A vital part of the puzzle

January 1, 2004 By    

“Routing and mapping was the final piece of the puzzle in my quest for a productive forecasting and delivery system,” said Burl Williamson, president of Williamson LP Gas, a family-owned business based in Clinton, N.C. that has a reputation for being very customer, employee and productivity conscious.

I asked him to explain his puzzle analogy. “We have a good degree-day forecasting system and we have our hand-held computers on board the trucks,” he said. “I knew that routing and mapping was the one thing left that we needed to do. Since my employees and my customers are critical to our success, I had to have a system that employees could learn easily and that would increase customer service.”

Cindi Burchette, the office manager who describes herself as being “directionally handicapped” was amazed that she was able to learn to use the software in one day with on-site training from the supplier, Appian Logistics Software.

Head driver and delivery manager, Jimmy Grainger, said he was skeptical at first, but now admits that it has made his job – and the jobs of the two part-time drivers – much easier. “And I am making more money, since I’m paid partly on delivery productivity,” he added.

Before heading out for a day’s delivery, the drivers are handed their routes, fully mapped and with turn-by-turn driving instructions for each delivery. A new driver does not have the pressure – or the aggravation – of learning the delivery geography. The time to train a new driver he has gone from months or longer to a matter of a few days, Williamson said.

“Routing and mapping has definitely made it much easier for me to recruit drivers,” he said.

He uses other delivery data in his system to forecast within 10 percent accuracy when his customers need propane.

At this point, I was inclined to think that this might just be a propane company that was enamored with a new software toy. However, when I heard some of the productivity data for Williamson Gas the numbers spoke volumes.

The company is in a very competitive environment with eight marketers in Clinton, N.C., a town of 8,000 people. Less than a quarter of Williamson’s business is agricultural, so the large majority of drops are to residential accounts. Yearly volume is over 2 million gallons, delivered with just two trucks.

Industry research tells me that the average bobtail delivers 400,000 to 500,000 gallons a year. With his rigorous adherence to delivery forecasting and the routing and mapping tools, Williamson stated it quite simply: “We are doing with two trucks what other companies are doing with four and we realize those saving again and again every year.”

He says the annual hard-dollar savings on truck costs and driver’s salaries are an impressive $130,000 to $150,000. When that amount is applied directly to his bottom line, Williamson knows that the ‘value equation’ of good forecasting software combined with the tools to route and map deliveries is keeping his company ahead of the competition.

The routing and mapping system takes an electronic file from the back office forecasting system. This tells the routing system which customers need gas, the projected drop, and when the gas needs to be delivered. This delivery data often includes critical date, run out date and any customer specific delivery time windows that need to be adhered to.

The automated routing package routes the deliveries for the week minimizing mileage, drive time, and overtime. The automated routing is updated daily throughout the week to accommodate will calls or other delivery variations as they occur.

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