Operator Tips: Facing The Route Driver Dilemma

Oct. 23, 2015

Employee retention in any field is difficult and vending is no exception, especially when it comes to route drivers. While many vending operations have a few excellent route drivers, many more companies struggle to find qualified candidates. Even if the operation does find a good candidate, hires and trains them, long-term retention is never guaranteed. “I would say that 50 percent of our drivers stay for one to two years,” said Rod Nester, owner of Smith Vending in Clarinda, IA. “The other 50 percent are here for three years or more.”

For Nester, and many others across the U.S., the route driver pool of candidates is small, which means that when he encounters a candidate he believes would be a good fit, he takes them through several steps to ensure that the applicant understands the job responsibilities and requirements so that there are no surprises. Operators may never be able to eliminate the dilemma surrounding hiring and maintaining route drivers, but several U.S. operators have tips to make it easier.

Hire on personality and characteristics

Lisa Leuchter, owner of Brandenton, FL-based Snackworks looks for candidates that see the position as an opportunity. “When I interview someone I look for a candidate who asks questions, can define what they are looking for from employment and does not try to tell me what they think I would want to hear,” Leuchter said.

A potential route driver also has to show that they are dedicated and committed to the job, says Jodi Glimpse, co-owner of Camelback Vending in Phoenix, AZ. “I look at work history and if they have had a lot of jobs in the last twelve months, they probably won’t be the best candidate.” Glimpse looks at the longevity at one or more past jobs. “It’s Important to me that my drivers show that they have dedication to things in life.”

Route drivers must be self-starters and show that they can take control of themselves and a situation. “We utilize line item DEX and prekitting so being a master of inventory control is a priority,” said Leuchter.

With the introduction of micro markets to his company, Nester looks for route drivers that are flexible and can handle working both vending and micro market routes. “We are in such a rural area that we don’t have separate market and vending drivers,” he said. “So our route supervisor oversees the micro markets and merchandises each location. She has to be detail-oriented and very organized, almost to the point of being OCD.” The driver, although he/she is not responsible for micro market merchandising, has to work with varying planograms and ever changing product SKUs in micro markets.

Continuously train

Once you get the right person in the door, it’s instrumental to properly and continuously train them. Both Glimpse and Leuchter recommend a trial run with the candidates. “We often have a new hire ride for a week or two with a fellow route driver who has meticulous habits,” said Leutcher. The new hire sees the end game and they then shift to a route trainer on their assigned route. If the route trainer is still "cleaning" up found problems left by an errant route driver that can be educational too, Leuchter noted. Snackworks route drivers are trained for four weeks, typically, depending on the individual’s needs.

“We do the real deal and take them on route to determine how quick and how organized they are,” said Glimpse. “We want them to get their hands dirty during training so they can see how intensive of a job it truly is.”

Incentivize

So you’ve hired a great driver, had them run route…now what? Incentivize them to increase retention, says Nester. Smith Vending drivers are paid commission, which is one way they are encouraged to sell more. “We also post route driver sales and stales for everyone in the company to see, which creates a competitive atmosphere that our drivers like,” said Nester.

Smith Vending drivers are also eligible for a pay raise after 90 days of work, but first they have to become NAMA certified route drivers. “Having our drivers be certified gives us credibility and it also gives them more responsibility. They also earn more, so that’s a bonus,” he said.

Despite these many tips, there’s no perfect answer to hiring the perfect driver. “I have learned that no one type of person fits the mold of my personal vision,” Leuchter concluded. “Listening carefully has helped us create a wonderful team, but we have and still do make many mistakes along the way.”

Nester agrees. “There are always those people who think the grass is always greener on the other side, and our dilemma is sifting through those people because they will be the first to leave.”