Founded in 1925 in West Palm Beach, Florida, with one truck delivering eggs, milk, and butter, Cheney Brothers Inc (CBI) has grown into one of the largest privately owned broad line foodservice distributors in the South. Today, the company inventories more than 15,000 items and has yearly revenues exceeding $700 million.

Products include everything from fresh meats, seafood, poultry, gourmet foods, specialty cheeses, eggs, butter, and ice cream; to frozen seafood, entrees and hor d'oeuvres; to fresh produce, beverages, paper goods, restaurant supplies and equipment; to institutional chemicals and janitorial supplies.

Cheney Brothers maintains two distribution centers: a 325,000-sq-ft facility in Riviera Beach, Florida, and at its newest location, a 495,000-sq-ft facility in Ocala, Florida. Both have refrigerated multi-temperature warehouses and freezers, all monitored via state-of-the-art computer systems, plus dry storage.

It operates a modern, all temperature-controlled fleet to deliver products, six days a week, to accounts throughout Florida and in parts of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Alabama. Last year the fleet, equipped with satellite positioning technology, logged nearly 6,770,000 miles.

Both distribution centers have a completely computerized product selection and barcode processing tracking system. A new warehouse management system allows it to keep track of customers' products through the entire processing system, thus increasing the accuracy of customers' orders.

Technology advancements reach throughout Cheney Brothers from order processing to deliveries, warehousing to accounting, enabling it to operate more efficiently. This, in turn, allows the company to “provide customer service that we consider to be second to none,” says vice-president of operations Cecil King.

That, in combination with a stable, experienced workforce, is what has helped make the company the tenth largest food distributor in the nation, he notes. “We hire only good, quality people, based on the criteria we have determined that makes for a successful employee here. We cultivate our people, largely promoting from within.”

King joined the company in 1981 as a truck driver and is a testament to this process. He worked his way up through the ranks to his current position.

Hiring practices

When hiring drivers, Cheney Brothers looks for a number of qualifications. A safe driving record is a priority. Candidates must be at least 24 years of age. The company prefers drivers who have some food distribution experience. “They know what to expect, unlike road drivers who are accustomed to bumping a dock, rather than handling freight,” King says.

Driver hires go through an intensive orientation. “The first thing we do is welcome them to the company, and let them know how important they are to our continued success,” he explains. “We have all the departments heads come in and explain how their operations work, and we stress the importance of safety in all that we do.

“Additionally, we have a member of management, who prior to being promoted was a long-time route driver, talk with them. He tells them first-hand what they need to know and what to expect.”

Following the orientation, new drivers are assigned to one of eight driver trainers for approximately three weeks, or longer if needed, before they are assigned their own truck and route.

The system works. King says most of the drivers have been with the company a long time. Turnover, mostly with new drivers who have been with the company a short time, is in line with industry standards.

There is a similar comprehensive and structured hiring and training process for warehouse personnel.

“The majority of our deliveries, probably 99%, require drivers to handle freight and run products into a customer on a hand truck,” notes King. “The other one percent are pallet drops. A typical route has up to 18 stops.

“We make an effort to keep the same driver on the same routes because once a driver learns the route and his customers, it tends to speed up the process.”

Delivery process

So how does the company identify the stops on a truck? A pallet can have anywhere between one to eight different stops on it. Each stop is labeled with the name of the customer and the delivery sequence. “This cuts down on driver confusion and reduces delivery mistakes,” King says.

With the new Cadec fleet management system, Cheney Brothers is starting to barcode more products for delivery and is equipping the fleet with Cadec's DeliverTracker — a handheld out-of-cab application that scans barcodes to assure accurate deliveries on and off the truck. The long-term plan is to move to paperless invoices.

“Along with improving our service, this will increase our productivity and lower overall operating costs,” he says.

The Riviera Beach facility delivers throughout the state of Florida. The Ocala facility handles deliveries in northern Florida, plus Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia. Because of the change in the hours-of-service regulations, some of the longer runs now require an overnight stay. Since Cheney Brothers' fleet is all daycabs, these drivers are required to spend the night in a hotel.

