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How fleet technology delivers new opportunities for RS Distribution Services Ltd.

Technology opens new roads for Winnipeg-based distribution and logistics company

Rene Saurette has perfected the pivot.

Over the past 30 years, the president of Winnipeg-based RS Distribution Services Ltd. and RS Express Ltd. has never shied away from reshaping the path to success.

Founded in 1991, RS Distribution Services originally focused entirely on delivering one product for one client: telephone directories for Manitoba Telecom. Over time, the company expanded into Alberta and Saskatchewan as well, delivering 17 million directories overall. But by 2010 Saurette could see it was time to take a new direction.

“We were a one-horse show and in a very precarious position: if we lost the contract we were pretty well out of business,” he says. “But I could also see a shift in the market. Phone books were going by the wayside with the Internet and smartphones, so I made a conscious decision and gave notice that we were getting out of the phone book distribution business even though I had nothing else.”

Saurette thought back to the service he received from the couriers he worked with during his telephone directory days and knew that he could do better. In 2011 he bought three delivery vans, and hired three drivers and a dispatcher; all without a single client.

A better network for better customer service

As part of his ramp up, Saurette wanted to efficiently and easily track the packages their company was to deliver.

“I selected a Canadian software company that did real time signature capturing, and from a local regional carrier perspective, nobody else was doing this in Manitoba. Right out of the gate, customers could see online when we picked up a package, when we delivered it, and who signed for it,” he says. “The downside was our network service.”

Once a courier left Winnipeg, connectivity became spotty, delaying updates. Drivers were forced to upload data once they returned to the city, which wasn’t satisfactory for Saurette.

Solving this issue was critical for Saurette, as his new organization was growing rapidly. In 2014 the company acquired a well-established courier business in Winnipeg that was four times the size of RS Express. This rapid expansion included handling larger freight and adding flat deck tractor trailers and semi trailers.

The acquisition also brought legacy customers used to paper-based services, so the conversion to am electronic system was well received. However, the issue of connectivity continued for deliveries were made outside of the Winnipeg area. 

“If there’s a gap in connectivity, then we have a gap in the reports that are being produced and we don’t have reliable data. [Which means] we were not able to give that live update upon delivery. That became frustrating for ourselves … and also from a customer perspective.” 

This changed when Saurette met Kfir Wasserman, Operations Manager at AirSource, who moved the businesses to the Rogers network.

“It’s definitely the best coverage that I’ve experienced, and the stress level, even from our dispatch team, has dropped exponentially,” says Saurette in reference to the Rogers network. “The network has been solid and reliable, and nothing’s hit my desk where we’ve had any type of major failure or any type of issue that’s causing concern with our customers. For me it’s of utmost importance to partner with companies that also have a commitment to service and quality, and who listen to their customers.”

Finding new efficiencies in fleet management

According to Wasserman, moving to the Rogers network was just the beginning of their technology upgrades.

“When we first started working with René, the courier drivers were using two-way radios. We got them into using smart phones and installed full signature capture machines.” They also trialed and implemented fleet technology, to improve operations.

In addition to virtually matching the driver to the specific truck, the solutions cover the tasks drivers need to complete before each trip, including checking tire pressure and oil volumes. Web-based data and analytics help tracking time and location as well as time spent idling, incidents of harsh braking, alerts of warning lights that might come on in the vehicle before they are triggered, and vehicle mileage.

“The application will not allow the driver to move forward if it detects that there are certain components that are deemed unsafe or illegal,” says Saurette. “Knowing the condition of the vehicle in real time keeps our drivers safe and our safety ratings where they should be.”

Since implementing this technology, inefficiencies were not only identified, but resolved. “We’re now able to show each driver their profitability and are now doing double the amount of calls in the same number of hours with almost no overtime,” he went on to explain. “Our fuel consumption has dropped exponentially, and we’ve been able to almost eliminate unnecessary idle time.”

Being able to track each driver’s hours of service improves safety and reduces paper-work, while preparing the fleet for longer-haul trip where Electronic Logging Devices are mandated.

The ongoing benefits of a top tier network

In addition to the distribution business, Saurette began offering warehousing services in 1994. Now, the company has grown from 10,000 square feet to a combined total of 200,000 square feet over two warehouses. The reliability of the network is critical in the warehousing and logistics part of the company as well.

“The importance of a reliable network and our fleet technology is critical for just-in-time delivery… if [a customer’s] the line goes down because they’re out of product, that’s on us.”

For example, one customer is a manufacturer that stores the vast majority of the product they produce at the RS Distribution Services facilities. This customer relies on deliveries to feed their factory with product in a timely manner. In fact, from the time they send an order through, they need to have it delivered to their door within two hours—a process that happens seven to 10 times per day.

“The importance of a reliable network and our fleet technology is critical for just-in-time delivery,” says Saurette. “Knowing where the truck is at all times and knowing that it’s in a good state of repair ensures that we’re not going to have any delays. This is important because a factory is a machine—if the line goes down because they’re out of product, that’s on us.”

Secure for the long haul

Changes to how fleets are managed have been at the core of the evolution of the transportation industry over the last decade, but as Saurette’s story proves, these changes can be both an opportunity and a boon to the businesses that embrace them. RS Distribution Services began as a calculated gamble, but with the help of a reliable network and powerful new fleet management technologies, Rene Saurette has carved out a secure place for itself in this extremely competitive industry.

“Having a partner like AirSource and a provider like Rogers means that when I look at the coverage and the uptime I’m receiving, I’m getting absolutely everything that I need. The systems are solid and stable, and that’s just awesome,” he says. “The technologies that we’re putting in place help make everybody happier with the services that we offer.”

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