Drivers Can Be More Than Vending Machine Fillers

July 10, 2017

In a previous editor's note, I argued the importance of technology. Once an operation reaches a certain size, it's very difficult for an owner to know what's going on in every department and manage effectively. It means trusting employees and supervisors. It means relying on your team and sometimes opening yourself up to inefficiencies or in the worst cases, internal theft. However, technologies such as telemetry and handhelds/iPads used along with vending management systems changed that. One operator of my acquaintance said getting a VMS was like being back in the driver's seat, despite having a multi-million dollar operation. I find many people share this idea, and it changes the dynamic of the organization. However, in talking to Ron Cichy, a professor at The School Of Hospitality at Michigan State University, I find all this talk about technology might be leading use into a less fortunate direction in terms of employees.  

Heralding the route drivers 

Cichy is passionate about route drivers. If you've spoken to him or read any of his blogs and articles posted on, you'll have picked up on this. He feels that route drivers fall at the low end of the employee appreciate scale. An observation supported by the lack support for programs such as Route Driver of the Year and For Route Driver Only sponsored contests and editorial. Cichy argues that these are the people who engage with clients and ensure a level of service at each location, physically, when the owner can't possibly be there. That means they should be valued as talent, not as manual labor. Perhaps operators think they do appreciate their route drivers sufficiently. However, Cichy quoted a survey to me that out of 7,700 U.S. employers and 147,000 U.S. employees, 64 percent of the employers say their employees feel appreciated, yet only 45 percent of employees say that they feel appreciated at work.   

Measuring ROI of appreciation  

At this point you're hopefully considering your own employee appreciate programs and wondering how your route drivers feel and how engaged they are. Perhaps you're even wondering if it is really all that important. According to Emplify, a company that specializes in employee engagement, there are a number of direct and tangible benefits to organizations who invest in their employees. They cite compelling statistics from consulting firms and research papers such as that companies with engaged employees report 2.5 times more revenue than competitors with low engagement levels. Another statistic is that business with employees who are engaged outperform those without by 202 percent. Workers in the top 1 percent in terms of productivity add about $5,000 to profit per year, while a toxic worker costs about $12,000 per year. It's estimated that American businesses lose an average of $500+ billion annually because of "disengaged" workers.   

Technology investment still important 

Perhaps it's time to rethink about the importance of the route driver. While I am a strong proponent of being in the driver's seat of your company's operations by investing in technology, there is no denying the power employees can have on your bottom line. By increasing training and making employees feel proud, empowered and valued (the same goals our location customers have), it can have a positive impact on sales and also elevate the perception of the entire industry.