It’s the height of summer and wine nuts are flocking to the Golden Mile, a particularly warm stretch of the Okanagan Valley where sagebrush gives way to rolling vineyards.
The industry is booming. From tasting rooms to your local BC Liquor Store, wine aficionados are feeding a $2.8 billion industry that employs nearly 12,000 people. But with over 340 wineries scattered across the province, effectively supplying growers with what they need to get their wine to market has become a massive logistical undertaking.
“Where the wineries are in the Interior, it can be pretty tricky,” said Rory Smith, founder and sales manager at 1-Bridge Logistics. “You need experienced drivers who know how to get the job done, especially in the winter.”
After over a decade working with massive international logistics outfits across Europe and North America, Smith has made it his business to push back against the status quo. That means rethinking the way a logistics company communicates with both its customers and drivers.
An old industry on ice
Twice a year – at harvest time and in early spring – truckloads of empty bottles come rolling down mountain highways ready to feed the mobile bottlers that buzz from winery to winery. Most of the bottles come from manufacturers in the U.S. or China, and are brought in and sold to wineries by packaging and bottling experts like TricorBraun. With all of the wineries vying for mobile bottlers at once, receiving shipments on time is critical – and something not always easy to come by.
As a business management director for TricorBraun, Heidi Cook remembers how logistics used to work. She manages warehouses in Burnaby and Summerland but often brings in bottles from Seattle. That’s where a truckload of bottles bound for the Golden Mile was coming from when a driver contracted through TricorBraun’s old logistics company took a wrong turn.
“He decided to take a back road around Oliver. But as the road narrowed he got stuck in a snowbank,” said Cook.
When the truck didn’t show up for its scheduled delivery, TricorBraun was forced to dispatch another trailer of bottles, so the winery wouldn’t miss its appointment with the mobile bottler.
“The driver abandoned his vehicle,” said Cook. “His own company didn’t even know he was MIA until the winery called us.”
Building a network of reliable carriers
Since TricorBraun started working with 1-Bridge Logistics, Cook said, her team has been able to refocus their efforts on their core business model.
“I don’t know how they do it, but they’ve got some magic that you just can’t find in other companies,” she said.
Part of 1-Bridge’s model relies on combining a dedicated fleet of trailers with a network of vetted shipping companies to build a reliable and robust team of carriers. To avoid unreliable carriers and their drivers, the logistics company runs new carriers through a 10-load trial before they can qualify.
“You have all this fancy technology and apps and all of these things that people are creating, but at the end of the day you got a driver and a truck,” said Smith.
This people-first approach drives Smith to seek out creative drivers – ones who can take the lead, fix repairs and understand why it’s important to communicate problems immediately.
“Other guys will try for six hours to fix it and then be tired and give up,” said Smith. “Then they’ll call you in the morning and say, ‘Uh, I was stuck last night. I didn’t think there was anything you could do about it.’”
Many of these drivers come from small carriers without a sales team, technology or the ability to co-ordinate complicated pick-ups and drop-offs. But by combining the resources of several small carriers, 1-Bridge Logistics has built a tightly knit network of carriers stretching from Alberta, through B.C. and down the I-5 corridor to California.
“We don’t say to a customer, ‘Yeah, we do everything.’ We say, ‘Here’s what we do; here’s how we work; does that fit with your business?’” said Smith.
The ‘personal touch’
By combining a redefined freight brokerage model with the mindset of a consultancy firm, 1-Bridge Logistics has found a niche that leverages reliable shipping companies with a culture of communication to keep end customers happy.
Like most logistics companies, 1-Bridge uses technology to update TricorBraun with total monthly loads, shipping details and any problems along the way. But the biggest thing that sets the logistics company apart is its willingness to work directly with wineries – or any end customers. That way, if something does go wrong, the team puts extra pressure on itself to immediately communicate contingency plans and the time it will take to solve the problem.
“TricorBraun’s expectations for us are that we service the living daylights out of their end customer,” said Smith. “At the end of the day, our goal is keeping the wineries happy.”