Del Papa Distributing, Victoria, Texas, can teach other wholesalers a thing or two about weathering the storm — literally and figuratively — including the challenges wrought by both Mother Nature and the nature of the rapidly evolving beer distribution landscape.

It’s unfortunate that any operation has to become adept at natural disaster preparedness, but lately it’s been a sign of the times. Del Papa’s location puts it in the middle of hurricane territory. The most recent one to strike was last year’s devastating Hurricane Harvey and the Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev) wholesaler had to ensure that its three distribution centers in Texas City, Beaumont and Victoria, Texas, were all up and running in its aftermath.

“It involves a lot of planning with our leadership and trying to identify which areas that we could actually deliver to immediately after the storm and keeping our guys out of harm’s way and out of areas where they shouldn’t go,” says Eric Joseph, Del Papa’s vice president of operations. “It’s basically us having a war-room-like scenario where we identify, ‘ok, what stores are open and can we go there?’”

Usually in such scenarios, Del Papa delivers a limited set of SKUs, mostly the high-volume brands, just to ensure that it can get product on the shelf.

“Typically we’re working with a skeleton crew because, like in the instance of Harvey, some guys couldn’t get to work because they were flooded in,” Joseph says.

Additionally, many suppliers’ products couldn’t get to Del Papa’s warehouses and it’s a matter of what’s already in stock, he explains. “Unfortunately, we’ve kind of gotten good at this sort of thing, with some of the stuff that’s happened around here lately.”

Fortunately, though, most of the year Del Papa does not having to deal with natural disasters, just the usual day-to-day challenges that pervade the beverage distribution industry. Right-sizing the vehicles in its fleet is one of those ongoing issues.

“There are a lot of different market demands and trying to right-size a vehicle to meet all of the different demands we face is a challenge,” Joseph notes. “And what I mean by that is we typically have rear-end-load trailers — we’re 90 percent rear-end load — but then trying to find the right-size trailer to fit some of the tight areas.” From a delivery standpoint, bulk trailers are far more efficient, but they pose a problem in those narrower locations. Even though Del Papa is following the national trend of shifting toward end-loaders, it does keep a few side-loaders in its fleet for those specific environments.

Then, there’s the perennial challenge of recruiting and retaining CDL drivers. As a work-around, Del Papa has explored expanding its use of smaller trucks that don’t require CDLs to operate.

An added wrinkle is that Del Papa operates in the heart of the petrochemical industry. “So, when the oil business is booming, they tend to need a lot of drivers and we tend to lose them to that industry,” he explains. “I’m not sure the rest of the country deals with that as much, but each area has its own issues.”

An issue that everyone faces, regardless of what area they’re in, is figuring out new ways to reduce fuel consumption. Del Papa has had some success reducing its drivers’ idle times. After five minutes of idling, the vehicles automatically shut off. “In the past, the guys would just leave the truck running for however long they were in the account,” Joseph recalls. “We don’t allow that.”

Additionally, the tractors have been governed to 65 miles an hour.

Route optimization is another key. Encompass Technologies supplies Del Papa’s route accounting system and a couple of times a year, the software reps lead routing exercises to help ensure that the wholesaler is running as efficiently as possible. “They’ll come down and help us map out all of our accounts and just make sure they’re routed efficiently, that we’re not double-tracking if we don’t have to, trying to keep everything in sequence where it makes sense,” Joseph says.

This past year, the company partnered with GeoTab for its GPS solution, which has provided valuable diagnostic information that Joseph and his team are able to see in real time.

“So, if the engine’s overheating or the driver’s speeding, we get those alerts, generally in real time, that we can act upon,” Joseph adds. “That has helped us control some behaviors with our drivers.”

As the new year has just begun, Del Papa has resolved to enhance its investment in driver safety. The distributor currently is in discussions to install in-cab cameras, facing in and out of the vehicle. The company also has been purchasing tractors with blind spot warning systems to alert drivers to any vehicles in the lanes into which they’re switching. BI


Del Papa Distributing

Beaumont, Texas City and Victoria, Texas

Annual case volume: 10.6 million

Total employees: 385 total (62 drivers)

Key suppliers/brands distributed: AB InBev, Constellation, St. Arnold’s, Karbach and Galveston Island

Delivery areas: 17 counties along the Gulf Coast of Texas with distribution centers in Texas City, Beaumont and Victoria, Texas.

Fleet makeup: nine eight-bay trucks, five 16-bay tractor/trailers, 42 rear-load tractor/trailers. The tractors are International, rear-load trailers are Utility and side-load trailers are Hackney.