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6 Minute Read

How to Deal with Last-Minute Requests in Building Supplies Delivery

Generally speaking, contractors aren’t exactly renowned for their patience. A typical large job site is going to have a dozen things going on at any given moment and very little extra space for equipment that’s not going to be used immediately—which means coordinating between installation and delivery can become a high-stakes, high-precision process pretty quickly.

building supplies deliveryIf you deliver building or construction supplies, you know that this kind of environment is a recipe for last-minute delivery requests. The average consumer might be willing to wait a few extra days for a toaster oven if they can save some money on shipping (though just as often they’ll want it as fast as humanly possible), but when your option is rapid delivery or paying a whole team of people to wait around for a delivery before they can do the rest of their work, there’s not a lot of room for flexibility.

Of course, this can make life difficult for whoever is in charge of last mile delivery. When a contractor places an order for the next day, you need to make sure you can find a warehouse or distribution that actually has the required parts, slot the order into a route from that warehouse or distribution center, and make sure that the arrival window actually lines up with the contractor’s schedule. Once you’ve done that, you still have to monitor the delivery in real time to make sure your plan isn’t going awry and to ensure that the delivery is documented successfully and any returned items are processed. 

It’s not an understatement that keeping your clients happy is a real challenge. So how are building supplies distribution organizations supposed to make that happen at scale?  

1. Optimize Your Routes

It might seem obvious that getting the right parts to the right job site at the right time depends on your ability to route the orders efficiently. But truly optimizing routes for this use case actually involves a lot of complexity:

  • Your routing software needs to be able to work quickly. If it takes multiple hours to run a route, your cutoff time for orders is going to be too early to enable you to stay adaptable. This is equally important when you need to adjust a route at the last minute, e.g. for a same-day delivery request.  
  • Likewise, it needs to be able to handle a massive number of orders at scale. If it slows down when routing more than a few dozen trucks, it’s not going to position you for flexibility and scalability.
  • For orders where the delivery includes installation or setup, you may need to find a way to ensure that stops are only assigned to drivers/technicians with particular skill sets, which can create a huge amount of complexity if you want to keep your routes efficient. 
  • By the same token, some deliveries will take longer than others, which has to be factored into your capacity utilization and your delivery ETAs throughout the day.
  • On top of all that, job sites often don’t have verified addresses, which means your routing engine has to be able to figure out where, exactly, your drivers and technicians are going. 

When you’ve got all that in place, you can set yourself up with a high baseline level of agility. You can roll out plans quickly, meaning they’re up-to-date in terms of the latest orders—and you can dynamically update those plans as you go without throwing the whole day into chaos. 

2. Provide Impeccable Communications

Okay, you’ve managed all the feats of route planning we described above in order to get the right goods to the right job site on a tight timeline. That means it’s time to declare victory, right? Not so fast… 

By and large, business customers want fewer and less frequent delivery notifications than end consumers do. Your typical customer waiting for a parcel might want daily updates leading up to the delivery and multiple notifications on the day the order is actually set to arrive. This is overkill when your customer is a contractor running a busy jobsite, but that doesn’t mean that you can skip the communication stage entirely. 

To ensure that on-time in your routing system translates into the right time for your customers, you need to send emails and texts at the right cadence throughout the process. This might include a delivery confirmation or a schedule notification so the customer has a record of the order amount and ETA—and it should absolutely include notifications if a truck is running late or  there are any other changes to the plan. Ideally, you’d be able to develop different communications and cadences for different product or service types (e.g. installation vs. delivery), in order to create a delivery experience that will keep your customers coming back the next time they need to order supplies and materials.  

3. Ensure Total Real-Time Visibility

Again, end customers in retail or other B2C areas are probably more likely to check a live order tracking portal for a particular delivery than someone trying to keep things on schedule at a job site. But providing this kind of real-time visibility can still add real value. For one thing, it forces you to ensure that level of real-time visibility internally—which can help you manage exceptions, spot potential late deliveries, and reduce disruptions throughout the delivery process. 

Of course, true real-time visibility is about more than just GPS tracking on a map. It requires you to map delivery order statuses onto real-time location data and predictive ETA calculations. To make this happen, you need a constant stream of data coming in from drivers in the field as they start and finish jobs. This data then has to be processed rapidly and factored into ETA calculations to see if you’re still on track to reach all the stops on a particular route at the right time. And once this data is processed, it needs to be presented in a way that can be understood at a glance. 

This might sound like a high hurdle to clear—but when you’re trying to turn around an order within a few hours, this kind of visibility can be invaluable to you and your customers. 

4. Leverage Store Pickup Options

Sometimes the fastest way for a contractor to get their order is to get in their own truck and drive to the warehouse where it’s stored and just pick it up. And that’s exactly the strategy that a lot of construction and building supplies delivery organizations use to get orders fulfilled on tight timelines. 

When it works, this can be a great way to keep customers happy while giving them a certain degree of freedom over how they receive their orders. At the same time, there is always a risk of creating huge traffic jams at your warehouse or distribution center if your pickup logistics process isn’t rolled out in a thoughtful way. Simply put, you need a way to dynamically manage capacity, track inventory levels and locations, and communicate with customers in real time. In other words, you need to manage pickups much the same way that you manage deliveries. If you can apply the same tools and technology to create a smooth pickup flow, you can fulfill more orders and give customers a better end-to-end experience. By combining this process with delivery workflows that are fast and agile, you can keep even your most demanding customers happy. 

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