By Clifford F. Lynch
DC Velocity, August 2003
Highway delays spark road rage. Delays in stifling planes provoke air rage. But
delays at the distribution center? The frustrations probably won’t erupt into
dockrage, but they certainly create simmering resentment. Though DC managers
are quick to vent about the truck drivers who visit their premises – they’re
rude, they miss appointments – they’re often rude and dismissive themselves.
All too often, the result is holdups, miscommunications and delays.
Yet these problems are hardly unsolvable. What follows are some simple, but
often overlooked, ways to improve relationships with truckers and guarantee
a more efficient dock operation.
· Insist that carriers schedule appointments for both pickups and
honor them! More often than not, this will require some advance planning
and scheduling. Most distribution centers don’t have the luxury of excess
dock space and extra truck doors; but if you schedule arrivals and labor
carefully in advance, you can minimize loading and unloading delays. One
West Coast distribution center has become so confident about its dock scheduling
capabilities that if the carrier shows up within 10 minutes of its scheduled
unloading appointment, it will guarantees the release of the trailer within
two hours, or it pays a penalty to the trucker. That incentive has sparked
almost 100-percent compliance with appointments.
· Be willing to take a tough position on non-adherence Though there
will always be extenuating circumstances for late arrivals, the distribution
center can’t afford to disrupt its scheduled operations to receive tardy
shipments. Don’t be unreasonable. If receiving a late trailer will cause
no inconvenience or if the product is in short supply, then by all means
take it in; but if doing so, interrupts the workflow, insist that the carrier
reschedule, even if they have to come back the next day.
· Establish a drop and hook system for truckload carriers Since distribution
center personnel will be loading and unloading truckload shipments, dropping
trailers for handling at your convenience will greatly facilitate the flow
of traffic. By using a shuttle tractor, trailers can be loaded or unloaded
and moved to the yard for later pickup.
· Establish a central check-in point for incoming and outgoing freight
How often do we see drivers leaving their rigs in a traffic lane while
they try to find someone in an office or on a shipping dock to tell them
where they need to be? Particularly at campustype distribution operations
with multiple buildings, drivers sometimes end up climbing in and out of
their tractors three or four times looking for their destination, wasting
time and even bringing outside operations to a halt. Establish a point
at an entrance-area guard shack so that someone can quickly direct the
driver to the right place. But make sure buildings and doors are marked
clearly. It does little good to tell a driver where to go if he can’t find
the right door.
· Move all truck traffic counterclockwise around the buildings if
While this may seem counterintuitive, if a driver proceeds in this direction,
he will never have to back into a door from the "blind" side.
This may save only one or two minutes per driver, but multiplied by a large
number of doors that are used a number of times daily, the savings add
· Maintain a secure and comfortable driver waiting area This is important
for two reasons. First, for security reasons it’s important that drivers
not be allowed to roam the facility at will. On the other hand, if they
are going to be confined, common courtesy dictates that the waiting areas
should be comfortable. Telephones, restrooms and a place to sit while waiting
should be available.
"We treat our truckers like customers," says Buzz Fly, vice president
of Patterson Warehouses in Memphis, Tenn., "and we’ve seen the benefits