Leased equipment

The company owned all of its equipment — all straight refrigerated trucks — until 1989. That's when it began exploring the pros and cons of leasing. As business grew, it needed more transportation capacity. It leased the first tractor trailer rigs in 1992.

Cheney Brothers no longer owns any equipment. It has full-service leases with both Ryder and Penske. Each maintains an operation at the company's two locations.

All trucks are given a once-over each night. Minor repairs and service are done onsite. For major repairs, the vehicles are taken to the lessor's shop.

One of the reasons for switching to leasing was the expansion of the company's operational area, notes King. “We were having problems finding road service companies in our outlying areas. With full-service leasing, if something happens out on the road with one of my trucks, I make a call to Penske or Ryder and they take care of it. If they can't handle it right away, they issue us a substitute vehicle.”

Cheney Brothers' fleet is comprised of 350 tractors — a mix of Freightliner and Internationals powered by Cummins 350-horsepower diesel engines. The fleet is split between automatic and 10-speed manual transmissions.

There are 400 Kidron and Great Dane three-compartment foodservice trailers — frozen, refrigerated, and dry — in lengths of 26, 36, and 48 feet. All have Thermo King refrigeration units, mostly Whisper and Spectrum SB models.

The 36- and 48-foot trailers have two curbside swing doors with pullout steps. All trailers have a 14-ft retractable underbody truck ramp under the rear door. These are R-O-M Corporation's RoadwarrioR reversible safety walkramps.

A number of trailers have rear 5,500-pound capacity, large platform, rail-style liftgates from either Maxon or Waltco. This type of liftgate was chosen because it provides a level ride throughout the platform movement for better load stability.

Six refrigerated Hino and International straight trucks have a 260-horsepower diesel engine backed to an automatic transmission. The trucks have 26-foot refrigerated Kidron bodies and Thermo King reefers.

Four Freightliner trucks have 16-foot refrigerated Kidron bodies and Thermo King refrigeration units. These vehicles, equipped with 180-horsepower diesels and manual transmissions, make up Cheney Brothers' Cheney Express fleet, used for “emergency orders.”

“Emergency orders are instances where a restaurant or hotel, for example, forgets to order something or enough quantity,” explains King. “We can have their emergency order delivered ASAP. It is another service we provide.”

All equipment, on a six-year lease, is assigned to the 375 fulltime drivers who are issued uniforms. Every vehicle has a backup beeper. Tractor trailers are being outfitted with Eaton Collision Avoidance Systems, the latest addition to the fleet's repertoire of safety measures.

“Our biggest challenge now is fuel,” says King. “We recently cut back the governed speed of our trucks to 55 mph, and we're exploring biodiesel to see if it is a viable option for us, our customers, and the environment.”

Order picking

Orders come in daily until 5 pm, with order selection beginning at 7 pm. The company uses a voice-directed order picking system from Vocollect to speed up the process. The Vocollect system has six different languages, which helps direct the Cheney Brothers diverse warehouse workforce.

Order pickers have a wearable computer with a headset and microphone. They are instructed by voice on what items to pick and where to pick them. They must verbally confirm their actions back to the system.

Among the benefits of this system, says King, are increased accuracy and productivity and reduced training time because of the verbal prompts. Moreover, by literally talking the selectors through their orders, there is no need for cumbersome lists or traditional data capture methods.

“One of the nice things about our warehouse management system is that it allows us to go back and track any selector and see what they did during their shift. This helps us identify any problems and allows us to be proactive with any issues that may arise.

“We have different productivity goals for each section of the warehouse — dry, cooler and freezer, and if these aren't being met, we can work with our selectors.”

After completing their orders, the selectors machine shrink-wrap them and then move them in a staging area. From here, loaders place the orders onto the appropriate truck in the proper sequence. Trucks are staged to and from the loading docks by a night crew.

The Riviera Beach facility has 38 loading docks; the Ocala facility has 57. Typically, says King, some 60,000 to 70,000 cases are shipped each day from Riviera Beach; 40,000 to 50,000 from Ocala.

