Growing pains—they come with any successful business. For Sharp Transit, rapid growth meant staying ahead of the curve to improve efficiency, productivity and a healthier bottom line.
As a dedicated carrier for Aldi, a national low-price grocery chain with nearly 1,600 stores in 34 states, Sharp now has seven distribution locations to service the account. It operates 215 tractors and 254 trailers.
In 2001, Ben Sharp started the dedicated operation to Aldi with a few trucks in North Carolina. As his company proved its worth, it expanded by opening new locations—each working with between 60 and 90 stores. Growth continues at Sharp based on Ben’s mantra: “As from the beginning, the success of this family-owned company will be built on integrity, hard work and unparalleled service.”
Working with BOLT System, Sharp Transit now has a web-based, leading-edge fleet management system; that has harnessed information from its seven locations. The fleet management system gives visibility of its operations—in real time—to management, while streamlining billing, dispatch, and driver pay.
“What we’ve accomplished with BOLT is like going from a fog bank to clear skies,” said Eric Blackwell, Sharp’s I.T. director. “We now have centralized visibility of all our operations, and we’ve cut the workload of our managers at each of our seven locations. What’s more, weekly paperwork has been reduced from a book to a few pages. We’re efficient, we’re productive, and we’re positioned for future growth.”
The transformation began five years ago when BOLT spent three days with Sharp to learn first-hand how its operation worked and how each location had a silo of information that had little visibility with corporate headquarters. There were several pain points.
“Each location relied on Excel spreadsheets to do its own billing, which generated an immense amount of paperwork,” said Blackwell. “Since there was too much room for human error, there was some finger-crossing too—hoping all went well. We knew we had to automate this and get higher visibility here at the home office.”
On top of that Sharp could not see its trucks and status of deliveries. “The local manager had to call a driver if he wanted a location or ETA on delivery,” said Blackwell. “And the jigsaw puzzle of lining up trucks for the next delivery was just that, a jigsaw puzzle. It took an immense amount of time to figure out staging for dispatching.”
Finally, driver pay was an issue and full of paperwork and logs. Automation was needed.
Since Sharp Transit was using PeopleNet ELDs, BOLT pulled information and translated the data into an easily digestible format. “We provided the ability for ‘corporate’ to review the specifics of any unique site, or approve the roll-up of all sites,” recalled Jerry Robertson, BOLT’s chief technology officer. “This process made each site follow an approved process for billing and driver settlement.”
According to Robertson, BOLT used all the information provided by PeopleNet including driver hours of service, truck miles, fuel consumed, etc. as a key component of operational costs.
“Communication from dispatch to drivers was reduced significantly,” he said. “Information was broken down into a complete route analysis including route revenue and other costs such as fuel, lumper, and detention. In addition, elements of billing and driver settlement were evaluated and tagged as automation targets. We were able to provide billing information and driver pay elements immediately as the end of a load – there was no waiting for driver generated trip data.”
According to Blackwell, since Sharp Transit also provides back haul services to Aldi, this meant additional billing and streamlining. “This too was cumbersome and meant we often had to figure out mileage based on PC Miler, then bills were faxed or emailed out,” he said. “But with the new system developed with BOLT, we could calculate address-to-address mileage with BOLT’s mileage partner and GPS truck locations, allowing us to automatically generate the appropriate billable mileage. As a result, invoices were created after each load was delivered.”
“And that meant invoices could be reviewed at any time and consolidated to one weekly level invoice per billing center,” added Robertson. “At the end of the week, all consolidated invoices were once again reviewed and automatically transmitted via EDI to the shippers designated accounts payable general ledger code in Sharp’s ERP database.”
In addition to accurate and timely billing, Blackwell said the time it now takes to get paid by Aldi, and shippers from backhauls, has been reduced from an average of 30 days, to as little as seven days. “That has a huge impact on our cash flow,” he said. “When you take into consideration that we ran 24 million miles last year in a slip-seat, around-the-clock operation, it tells you how many deliveries we made and the volume we have in billing. It also shows the need for accurate calculations for driver pay.”
For that segment of Sharp’s business, BOLT’s On Board Computer (OBC) partners collect and record driver hours of service and truck mileage on a frequent basis. “We then retrieve this information from our OBC partner’s servers and apply the appropriate data to each load,” said Robertson. “We also capture driver non-driving pay activities and take this information as well as salary advances, etc. and automatically prepares a driver settlement document that triggers payroll.”
Unscrambling the jigsaw puzzle, also called dispatch, was BOLT’s know-how to take data to see and forecast availability of trucks for deliveries. “We set up a system to take enormous amounts of information, including time stamps and GPS ‘breadcrumbs,’ hours of driving time, hours of on-duty and relative distance from the truck’s current location to the planned stop locations,” explained Robertson. “All of this is now displayed on a geographical map showing one truck or a dozen, or all of their trucks. Now, Sharp dispatchers can plan their loads on a data and time of day basis. Using information, such as mileage between stops and company information related to the time required for loading and unloading, dispatchers can assign one of more loads per day. As drivers are unloading the final stop of their first load, they can request the next assigned load, or a ‘high-volume (one pick, one drop) pool’ load. Load data is sent automatically to the truck’s onboard computer—dispatchers are called only to make changes.”
According to Blackwell, piecing together the dispatch puzzle has meant a 35% gain in fleet productivity and less of a burden on dispatchers. “It’s cut their workload,” he said. “Our owner is a big family man, and he wants everyone at Sharp to work smarter, not longer. We don’t want our people missing ball games and other family events. Family is very important. BOLT has given us time back. We’re working much smarter.”
And, the work is not done, according to Blackwell. “BOLT is constantly coming up with ideas and it’s exciting to work together to see what we can accomplish next,” he said. “Our business is anything but standard – we’re very unique and their system is catered to us. They didn’t try to get us to conform to their system. They took the time to understand our business and build a system that works precisely as we need it. We have a partnership that will allow us to continue to grow and be as efficient and smart as possible.”