Transportation, Technology, and PeePaw

Several years ago, I worked for a fairly large petroleum distributor here in Houston, TX.  They sold fuel, lubricants, had environmental services and a fleet card program, and had been in business for over 80 years. 

When I first went to work there, they had approximately 60 employees and one location.  When I left 10 years later there were over 200 employees and 3 locations around Texas.  I loved my time there and I loved the people I worked with daily.  I developed personal relationships with quite a few of them that I still have today.

One of them, PeePaw, which really was his nickname, had been there for over 25 years.  He had started off as a driver and had been dispatching fuel for probably the last 10 years.  He was a tall man, skinny legged man with a beer belly that wore a Lone Star Feed baseball hat, cocked back on his head just so, he always wore his Wranglers and most likely, had a big old dip of Skoal pinched between his teeth and jaw. 

PeePaw knew the fuel business, inside and out.  And when it came to dispatching a load, his word was the final say. PeePaw was old school in every sense of the word. Everything he used to dispatch was pen and paper with all the details kept nicely between his ears, under that Lone Star cap.  And by paper, I mean a copy of a copy of a copy that had been copied a few more times until it was perfectly crooked on the page. 

Most loads were taken the day before to be delivered the next day.  God forbid you had a load to go out the same day or that didn’t fit perfectly into his stacks of dispatch paperwork.  I don’t care who you were or if you had just gotten a good deal if you asked him if he could do a load the answer was always emphatically “NO”, no way, no how, just wasn’t going to happen.  That is, until 30 to 45 minutes later once he would have time to sort through his stacks and somehow find a place for an order that had been a definite “NO”.  Then he would come to you and say, “give me that load”. 

Well by this time, you had already told the customer you couldn’t do it and they had more times than not, placed the order with someone else.  What kind of customer service was that?  Not very good at all.  I imagine it was equally frustrating for PeePaw as it was for the rest of us, and I am sure he was doing with the best he could with what he had to work with.  I cringe to think of the loads that were lost due to this antiquated “dispatch system”.

Customers are increasingly aware of the technology changes in the trucking industry. They are now demanding tracking and quotes in real time. Customers want to be able to see where their products are and how long it will take for them to arrive. Vehicle tracking is making it possible to integrate this information into customer-centric apps and other delivery monitoring systems. Customers can now hold an app that shows not only when they can expect their delivery, but also, exactly where it is in the shipping process. This helps improve customer service and client satisfaction (Hall, 2015)

If customers called in to find out when they would receive a delivery, PeePaw would have to call the driver, leave a message and wait for the driver to call back when it was safe. What if dispatchers like Peepaw, knew at a glance, every load he had out and where he had gaps to fill in another load?  PeePaw could have really used a software with a track and trace feature so he at a glance he would have known where all of drivers were located, who might be finishing up a head of schedule and who could have taken an extra load there by adding value to not only his external customers but his internal customers and making more money for the company.

I have found that many petroleum distributors do not embrace technology because they feel like what they are doing now works for them and they are not fans of change. I have also heard from distributors that they just don’t have the budget to adopt technology at an extra expense not realizing that the ROI of technology will increase their bottom line. 

Recently, I worked on onboarding a new carrier to our platform.  One of the first comments they made to me was “we aren’t really computer savvy”.  They wanted to push back the onboarding process as far out as possible.  They were concerned about their dispatcher, he was somewhat of a PeePaw too, who had just learned to send a text message, being able to utilize our software.  But once we showed him how easy it was to use and gave him a “Quick Start Guide”, he was off and running.   I am sure the leadership at my previous company felt the same way, as many of them weren’t technologically savvy themselves. 

How much of this story resonates with the way many petroleum distributors operate today?  How much revenue are they missing out on because they don’t utilize technology?  Unfortunately, they are missing out on additional opportunities, revenue growth and spending too much on overhead where that spend could have been allocated elsewhere to growing their business. 

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