Drivers arrive, pick up their paperwork, collect their hand trucks, and then find their trucks, perform mandatory pre-trip safety inspections, and head off. Upon their return, drivers return their hand trucks, drop off any returns, turn in their paperwork, park their trucks, and do their mandatory post-trip safety inspections. A crew then fuels and washes out each truck and trailer every day.

The company has diesel fuel tanks at both facilities.

Fleet management

For delivery routing, Cheney Brothers uses UPS Logistics Technologies' Roadnet Transportation Suite. “This tool allows our four routers to quickly plan and configure routes,” says King.

It also uses Cadec's RouteTracker fleet management software.

With the two systems, “we can collect real-time data on our fleet so we can measure and track a variety of pick-up and delivery variables. This helps us make more informed decisions to reduce our miles, makes better use of our equipment, and maximizes the budget by delivering more and driving less.”

Routes start around 3 am. One reason for this, explains King, is Florida's congested traffic, which gets exceptionally bad with the influx of the state's winter residents. “This starts around Thanksgiving and we really feel the crunch come mid-January.

“The traffic costs us more money to do business because instead of putting 18 or 19 stops on the truck, we put 14 or 15 to make sure we get all our deliveries made within each customer's specified time window.”

There are dedicated docks for receiving products. Starting at 5 am every day, Cheney Brothers receives products from all over the country by truck and rail car directly to its warehouse doors, including full containers of imported products shipped from abroad.

Driver management

King holds driver meetings once a quarter at each location. The meetings keep drivers up-to-date on what is going on at the company, plus talk about any pressing issues, and promote safety.

To keep problems in check, Cheney Brothers holds an operational meeting every Wednesday with all department heads. They discuss as a team any issues and come up with solutions. “This works out real well,” says King, “plus it's a good way to keep all our managers up-to-date on what is going on company-wide.”

As for driver compensation, drivers who shuttle trailers are paid a flat rate. Delivery drivers receive an incentive-based pay instituted in 1994, and they are paid by the cases, stops, and miles. “The more productive they are, the more money they make,” he says.

“You'd be surprised at how often my drivers call their salespeople to let them know of opportunities at an existing customer, or to let them know of new prospective customers to call on.

“Because they're on an incentive plan, we constantly remind our drivers: safety first,” King goes on. “We don't want them rushing from stop to stop. We want them making their time up at each stop, say by keeping chit-chat to a minimum or moving along a little faster.”

King says he is able to keep a closer eye on drivers with the new Cadec system. “We can tell how fast a driver is going, how many times he brakes hard, and so forth. If we see a pattern develop, the driver can complete additional training."

Safety management

Cheney Brothers has a safety bonus program that rewards drivers every pay period (biweekly). If a driver doesn't have an accident and meets other criteria, he is awarded 10% of his gross pay for that pay period. “My drivers love this,” says King.

If a driver falls short on meeting the criteria, he must wait 90 days before he can get back on the safety bonus program. “That in itself is an incentive.”

“We also award an annual safety bonus of $750 the week before Christmas. It's given to those who don't have any accidents.”

About 10 years ago, King began holding an annual safety rodeo for drivers, allowing them to demonstrate to other employees, management, and their families, the skills they use daily. Drivers are awarded cash and prizes for their driving excellence and overall transportation and safety knowledge. There is a large barbecue for drivers and their families, along with activities for the children.

“The rodeos are a good opportunity for drivers to demonstrate their skills,” he notes. “They're also a lot of fun, and a very nice way to promote safety.”

The top two rodeo drivers are sent to compete in the National Truck Driving Championships, an annual test of safe driving skills for America's truckers.

Export business

Cheney Brothers does about $40 million of export to restaurants, hotels, and institutions in Caribbean, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. This portion of business, which began about 15 years ago, is growing. The volume has tripled in the last five years.

Products are shipped in 20- and 40-foot refrigerated and dry containers. Transportation is handled by an outside company.

Company mission

Realizing that success depends on customer success, Cheney Brothers' goal is to provide exceptional service. It does this by maintaining flexibility and responsiveness to customer needs at all times.

Furthermore, says King, the company strives for continuous improvement and is always working through innovation to improve processes and services.