We don’t have to tell you the beverage distribution is in some ways more challenging than ever. All last mile operations are complex, but getting the right case of wine to the right place at the right time in the right condition has its own special set of difficulties, most of which are nearly impossible to handle efficiently with manual planning or legacy technology. Luckily, modern, cloud-based software solutions designed for the beverage distribution industry are out there—and the right one can make a huge difference when it comes to meeting the industry’s top challenges.
The Top Challenges in Beverage Distribution
Meeting delivery windows
Not only do beverage distribution companies—like all last mile operators—need routes that are time-cost efficient, they also need to schedule stops for time windows that work for their customers. This is made particularly challenging by the fact that different types of accounts might be operating on wildly different schedules—e.g. a grocery store’s hours of operations won’t be the same as a bar or restaurant. If you route entirely based on location, your drivers will find themselves trying (unsuccessfully) to deliver to on-premise establishments (e.g. bars, restaurants) that haven’t opened yet.
COVID-19 resulted in huge upheavals for beverage distributors, from changing hours of service at groceries and restaurants, to rule changes around on-premise alcohol consumption, to changes in consumer behavior (e.g. demand for takeout cocktails, which require specialized cups, etc.). For some, these changes actually boosted profits—but in ways that may not be sustainable. Even outside of COVID, the beverage landscape is subject to seasonal fluctuations and is driven by consumer trends that can be unpredictable.
Accurate delivery costing/last mile visibility
Profit margins in beverage distribution are typically razor-thin, which means you can’t afford to spend $50 delivering a $35 keg of beer. Unfortunately, gaining enough visibility into the last mile to accurately measure cost per stop or calculate your most profitable accounts is often difficult or impossible with legacy technology.
Communicating with customers
Like most last mile operations, beverage distribution tends to go a lot more smoothly when there’s open, seamless communication between drivers, dispatchers, and customers. Distributors need an easy, scalable way to notify customers on when to expect deliveries, as well as volumes and COD (cash on delivery) amounts—otherwise, sales reps are stuck calling individual accounts each time there’s a change in ETA.
No two distributors are exactly alike—one might be focused primarily on meeting delivery windows consistently and accurately, while cost per delivery might be the top concern for someone else. This means that a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to technology doesn’t cut it. Beverage distributors need to be able to customize their routing, scheduling, reporting, etc. to the specifics of their business.
How Can Beverage Distributor Software Address Those Challenges?
All of the above might sound a little daunting. But fear not! The right technology can address all of those challenges and more by improving your last mile logistics operations from end-to-end. The only question is: what does the right beverage distributor software solution need to offer in order to help solve those problems?
The right software needs to give dispatchers the ability to create static, optimized routes for recurring customers and orders—then utilize a kind of hybrid (i.e. static + dynamic) routing model on top of those static routes to accommodate new orders or changes. The static routes should take customer operating hours into account to generate optimized routes that don’t have to be manually massaged—meaning that the primary or core router can take a vacation without operations grinding to a halt. When new customers are added, they need to be easily incorporated into existing routes. Mixing static and dynamic routing in this way provides the best of both worlds and makes beverage distribution routes radically more efficient.
Advanced routing and rerouting
If a customer cancels and the distributor wants to add another stop to the relevant driver’s route to make up for it, efficiently rerouting shouldn’t require a miracle. Luckily, modern routing solutions offer users the flexibility to adjust route plans based on changing conditions on the day of delivery, including adding items to scheduled deliveries. Ideally, the routing engine would also be able to account for: customer tiers, traffic patterns, volume fluctuations, load differences, and more.
Beverage distributors need to be able to track asset locations, order statuses, and exceptions—all easily and at a glance. Here, the ideal beverage distributor software might have something like a visibility dashboard displaying all that data. Not only would this eliminate the need to constantly flip back and forth between multiple different solutions in order to find relevant information (e.g. order information plus delivery driver notes), it would also help distributors understand how the day of delivery is actually unfolding. When this data is combined with robust reporting functionality, it can give users the ability to easily calculate which stops are profitable and which aren’t.
Automated customer communication
In a perfect world, users could automatically update customers when their orders were routed, scheduled, or out for delivery. End customers could even track their own orders in real-time via a tracking widget. At the same time, you’d need a mobile app to allow drivers to easily capture pictures, videos, and notes as proof of delivery (POD), to be included in delivery reports sent to customers. You’d also want it to handle COD and contactless delivery as needed. This can help provide an elevated customer delivery experience that provides predictability and transparency for groceries, restaurants, corner stores, and others.
Since every beverage distributor has its own unique operational priorities, the right beverage distributor software should be customizable for a variety of different needs and goals. For instance, depending on the company, you might want a route optimization engine to prioritize cost reduction above all other factors—or, you might want it to prioritize consistently meeting precise time windows to provide quality customer experiences. With a system that’s flexible and versatile, you can ensure that your exact needs are met.
Again, no two distributors are alike—but the whole industry faces similar challenges. If you can find a software solution that truly covers the last mile from end to end, you can overcome these challenges and power more efficient, scalable, and profitable last mile operations.