This year marks the 75th anniversary of Price Chopper Supermarkets, which operates 116 stores located throughout the Northeast. The future of the Schenectady, NY-based grocery chain is as promising as its past is rich. Committed to an inclusive business culture where all associates are valued, Price Chopper has never lost a day to labor disputes.
Committed to outstanding service to customers and business partners, the 20,000 employees own 55% of the company's privately held stock. As company founder Bill Golub once said: “The whole idea is to better service our customers…when you need something, no matter what the hour, you will be able to get it.”
To make sure that happens, Price Chopper depends on a private fleet made up of 73 day cab tractors, 180 dry van trailers and 190 reefer trailers delivering an average of 1,000 loads per week. “One of the primary goals of the fleet is to ensure all of our stores have the freshest products on the shelves” says Ron Cellupica, Senior Vice President of Warehousing and Transportation.
According to Tom Bird, Vice President of Transportation, Price Chopper transportation associates understand that it's their responsibility to look for strategies that deliver results and drive the cost of goods down.
The fleet, which has more than 180 drivers, travels 12-million miles a year. In addition to store deliveries, the transportation department seeks out backhaul opportunities wherever they make sense, giving the fleet one of the highest utilization rates in the country. “Between backhauls and store cleanouts, our empty miles are less than 15%,” Bird says.
Price Chopper people make the difference. Driver turnover is less than 2%, and the average length of service in the transportation department is 11 years. Mechanics and drivers work together to ensure that equipment is maintained and driven safely. The snow and cold temperatures of winter operations demand a great deal of skill from both, since the stories are spread out from the Canadian border down to the Scranton, PA, area.
Changes in the industry are some of today's biggest obstacles. The rising cost of fuel and equipment put extra pressure on the private fleet.
“We constantly look for improvements in our operation to help offset the increases,” says Cellupica. “Technology improvements go through a rigorous internal ROI process that includes a cross-functional team that includes our Information Systems Department. The true cost/benefit of a project is reviewed by our Transportation Technology group working together with our IS group. Once a technology project is completed, we consistently challenge the members to ‘bring home the bacon.’”
Other changes in fleet operations include lowering the speed limit on the tractors, using automated transmissions, idle time reduction programs, and reviewing tire compounds, treads and designs. Although some of the changes have not been popular with the drivers, they're necessary for the fleet to keep transportation costs in line with corporate goals.
A key goal is staying focused on building the business. Neil Golub, President and CEO of the Golub Corp., Price Chopper's parent company, puts its succinctly: “We are a family in business, not just a family business.”
Gary Petty is President and CEO of the National Private Truck Council. The council's web site is www.nptc.org. His column appears monthly in FLEET OWNER.