If you’re a beverage distributor, you need to be able to easily coordinate between sales, merchandising, delivery—and even sometimes production and bottling. The result is a high wire act that can be incredibly difficult to coordinate. It’s way too easy to find yourself strapped for delivery capacity because coordinating each stop in a way that maximizes customer satisfaction is so difficult—and, frankly, a lot of modern beverage distribution technology solutions don’t do enough to alleviate that pain point.
If you find yourself constantly wondering whether there’s a simpler way to balance customer satisfaction with delivery efficiency, it may be time to consider new technology. The question is: how can you tell which technology is going to have a real impact?
The Top Challenges in Beverage Distribution
Meeting delivery windows
Not only do beverage distribution companies need routes that are time and cost efficient, they also need to schedule stops for the time windows requested by 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 and restaurants) that haven’t opened yet. Often, it seems like the only way to meet time window requests consistently is to build in so much buffer time between stops that your stops are in danger of becoming unprofitable.
COVID-19 resulted in huge upheavals for beverage distributors, from changing hours of service at groceries and restaurants to huge supply chain disruptions to an even worse driver shortage than the one we’ve been dealing with for multiple years now. 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—that’s why distributors need software that can empower them to plan multiple different delivery scenarios in advance and swap in the appropriate one for each new set of circumstances.
Accurate delivery costing
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 deliveries to accurately measure cost per stop or calculate your most profitable accounts is often difficult or impossible with legacy technology.
At the end of the day, customer experience is the true key to success in beverage distribution—which is precisely what makes these other challenges so difficult. Not only do you need to hit time windows consistently and account for things like driver affinity, you need to make sure sales reps and merchandisers are also showing up to the right accounts at the right times. And you need a way to efficiently identify potential disruptions and proactively notify customers about any changes. This is before we even get into your ability to handle off-day requests and last-minute volume changes. All of these demands add up—and meeting them seamlessly requires technology that can radically simplify your deliveries. That way, you can spend less of your focus on delivery minutiae and more of it on keeping customers happy and well taken care of.
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 those challenges by improving your delivery 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?
Okay, let’s put the toughest requirement right at the top: you need a way to get the most out of your delivery capacity while ensuring that your top customers get their cases of Coke or Pepsi right on time. The trick here comes down to how you approach your delivery routing.
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.
This also puts you in a position to more effectively handle off-day requests. 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. Hybrid 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. To make this work, your routing engine should 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 should 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. As it happens, this kind of data streamlining is one of the ways in which last mile software can complement TMS systems, which are often too heavy to provide seamless user experiences.
Customer experience management
We talked about customer experience above—but how do you actually put elevated customer experience into practice when you're distributing beverages? Hybrid routing is a good start, since it ensures on-time performance for your most important accounts. It also enables you to handle off-day requests and more effectively hand seasonal rushes. But what else do you need to succeed?
For starters, you’ll 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. Ideally, you can also incorporate sales people and merchandisers into the process via a separate, easy-to-use application. This can combine to help provide an elevated customer delivery experience that offers predictability and transparency for grocery chains, 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. Here, it’s often best to look for a cloud-based solution that’s going to get frequent updates and maintenance. If the solution itself is agile and nimble, it’ll power agility in your operations as well.
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.