Routing in a Digital World for Building Supply Distributors

Posted: 27 April, 2021 | By Steven Kalnitzky

As of February 2021, the inventory of homes for sale in the United States dropped by over 30% year over year. At the same time, the sales price of a home has risen over 16% and the average time for a house on the market was 9 days less than in 2020. These factors have created a perfect storm and have turned homebuyers to new construction more than in the past. One forecast puts new housing construction starts to be over 1 million homes in 2021, 2022, and 2023 (The first time over a million since 2007!) - great news for companies that provide products and services to people in home construction and renovation.


However, these companies face unique challenges associated with the distribution of products to meet that demand, and they are turning to software providers like Trimble MAPS to help solve them.

Organizational Visibility

Unlike distribution in other market segments, retail building supply distributors traditionally have done route planning manually. Whiteboards on the wall of a dispatch office or excel spreadsheets on a planner’s computer are a few of the tools used to keep track of the day’s routes. Trucks as columns and time window “buckets” as rows provide a planning calendar for making sure the crews get their orders delivered on the right truck type at the right time to start working with the material.

This planning approach, while effective, can create a bottleneck for the organization tied to that dispatch office. Salespeople manning the desk can’t see when the conveyor truck is busy the next day before taking an order; customer service reps don’t know what time the hot order of shingles are being delivered to the priority customer; and accounting has a hard time understanding when credit for an order delivered short should be issued.  

Each time a question or concern comes up, that’s another call to the dispatcher’s office and a potential lost sale or angry customer. Having a single tool where all stakeholders can see what’s happening at that moment makes sure the entire organization is on the same page, reducing the wasted work.  

The Appian solution from Trimble MAPS includes an electronic route calendar, essentially an electronic version of this whiteboard. Customer service can view the calendar at any time to get updates on route status and when orders will be delivered, salespeople can reserve a boom truck for a priority customer while waiting for the order, and the dispatcher can plan routes that meet the varied constraints of their customers.

Planning Constraints

A tool for planning routes is only as good as its ability to ensure the routes being created will meet the constraints faced on a daily basis. Some of these constraints are special equipment types, time windows around project timelines, and delivery to job sites without physical addresses.

1. Special Equipment Types

Building supply, more than other markets, has a need for very specialized delivery vehicles. Conveyor or Boom trucks are used for offloading product onto rooftops, trucks with cranes are for delivering to smaller job sites, or even flatbeds with forklifts can be used for delivering right to the ground at sites with no docks.

Having a tool that ensures the dispatcher knows the equipment type required for an order dramatically reduces the number of delivery attempts required to get the product to a crew. Appian’s electronic route calendar alerts the dispatcher when they attempt to plan an order onto a vehicle that does not qualify to deliver to that location.

2. Time Windows

Time window requirements for customers are not unique to building supply distributors. However, considering many of the deliveries are going to active job sites where a crew may be hired specifically to work with the material as it’s coming off the truck, ensuring an order is planned for delivery in that window is the difference between a happy customer and potential charges for the crew just sitting around waiting for product.

Whether it's a customer needing a first out delivery or one in the late afternoon, Appian’s electronic route calendar provides the dispatcher with visual cues if an order is planned outside of the window.

3.  Job Site Deliveries

Many of the job sites where product is being delivered are in new construction areas. This construction sometimes takes place before physical addresses are assigned. This lack of address cannot be used as an excuse to deliver to the wrong location.

 Appian’s electronic route calendar allows users to create and manage points of interest on a map or satellite image and then have orders tagged with the geopoint of that POI so planning can be done, even without that address.  

The constraints above are only a few of the complexities faced by retail building supply distributors during the route building process. In itself, route building is only a small portion of the entire delivery process that encompasses dispatch, visibility, out of cab workflows, and more. Choosing the right tool, built specifically for the industry that provides an end-to-end workflow, will help organizations meet the challenges created with rising demand.,Millennials)%20coming%20into%20the%20market.


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