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Friday, July 15, 2011

City Deliveries

Something that sounds so simple and is taken for granted is city delivery of tires.
My day job, besides being an undiscovered awesome New York Best Selling Author (Well, not yet, but someday!) is being the Operations Manager of a Tire Wholesaler in Kansas City, Missouri.  I wasn't always the Operations Manager.  Nineteen years ago I was a warehouse man/ Driver for the company.  Back then our city deliveries were done with two trucks, one went one way and the other went the other direction.  We did two routes a day, a morning city delivery and an afternoon city delivery, with the same two trucks.
Over the years the numbers of stops have grown as has our customer base, the amount of tires we stock, the area we service, everything has grown as we have grown as a company.
Let me preface something about the tire industry most people don't know.  Most major cities have one to two wholesalers.  Kansas City, which sits just about in the middle of the country, has five wholesalers.  The biggest reason for this is because Kansas City, amongst other things, is a transportation hub.  We have three major Interstates which run through the city, and a massive collection of Rail yards.  Most major cities have tire deliveries, but in a lot of cases it's once a day.  For as long as I have worked in Kansas City in the tire business we have run twice a day city deliveries.  All the other wholesalers do also because we do!  Competition for tire sales in the city is fierce at best!  Because of that the people of Kansas City, without realizing it, have the greatest choice, best prices, and by far the best service than anywhere else in the country when it comes to purchasing new tires.
As I have said we do this magic trick, Monday through Friday, and once a day on Saturday, week in and week out, no matter what the weather might be doing, year after year.  It is truly amazing how we do it.  Keeping 21 trucks serviced, I said we had grown, eight of which run twice a day in the Kansas City Metro area.  Taking the orders, getting them pulled, and staged.  Twice a day you will hear somebody in our order entry department yell out, "Anybody got anybody?"  This translates into 'Last Call' for us.  If they are on the phone and giving you an order it will make the next route, otherwise it will be on the next available delivery.
The next fifteen minutes is the magic time!  The routes are handed out to the drivers so they can write up their route sheets.  These sheets tell us who they are delivering to, what truck they are driving, what company cell phone they have, and who is driving that route.  On the back of the sheet is a truck inspection form where the drivers fill out twice a day the condition of the vehicle they are driving and anything that needs repaired, checked out, or fixed on that vehicle.  Which usually is nothing!  We keep our fleet in top notch condition otherwise we wouldn't be able to do what I am describing so faithfully.  Most companies do vehicle maintenance every ten thousand miles and we routinely do ours every eight thousand miles.  The trucks are kept in the best possible condition we can keep them in because they are an integral part of how we make a living.
The drivers write up their route sheets, make a copy to leave in the office, take their routes to the dock and begin loading.  Somebody looks at the invoice while somebody else finds the tires and checks each and every one of them.  For condition of the tire.  Is it the right size?  The right speed rating?  The correct ply?  The correct part number?  If anybody gets caught looking at the tags instead of the sidewall of the tires they get terribly teased and possibly yelled at that "We sell tires, not tags!"  This is our last chance to get it right before the tire gets to the customer.
Mean while all the last minute add-ons are being pulled, pick tickets invoiced and ran to the dock to be added to routes getting loaded.  A manager is always there helping to load, watching what's going on.  The fans get shut off in the summer time, and it is as quiet as we can make it so people can hear the tires sizes being called out and people checking their tires against the invoices.  Trucks are being loaded.  Tires are physically thrown from where they are staged across the dock and into the backs of the delivery trucks.  The area to between the staging area and the backs of the trucks is no man's land as tires are flying, rolling, and sailing into trucks where warehouse workers are lacing the tires into the back of the truck.  It is chaos at its finest!
Lacing is a tire people term, you set a row of tires down across the back and bottom of a truck with them spaced bead to bead, and then when you hit the side of the truck the tires get put in the opposite direction and you switch every time you hit the other side.  Done correctly the tire tags will be facing out with any whitewalls or raised white letters facing up.  Looking at the wall of tires stacked in the back of a truck it looks like shoe laces do.  So it is referred to as lacing a truck, or loading it with tires in the proper tire people way.
Once the trucks are loaded every tire left in the staging area is checked.  Was it cancelled?  Wrong size or type and someone had to re-pull the proper tires.  Once every question has been answered and checked, this also involves one guy in the office with a radio and the manager on the dock with a radio.  Once all is good and checked the drivers are released and eight trucks pull away from the dock for their next route.
I love standing on the outside dock watching my city trucks leave.  Almost every time it reminds of the character on the movie, "Memphis Belle," the Squadron Commander who watches his planes leave and then hours later is back outside counting them as they return, each time hoping to get them all back safe and sound.  Every time they all come back with no accidents, no mistakes it is a VERY GOOD DAY!  I have a lot of very good days.  We go to a lot of work to ensure that we are safe, well maintained, ready to load when the cut off time is near, and the trucks loaded and leaving on time so no one has to be rushed.  Between the cutoff and the trucks leaving is generally 15 minutes for eight trucks.  Day in and day out!  We do make it look easy!

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