Working Through COVID-19: A Delivery Fleet’s Perspective
For the past couple of weeks, the same scene has played out at a delivery fleet’s warehouse in Doral, Fla. Warehouse managers inside of a building look through a large window as the company’s fleet drivers walk up to the window to place a thermometer on their foreheads.
The warehouse managers are looking for higher-than-normal temperatures. If a driver shows any sign of a fever at all, that driver is told to go home, and won’t work that day.
This is the revolving scene that starts every morning at the central office warehouse of Esquire Express/Esquire Logistics, two delivery companies that operates in South Florida.
Steve Howard founded and serves as president of both companies. He founded Esquire Express 30 years ago and Esquire Logistics 20 years ago. He also serves as the president on the Customized Logistics and Delivery Association board of directors.
Checking every employee temperature is only one of the policies that he and his company added into its operations. But, to ensure the safety of his company and his drivers, Howard has instituted several other COVID-19 safety policies.
Some of the policies that he’s enacted throughout his companies are not entirely new to him. One of his companies, Esquire Express, has been delivering lab specimens to hospitals for most of its history, so there were already strict cleanliness standards that company drivers had to follow due to the nature of that work. The knowledge and experience he had with that company helped in transitioning his entire company to these policies.
But other policies are brand new to him, as he’s never really had to worry about a highly contagious virus potentially affecting his fleet before. These COVID-19 related policies have been added on the fly, as he, along with the rest of the world, learns new information about the virus.
In a conversation with Howard, we learned about how his delivery companies have been affected by this outbreak, what he’s done to protect his drivers, and the new challenges he’s had to face.
Howard offered policies and practices that have worked for him, but he acknowledged that it’s difficult to call anything a definitive “best practice,” as what’s considered a best practice today could very well change tomorrow.
How Operations Have Changed as the COVID-19 Pandemic Evolves
Esquire Express delivers smaller packages, which includes hospital deliveries of things such as lab specimens. Esquire Logistics serves as the local delivery agents for multiple e-commerce companies and warehouses product.
Combined, the companies offer various types of services that will be differently affected by the evolving COVID-19 situation.
Given the fact that Esquire Express has many hospital clients where drivers deliver vital lab specimens to its clients, this is a part of the business that could be considered vital.
When we spoke to Howard, Florida was considering shutting down non-essential businesses, so Howard, and the delivery association he’s a board member of, petitioned the Florida governor’s office to consider businesses like his an essential business because if he, and companies like his, aren’t running, hospitals won’t be able to test various lab specimens.
The other side of his business delivers e-commerce products. Business has slowed down in this sector, and the expectation for Esquire Logistics is for it to slow down even further in the coming weeks. On good days Howard's e-commerce related company would deliver 20,000 square feet of product a day, that number has now fallen far short of that. Driver schedules would often start at 7:30 a.m. and run until 7:30 p.m.; those schedules will still often start at 7:30 a.m. but now end closer to 3:30 p.m.
Much of the business that Esquire Logistics does on the e-commerce side is what is considered “white glove” service. This means the company’s drivers go into a customer’s house, unpacks the package (whatever it may be), and assembles it for the customer. They’ll then receive a signature from the customer and then the driver leaves to the next stop. The products that these drivers deliver are typically large, bulky, equipment such as medical equipment for home use or furniture.
At the time that we spoke to Howard, his drivers were still going into people’s home. They wore face masks, gloves, and booties, washed their hands after finishing the job, and pretty much took every precaution that they could to minimize possible exposure to anything. But Howard said that by March 23, his drivers wouldn’t be going into people’s homes anymore.
At that point deliveries will be dropped off in front of customers' residences. The drivers will take a picture of it to send to the customer and will give the customer a call to let him or her know that the package has been delivered.
At this point, approximately 80% of the companies’ business is being conducted like this, without person-to-person interaction, but there’s still roughly 20% of his business that still requires person-to-person interaction.
Much of this stems from hospital clients.
