. The list can go on, but with all that, the program takes into consideration the information provided and routes the days in the most efficient manner.”
Doran adds that newer programs also give route planners the ability to monitor the number of pieces of product, as well as the weight, to see how it all impacts the trucks.
Nelson says there are many excellent tools available to laundries that did not exist even five years ago in terms of route planning, adding that Prudential has continued to research and invest in programs that provide guidance in efficient routing.
“With the continued increases in costs of equipment, fuel and labor, we have spent much time at each of our locations to ensure our routes are properly routed,” he says. “Today, we are in the process of introducing a new system that will not only ensure our routes are properly routed while also providing information on such things as fast starts and stops, fuel mileage, electronic pre-trip inspections.
“Our new system also includes front- and cab-facing cameras so that we can constantly monitor safe driving and address any unsafe behaviors.”
According to Nelson, a laundry operation can make the best use of new technology by starting with a proper rollout.
“The entire team has to be committed to the new technology and that will only happen if they are thoroughly trained from the outset,” he points out. “The entire team also has to understand the whys and the benefits to themselves and the organization. A lack of understanding and support from the users will easily nullify the benefits of the new technology.”
For Doran, making the best use of route technology involves using the program on an annual or semiannual basis, analyzing routes and making adjustments.
“Routes are constantly evolving,” he says. “New customers are added and others either go out of business or go with another supplier. Routes need to be looked at and adjusted for efficiency.
“Fuel costs are high and route labor can be affected if a route is operated in an inefficient manner.”
With the right technology and effective support, Nelson says Prudential’s routes are more efficient, allowing the company to add more stops and revenue to each route and, ultimately, reduce costs.
“One of the many and most important benefits of an efficiently routed organization is more revenue on routes providing more income for our customer sales representative, allowing us to recruit and retain better talent,” he shares.
“Beyond just route technology, our handheld units contain all of the information necessary for our field staff to make any adjustments necessary to ensure customer satisfaction.”
Doran shares that he has used Alsco’s route technology to assist the production side of the operation as well.
“For example, while optimizing routes, we also isolate accounts using certain ‘high use’ items, such as 90-inch by 90-inch white table linen, 53-inch by 114-inch white linens, and black and white napkins,” he says.
“Many accounts that use large amounts of these products are usually delivered to more than once a week, typically Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday. Using the program to isolate these accounts, we can see if there is an imbalance or a time of the week that has a higher demand on production to get the product out.
“By changing the delivery days on said accounts to a more even schedule, moving several accounts from the Monday-Thursday schedule to Tuesday-Friday, we can better control the flow of product through the branch from soil to wash to finish, which can also assist the service department by minimizing shortages and special deliveries.”
Doran also says the technology can assist the sales team by creating defined sales territories, providing maps of sales territories based on zip codes.
“When used properly, we can assist our sales team by providing an area we currently service and they can focus on that area,” he shares. “In many markets, we can have several branches that may be adjacent to each other and have one salesperson for that area. With a detailed map, we can avoid placing a new customer on the wrong branch.”
Also, Doran says that because route technology can isolate accounts based on products used, the company can also see accounts by what they are not using.
“I have provided a list of accounts currently not using, for example, dust products, mats, mops,” he says. “The program can assist the route person and/or salesperson in an effort to increase sales within current customers. It’s very useful during sale contests.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion on the importance of driver/rep training.