On the Road Again

From Routing To Fuel Effeciency, Post-Hurricane Lessons for POU and Bottled Water Dealers

By Lorraine Keating


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Since the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in September, fuel efficiency is again an issue of public debate in the United States. 

Even now, more than two months after the tragedy, every bottled water and point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) treatment company is likely experiencing some increased costs related to increased fuel costs.

The goal for dealership owners/operators during this time is to implement fuel-saving steps in the effort to become more cost-efficient.

Routing and scheduling efficiency is especially crucial in keeping fuel expenses down.

The right routing software solution, integrated with handheld and survey options, a solid GIS module, a flexible customer base, and a well-trained staff are the necessary ingredients to maintain a fuel-efficient routing process for POU and bottled water businesses.

It enables water delivery and treatment companies to grow even when gas prices are up and hurricanes seem to gain in strength and frequency.

Here are 10 top tips for achieving optimum routing efficiency:

Tip 1:

Review the routing process.

Start by reviewing your software routing solution. Is your software solution in the office and on the road capable of increasing the density of your routes, rerouting for efficiency each day with mapped directions and dealing more efficiently with off-route and emergency stops?

Additional software features like mobile devices can lift the software to another level and, with fuel prices still at an alltime high, there’s no time like the present to consider re-investing in a new routing solution.

Mobilization of both sales and route drivers doubles the gain. Salespeople may be routed with mobiles to concentrate on increasing sales in less-dense routes.

Review how many more stops each driver will be able to make if customers are densely located.

It is also important to understand how much fuel can be saved if a driver covers a smaller area with more stops per day.

Whatever your situation, it is highly recommended that you take the time and evaluate the status quo of your routing process.

Tip 2:

Consider redesigning routes with a mapping (GIS) program.

Dealerships should also take a look at the advantages of software products that map the daily routes. GIS mapping

solutions cost from $400 to $15,000 and, regardless of price, a solid mapping solution adds a tremendous benefit to your company.

Most route sales companies are structured so that the route salespeople “own” their routes and do not encroach upon each others customers. Time appointments and emergencies must also be factored in, making mapping programs ideal for POU or bottled water businesses.

The stops for the day are passed to the mapping software where they are visually displayed on a map in an optimized

stop-sequence priority.

As would be expected, the level of detail with mapping software varies with price. For example, some GIS software optimizes exclusively on the basis of distance from the depot to the depot per driver.

More expensive and sophisticated software considers the construction, the size of the truck, time appointments and various other “specialties” in deciding the optimum route.

Once the mapping program has arranged the stop sequences for each driver, the routing software prepares the mobiles of each driver in accordance with the optimized routes.

When gas is expensive, every mile counts and every bit of optimization is a value.

Tip 3:

Reevaluate customer schedules.

Another fuel-efficient strategy requires that a route manager reevaluate customers’ perceived versus real need in light of the established routes and schedules. 

For instance, a customer asks to receive their bottled water delivery on Tuesday afternoon but the driver of this particular route is scheduled for another delivery in the area at 11 a.m. Without any changes in the schedule, the driver has to make an extra loop to service the customer in the afternoon.

With an efficient system in place, the conflict may have several solutions that are fuel-conserving:

  • A mapping program can quickly reroute the stops with the time preference considered.
  • Perhaps the first customer has no time preference and can be moved to another time slot. A phone call can quickly resolve this inefficiency.
  • There may be a “hot spot” driver who can serve as a spare driver to cover the emergencies.
  • It is also possible that a person calling may not be “out of water” and are willing to wait for a day or two.

Some dealerships respond to all call-in customers as if they were emergencies, however, businesses should always make a phone call to verify the seriousness of the order before making a move. 

Tip 4:

Rethink customer needs.

Rethinking your customers’ needs involves several forms of analyses.

First, dealers will want software that reports on customers who continually skip their delivery. These customers should have their frequency extended and/or be required to take a minimum amount of bottled water or bags of salt, for instance.

This procedure eliminates the inefficiency caused by having drivers make unnecessary stops.

Inother solution to the problem of serving customers on different time slots of the same day requires a more radical approach.

Water treatment and bottled water dealers may actually find that it is much more costly to service a customer who is not flexible with the delivery appointment, than to refuse the service altogether.

Refusing to service an inflexible customer can be cost-saving and often leads to considerable efficiency in time and transportation cost. 

Tip 5:

Implement a digital and color-coded dispatch board.

Routing software often includes a dispatch board, which visually represents a day’s work, and can quickly indicate where bottlenecks exist.

