By Andrea Obston, CLDA Director of PR
When it comes to coping with capacity challenges Chris Jenkins believes that honesty is the best policy. “We aren’t structured to take over the world. There are only so many Amazons and that’s not us. We know that. We are honest with customers right up front, and we only promise what we can deliver.,” he says.
Jenkins is the president of On Time Delivery. The Pittsburgh-based courier has as its slogan “Parcels,Pallets and Logistics Management — We Deliver for You.” They have been in business since 1979, holding contracts with national and regional shippers. By operating out of three delivery locations across Pennsylvania, and Kentucky they can simultaneously dispatch up to 100 routes per day and make over 500,000 deliveries per year.
Jenkins has found over the years that setting the tone with customers from the beginning is how you get and keep successful relationships. He stresses that he knows what his company is capable of and will be honest with customers at the start. During the sales process he will candidly let a customer know what he can and cannot deliver. “That initial relationship with a new customer can really level off expectations,” he says. “We are operationally and financially oriented. We spend a lot of time talking to our operations team about what we can and can’t handle. We make sure we don’t take on anything without talking to them.”
Jenkins has also found that if you are honest with what you can do from the start you can negotiate with the customer about what they think they need. “Suppose a customer requests five drivers immediately. I know I can deliver those five drivers but it’s going to take some time,” he says. “I will tell that customer I will find the drivers, but it won’t be in two weeks. I will tell him ‘I can give you three in the first two weeks, and I can come up with the fourth and fifth in week four. Then I ask him if that would work for him. It’s a matter of being honest upfront and adjusting the customer’s expectations to what I know we can deliver. I am not saying we can’t handle what they want. I’m saying, ‘We can get you the five drivers, but it’s going to be over a longer period of time.’ I am adjusting expectations from the start so that they won’t be disappointed or surprised. You’d be surprised at how many customers actually appreciate that.”
When a Good Customer Asks for More Than You Can Deliver
Like everyone in the business Jenkins doesn’t want to say no to a good customer. He admits to having learned the hard way what happens when you take on business you shouldn’t to meet the needs of a longtime customer. “Over the 42 years that we’ve been in business we’ve learned what happens when you stretch to meet a customer’s demand. What you don’t want to do is to put inexperienced people in trucks too quickly and without the proper training. It will cost you in the end.”
When he faces a capacity challenge, he will often partner with other members of the CLDA. “Through membership in the association we have established relationships with fellow carriers within our market and in contiguous markets. So, when I have customer demands I can’t meet, we make a few phone calls and reach out to others I’ve met through the association. With their help I can deliver for the customer,” he says.
Here again honesty comes into play. When Jenkins partners with a CLDA member to deliver outside his normal footprint he lets the customer know. He also makes it clear that he is the ultimate manager of the account. “We let them know that we’re still responsible for getting the package where it needs to go,” he says.
Follow the Packages
Over the years Jenkins has found that knowing the customers sweet spot is the best way to get the work that he can deliver on. “It’s a matter of finding the right niche, but understanding that it moves,” he says. “Our niche in the 1980s and 1990s was Avon Products. My father founded this company in 1979. We started out running Avon products on weekends. I think we were getting $1.30 a stop! At that point, Avon had a massive company. We at eight locations, handling about 800,000 deliveries a year with Avon products. Our drivers would deliver the products directly to the sales representatives. It was almost like a UPS or FedEx operation. Our drivers would average 70-140 stops per day. We have our own conveyor system and sortation processes. In the 90s we entered the pharmaceutical delivery business and diversified a little bit. As we entered the 2000s and the internet shopping age, we saw the writing on the wall that the packages were starting to become palletized and shipped to the US Postal service. So, we kind of metamorphosis and got into the DDU delivery work. Over the last few years, we’ve gone more into direct delivery. because companies have moved away from the post office and are going back to direct delivery. So, we followed the packages and have taken on more direct delivery work. I think dealing successfully with the whole capacity issue can be summarized in one sentence: Follow the packages and only take on what you can handle.”