OCS Driver for a Day!

On Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., I drove out to meet Ephraim Hardowin, a route driver who has worked for ProStar for the past five years.

He had been at work since 5:30.  Before the sun even rose, he had loaded his truck with last-minute product requests, attended the morning OCS meeting between drivers and their supervisors, and planned his route for the day ahead.  When I arrived at his truck at 9 a.m., he had already made his biggest stop, replenishing the break rooms of a customer he visits three times a week.  And he had four more scheduled stops to go.

For the next several hours, I was Ephraim’s shadow, observing as he met with customers, surveyed break rooms for low product, and loaded and unloaded his dolly with everything from cream and sugar to eco-friendly paper cups.  The procedure was simple:  at each location, he would find his point of contact and ask if they needed any specific products.  He would then check the break room himself, eyeing the product levels and surveying the cleanliness of the counters.  After that, he would return to his truck, loading the product on his dolly and creating an invoice print-out.  Once back in the break room, he cycled the product (newest to the back!) and wiped down the counters and coffee machines.  Last, he would find his point of contact again to have the invoice signed and to wish him or her a nice day.

It seems simple, but I was impressed with all the Ephraim had to remember.  At every stop we made, he filled me in on the history of the customer, noting how long they had been part of his route, what they typically ordered in the past, and how their orders might have changed recently.  He knew everything from the names of his contacts to what kind of coffee they each preferred to which shelf was designated for what product.  And at each location, he knew how to respond to the customer’s different personalities.  Some customers were professional, even aloof, while others joked with him and spent a few moments chatting.

All in all, it was a lot to keep track of, and much of it was information that could change at any moment.

As Ephraim said, “The most important thing in this job is adaptability.  I could have 10 or 100 customers.  But I guarantee you that on any given day, every single one of them could need something different than what they ordered, or on a different day than they ordered it.”  To meet special or unscheduled requests, he keeps extras of the most basic products on his truck.  (In the few hours I was with him, he delivered stir sticks to a customer who had run out before her next scheduled delivery.)  And if a customer asks for a product he doesn’t have on his truck, Ephraim will find a way to fit them into his route on the following day.

Given all that, some days Ephraim doesn’t leave work until 5 p.m.  After making his stops, he must return to the warehouse where he looks over his orders for the next day and cleans, organizes, and loads his truck once again.

“Yeah, some guys don’t make it,” Ephraim says.  “It’s a harder job than you would think.”  Not only are the hours long (“You get done when you get done,” Ephraim says), but there is also the physical labor of loading and unloading coupled with all that face-to-face customer service.

As a mere tag-along to Ephraim’s day, I didn’t have to lift any product, or clean any counters, or negotiate customer needs against the constraints of inventory and travel time.  But I can understand what Ephraim likes most about his job:  “I’m on my own out here,” he says.  The route really is his.  He knows how to make it run as smoothly as possible, and how to deal with unexpected needs as they arise.  And at the end of the day, break rooms all over the city are stocked and full, and everyone has their stir sticks.

That, my friends, is a day in the life of an OCS driver!