Drivers still need to go into hospitals to deliver lab specimens and this is a big point of concern. Many of the hospitals that Esquire Express works with are the large public hospitals where much of the region’s COVID-19 testing is taking place. Hospitals are likely quarantining affected patients and trying their best to keep areas with high traffic inside the building clean, but there is still the worry about what drivers might potentially be exposed to. The fact that facemasks are in short supply adds to this worry.
Sourcing facemasks has proved difficult and Howard's supplies are running low.
"The masks are what make me really, really, nervous,” said Howard. “I mean the hospitals that we work with, they can’t get enough face masks for their staff, and when the hospitals can’t get them, then where do we fall in the supply chain.”
One of his suppliers recently said he was going to receive a shipment of face masks in a week, but masks that used to cost three cents would cost $1.50 per mask.
“I told him he had to be kidding me, and he told me 'no, they’re charging me a buck and a quarter, and I need to make a profit,'” said Howard. "But, what do you do? Even at $1.50 a mask, which I’m not happy about, and will try to negotiate down if there’s any wiggle room, I need those masks on my people if they’re going to be making contact with other people.”
Ensuring the Health and Safety of Drivers
All Esquire Express/Logistics drivers are required to call out of work if they wake up in the morning and feel at all ill.
Howard is also ensuring every driver that their job isn’t going to go anywhere if they call out.
“I tell them to take it day by day,” said Howard. “Your job is not going anywhere, especially right now that work has slowed down and I have like seven or eight trucks sitting idle right now.”
So far, a handful of drivers have called out to work.
As mentioned, taking everyone’s temperature before they start their day is one preventive measure. Proper hand sanitization is another. Howard said that he’s gone through more soap, hand sanitizer, and paper towels in these past few weeks than he normally goes through in a year.
Hand sanitizer is one item that has been in high demand that many other fleets have had trouble sourcing but Esquire Express and Esquire Logistics has nearly 1,000 in stock thanks to a promotion the companies were going to run prior to the pandemic.
The Esquire Express and Esquire Logistics drivers have also been directed to call customers prior to their deliveries, and if the customer sounds like they might be sick, to ask if anyone in the household is sick. If the customer answers yes, the driver then informs the customer that the central office will be calling the customer shortly.
The central office will then call the customer and explain that the customer will need to wait at least 14 days from the time that the person in the household got sick before the product is delivered. Howard wants to ensure his driver’s safety so he doesn’t want to take the risk.
The onus, however, isn’t on the driver to make the call, the central office takes that responsibility.
There are situations when non-employees need to enter Esquire Logistics' warehouse, those employees are required to follow the same process that employees follow, such as filling out out a health questionnaire and getting their temperature taken.
A large part of Esquire Logistics’ business revolves around reverse logistics — picking up an item from a customer’s home that they’re choosing to return to the sender.
Historically, drivers would pick up packages inside people's homes and then load the package into their truck. The item would eventually reach the company’s warehouse where it would be wrapped up and then shipped back to the supplier.
As a recently implemented safety precaution, drivers aren’t going into homes. If a customer has something that needs to be picked up, Esquire Logistics is asking the customers to leave the product outside their homes. A driver will then take a photo of the product and call the customer to let them know they have the package.
Afterward, those items are completely sprayed down with a chlorine solution before they’re put in the truck.
If the product is something that can’t handle the chlorine spray, like furniture or something without a hard surface, then the driver won’t load the package into the vehicle.
“I’m telling my drivers not to take it,” said Howard. “We’re being careful about what we’re picking up. We’re also asking customers right now to tell us specifically what we’re picking up and how its packaged, we’ll tell them if it's something we’re not going to pick up.”
If your fleet is interested in hearing advice and guidance from fleet subject matter experts from Merchants Fleet and LeasePlan USA on topics such as fleet best practices on vehicle sanitation, maintaining pool vehicles, should personal use vehicles still be allowed, and customer interaction, register for this Automotive Fleet webinar, sponsored by Verizon Connect.
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