Office personnel and managers view the board electronically, which can be color-coded by route, driver or status in order to make the visual handy at-aglance.

Dispatch boards provide different views so that sales personnel appear on a unique board, while drivers appear on a separate view.Always verify customer “emergencies.”

The first step is to re-evaluate your routing software.

An electronic dispatch board is traditionally more useful for service technicians than salespeople because service stops are generally more dynamic.

Dispatch boards allow office personnel or managers to click and drag the stops to another day or driver. Personnel can also click and drag a stop to a “suspend” area where office personnel can call those customers and attempt to reschedule them if possible. 

Tip 6:

Purchase a mobile solution for drivers.

Purchasing a mobile solution for route drivers keeps them on route; enables them to make more deliveries in one day; and helps to reduce time spent at each stop. It also gives them the exact route schedule from the beginning of the day.

A solid handheld unit solution enables drivers to take orders; make sales; do deliveries; service equipment; capture signature; print a receipt with signature; and reconcile each route at its completion. 

Inventory can be controlled at the truck level and the check-out process can reconcile both inventory and cash. Mobiles reduce the printing of paper tickets, report of missed stops or nodelivery stops, track empty bottles and make drivers more professional. 

There are both return on investment (ROI) and value on investment (VOI) benefits:

  • Fewer errors on the route translatein to more stops completed and more revenue created.
  • Less confusion about the routes means more fuel efficiency per truck.

Tip 7:

Conduct driver surveys.

Some handheld solutions contain a survey option that allows the driver or salesperson to collect information that is useful for management purposes.

Created by a route manager or someone responsible for the efficient flow of stop completion, the survey will present questions to the driver to answer either at the end of each stop or during the service of the stop.

For example, a survey may ask a driver to specify the truck mileage at the start or end of a route. It may also query a driver about a competitor’s products and pricing.

Survey software collects information on equipment at the site or indicates if a salesperson needs to follow up with a customer.

It allows for individualized attention and information to improve route and delivery efficiency that is otherwise difficult to collect on a regular and systematic basis.

The collected information can be routed to various managers via a website, by email or reporting. 

Tip 8:

Retrain personnel in the office and on the road.

It is also time to consider retraining office and delivery personnel and to remind them of the goal to work cost efficiently and to increase incoming revenues.

Since route changes are a daily occurrence, it is imperative to avoid underutilizing the software system. Staff has to be able to schedule reliably with both time-saving and fuel-efficient routes.

A repeat-training program ensures that staff members have more than a basic understanding of the routing software and become able to negotiate its manifold features skillfully and appropriately. 

Such software usage requires a wellrounded training program during which staff is able to ask questions, make mistakes, and learn the details about the system.

Training enables staff to navigate the system on their own with confidence and skill, and the result is a well-trained staff that schedules and executes the most fuel-efficient deliveries. 

Tip 9:

Integrate offline knowledge in your routing habits (circular).

Software that is customizable is a big advantage because it adapts to specific procedures or logistics characteristic of a dealership’s routing process.

Customized software helps a bottled water or POU company to perform its daily tasks in the best way. This includes, of course, time- and energy-efficient routing and scheduling of deliveries.

For example, some companies load trucks the evening before, while others have the drivers load the trucks in the morning. Some use load sheets developed by the computer, while others trust that the driver knows what he/she needs each day. Some dealerships load serial numbers onto the truck for scanning purposes, while others type the

serial number when installed.

There are many other company-specific procedures that software is able to accommodate if the routing solution is both flexible and customizable.

Tip 10:

As a last resort: Add a fuel surcharge.

If you have made all the necessary changes in the delivery routes supported by routing software and staff, but the fuel costs are still skyrocketing, adding a fuel surcharge may be your last resort.

Customers won’t like it, of course, and your competitors might be willing to cover the extra fee in order to gain your customer. It is a tough choice. 

In the end, however, a surcharge is an option to be seriously considered. After all, fuel prices will not significantly decrease since global demand is up andis expected to stay high into the new year. 

Consider the facts: Suppose a driver drives an unnecessary 1 hour per day, or approximately 50 miles. If one assumes that a truck gets 10 miles per gallon, the daily increase is 5 gallons or 100 gallons per month.

At $4 per gallon, the increase approaches almost $400 per month per truck. This is a significant increase for each truck, especially since the margins on water deliveries are relatively small.



Lorraine Keating is president of Prism

Visual Software, Inc., Port Washington, NY,

a software company that develops solutions

for the field service and delivery industries.

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