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Unique Challenges and Opportunities for Retail and Food Service Drivers

May 27, 2019


Drivers and safety managers in the retail and food service industries face a growing number of challenges in today’s world. While they may approach those challenges from different perspectives, the problems are shared and affect companies both from the driver and the management standpoint.

While all commercial fleets are facing significant challenges in a changing environment, some of these behind-the-wheel challenges are unique to retail and food service drivers. Here’s a look at five challenges facing retail and food service drivers as well as the opportunities they present.

No. 1: Driving in Reverse

Backing up is the most hazardous position a driver can be in, but for drivers making deliveries to retailers and food service companies, backing up is something they do on a regular basis. Driving in reverse requires drivers to look through a window behind them, which means they have to turn their body and, in most cases, will have to take one hand off the steering wheel.

Even when using mirrors to help navigate into a space, there’s a certain element of danger and uncertainty since the reflection in the mirrors is distorted and doesn’t provide an accurate depiction of the depth of field around the driver.

And, since backing up creates more blind spots, there are greater chances for collisions to occur. Even though these do not normally occur at a high rate of speed, they can cause significant damage and injury.

No. 2: Close Quarter Maneuvering

Deliveries to retail and food service providers often occur at a loading dock that requires close quarter maneuvering. There may be low overhangs that a truck needs to pass under, or there may be very little room for error on either side of the vehicle. Tight corners, navigating a detour through construction and being able to approach a loading dock that’s not ideally situated can all add to the challenges that drivers face multiple times a day.

No. 3: Driver Shortage and Hiring Concerns

One of the biggest challenges for the trucking industry as a whole is the current shortage of qualified drivers. While it has affected every vertical of the trucking industry, food companies have been hit particularly hard by the shortage.

The American Trucking Associations predicts that by 2026, the driver shortfall could hit 174,000 (or more). That’s been hard on trucking companies who depend on a lean supply chain and are delivering to retailers and food service providers that typically carry minimal backstock. When there aren’t enough drivers to get the product delivered on time, both the trucking company and the retailer suffer.

Adding to the problem is an aging population of qualified and experienced drivers, which means the industry is losing more drivers due to retirement but also due to health concerns. Health challenges including lung cancer, obesity, diabetes and injuries are contributing to the attrition rate of drivers.

For those in the beverage industry, drivers are required to have a CDL which, again, can pose an additional challenge because of the shortage.

No. 4: Driver Turnover

In the first half of 2018, driver turnover averaged 96%, which was the highest annual turnover rate in five years, according to the American Trucking Associations’ Trucking Activity Report. Among the reasons cited for turnover were lack of benefits, driver stress and drivers leaving to start their own business.

Other factors that influence driver turnover, according to the Denver-based turnover consulting firm Strategic Programs Inc., are low pay, not enough home time, disliking their supervisor and not feeling appreciated. Problems with equipment, a lack of advancement opportunity and a lack of communication between themselves and the company also factor into the drivers’ decisions to quit.

Drivers also tend to suffer depression and feel isolated, which can cause them to choose to seek work in other fields or can compromise their ability to do their jobs well.

No. 5: Seasonal Issues

Certain seasons increase the demand for drivers, which can create greater challenges for companies that are already struggling to find good, qualified drivers. Traditionally, back-to-school and the holidays have provided trucking companies with an extended busy season as retailers and food providers beef up their inventory.

More recently, however, industry observers have seen more peaks in the busy season as consumers’ buying patterns change. Spring has also become an extremely busy time, with outdoor retailers finding greater demand for merchandise. Having sufficient drivers to keep up with these waves of demand is another concern for trucking companies.

How to Overcome Current Challenges

Resolving the unique challenges that face retail and food service drivers involves taking a proactive approach and providing an environment that allows companies to attract and retain top caliber drivers. Incentives such as on-the-job training, good pay and bonuses can help companies stand out from competitors and keep drivers engaged.

By offering a positive environment that rewards drivers for their dedication and hard work, companies show an interest in the driver as an individual. And providing advanced driver safety training will help them learn how to navigate situations like driving in reverse, maneuvering in close quarters and managing other challenges common to drivers such as distracted driving, driving in bad weather conditions and driving while drowsy.

The right behind-the-wheel driver training program will do more than improve the company’s safety record and profitability; it also makes for safer, happier drivers — and a happy driver is not only more productive but also is less likely to change jobs.

Providing drivers with advanced safety training is not only an investment in the safety of the driver — it’s an investment in the future of your company.


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