Blue-ribbon service

Orscheln Farm & Home is a leading Midwestern retailer serving rural and suburban customers with 154 retail store locations throughout nine states in the country's heartland. These locations are serviced from a single distribution point known as the Retail Support Center in Moberly, MO. The company goes to considerable lengths to provide great service for customers, even equine ones. At rural locations,

Orscheln Farm & Home is a leading Midwestern retailer serving rural and suburban customers with 154 retail store locations throughout nine states in the country's heartland. These locations are serviced from a single distribution point known as the Retail Support Center in Moberly, MO.

The company goes to considerable lengths to provide great service for customers, even equine ones. At rural locations, drinks for horses are "on the house," as watering troughs set outside of rural stores accommodate the Amish who park their horse-drawn buggies while shopping. This makes more than good public relations sense because the animal market is a major part of Orscheln's business. The company offers livestock feed, pet food, and animal health supplies. It also carries an extensive line of hardware, plumbing, electrical, automotive, toys, housewares, clothing, and lawn and garden supplies.

Orscheln's private fleet operations, a central component of the company's mission, serves primarily an inside customer base. The company has 54 trucks with 54 drivers, including 36 leased owner-operators and 18 company drivers. These drivers transport 97% of outbound store freight from the Retail Support Center and around 32% of all inbound freight into the Center.

"Communication is a top priority," says Erle Bergstrom, CTP, transportation manager. "We have a consistent flow of information to stores and suppliers by our drivers, every run, every day. The online shipment tracking is refreshed every 30 minutes and drivers are expected to email ETA before departure."

The importance of this insistence on constant communication is often revealed after the truck has arrived at the store. By staying in continuous contact with store management as to time of arrival, the store is better prepared to receive the goods and assist the driver in the unloading. This keeps the customer service scores at a uniformly high level.

While the fleet has onboard computers in all of its power units, the company is in the process of developing the capability to track equipment using GPS/OBC to project ETA while en route and automatically email tracking notices to stores. This will help the stores in labor scheduling in anticipation of the truck's arrival. An onboard geofence project is also on the drawing board for the private fleet.

Surveys of store managers are continuous. About 10 to 12% are surveyed each week on private fleet performance. Bergstrom says drivers are assessed for delivery times (too early is as bad as too late!); equipment appearance; image the driver projects; and manner of dealing with office personnel. The survey results are used proactively in performance evaluations.

High standards pay off for the company. "We have a superb team of drivers, employee and owner-operators alike," says Bergstrom. "While we have a very low turnover of drivers (around 9% annually), when we do bring on new drivers we look for people who are willing to put the customer first and make service the highest priority in spirit and in fact."

This is what makes the private fleet a winner for Orscheln.


Gary Petty is president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council. The council's website is www.nptc.org. His column appears monthly in Fleet Owner.

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