Delivering for Walmart

by MM&D staff

OAKVILLE, Ontario—Sporting Walmart uniforms and driving trucks decorated with Walmart logos, delivery drivers who bring big screen TVs and flat-pack furniture to Toronto residents, give the appearance they’re part of the giant retailer’s staff, even though they’re not. Instead they’re part of Distribution Services Limited (ASL) ‘s team.

Headquartered in Oakville, Ontario, ASL’s Precision Home & Office Deliveries division has begun doing home deliveries within the greater Toronto area for Walmart’s e-commerce arm. And it’s doing the deliveries in Walmart livery.

Primarily, Precision is responsible for dedicated delivery of items that don’t lend themselves well to being shipped via courier. The company has two trucks, complete with Walmart decals on the sides and on the roofs, operating five days per week.

“We’re really in the over-sized, heavy-weight category,” said ASL president, Cole Dolny.

“So for example, if you bought bags of ten kitty litter, that would fall under the weight category that would come to us, whereas each individual bag of kitty litter isn’t big and wouldn’t be ours. If you bought a snowblower or artificial Christmas tree that would be delivered by us.

“Knock-down furniture is a big one for us. A lot of flat-screen TVs. They’re over-sized. Along with flat-screen TVs, there are a lot of knock-down stands that would hold a flat screen TV.”

The trucks are dedicated to carrying Walmart merchandise, but Dolny said if the demand and volume are there, Precision can direct other resources to deliver on behalf of Walmart. ASL operates what he describes as a “conjunctive” (consolidated) service, and the contract the company has with Walmart allows it to carry Walmart orders on its regular conjunctive routes.

Normally ASL works out of its own facilities to provide inbound and outbound transportation and facilities services (including cross-dock, extended cross-dock, traditional warehousing, and order and e-commerce fulfillment) but in this case, ASL is working out of Walmart’s e-commerce fulfillment centre in Mississauga, Ontario.

“They’ve defined a spec on what freight should be tendered to us. The orders are tendered to us and we load our own trucks.

“We get a file on the orders. We can then look at how that freight should be organized,” said Dolny.

He explained the drivers of the dedicated trucks are independent owner/operators, which means they have a great deal of control over the routing and delivery process.

“What we would do is determine into which quadrant of the city it’s going. That would be tendered to an independent contractor. Independent contractors technically have to route themselves as part of being an independent contractor.

“We supply the software to them so they can route themselves. In the end, with the technology tools they have available to them from us, as well as their experience, and because a lot is repeat business, they can optimize their routing really well. They get repeat customers, and they get to know the route. They develop a rapport with the business or homeowner.”

Although he couldn’t reveal the on-time figures for Walmart’s orders, Dolny said Precision is typically able to deliver on schedule between 99 and 99.5 percent of the time.

Being on-time and providing satisfactory customer service is important to Dolny, so ASL surveys the delivery customers on a regular basis.

“One of the things we did that was really exciting—and we had to ask our customers’ permission, because we were really contacting their customers—we decided to start our own surveys.

“We would get a scorecard from our customers, but they are like financial statements. They come a week or two after the end of the month and they’re a lagging indicator of what happened. That’s not good enough for me. I don’t want to wait until two weeks into the next month to hear how we did based on our customer surveys. I wanted an active management tool that allowed us to know with confidence, other than statistical anomalies, as the month progresses whether we were going to have a good report card from our customer or not. The only way to do that was to do surveys ourselves.

“We had supervisors of our hubs and people in the administration section of our head office do surveys. You don’t have to do a lot if you are doing them regularly,” he said.

Among the questions asked on the survey are, did the driver ask where the box should be placed in the residence and did the driver place it there with a smile, did the driver offer thanks for doing business with the retailer and did the driver wear his booties while in the house.

Colny said he adopted the idea of drivers putting on coverings over their footwear after hearing an advertisement from mattress retailer Sleep Country Canada promoting the procedure as part of its delivery service.

“What hit me, and others on the team, is you’re going into a person’s home, so that’s intimate. You’re going into the most intimate room in the house. A lot of times, there may be female at home with a male delivery driver going into the bedroom. Respect for the home is crucial. Respect for the individual is crucial.”

He added that although he trusts his drivers to follow the company rules and procedures and to put their booties on, he said the only way to really know that’s happening is to survey customers.

Normally a single driver is responsible for making the deliveries, but when the loads require more manpower, ASL arranges that.

“Between the owner/operator as well as the supervisor or manager, we will determine if it’s a one-man or two-man delivery. The safety of the owner operator, respect for the home we are going into and the risk of damage to the product—with safety driving it first—that combination of variables, will determine if it’s a one-man or two-man.

“If there is only man [when two are required], we can have a supervisor meet up with the person or have another driver meet up with him where the boundaries of trucks are. If you don’t have a lot of two-man [deliveries], it’s a matter of being creative. If you have a lot of two man [deliveries], you put two men in the truck and you go.”

While ASL’s current contract with Walmart only covers the Toronto area, Colny said he can easily see this type of delivery service growing.

“We believe this market can absolutely be expanded,” he said. “I am expecting high growth in the GTA. I am expecting opportunity within the corridors we operate in today. Walmart is shipping nationally, so I’m sure there are opportunities across the country, whether it’s for us or others. I see this as very scalable, and if Walmart is successful like they are on the retail side, they will be required to be very successful.

“We have very good density, not just in the cities but outside the cities in the 401and QEW corridors. From Drummondville to Montreal to Ottawa and beyond. Through the GTA to Peterborough and to Sarnia and Windsor, London and Niagara. We believe we have the density to offer something good to Walmart and other customers.”