Special Delivery: A Day in the Life of a Breakthru Beverage Truck Driver

1/8/2018

 

By Kyle Trompeter, Content Team Lead, Breakthru Beverage Group

 

I am a writer, so the thought of lifting anything heavier than my laptop feels like a tall order, and the thought of lifting something heavy 500+ times in one day is utter madness.

 

At Breakthru Beverage Group, our truck drivers perform this feat on a daily basis, and as I came to realize in the events you’ll read below, their role is so much more than merely “throwing cases.” In a given day, they are not only the vessel for delivering our suppliers’ products to bars, restaurants and retail stores, but they are relationship builders, problem-solvers, and mathematicians that are crucial to the continued success of our company—and they’re being all of these things while under extremely tight deadlines and juggling an ever-changing schedule that is beyond their control.

 

As a former journalist, I have a natural thirst for knowledge. The delivery aspect of our Operations team is truly one of the most important pieces of our company and I wanted to be fully immersed in this part of our business so others like me can learn more about what it’s like to be on the front lines of one of the biggest wholesalers in the country.

 

My day as a truck driver helper started uncomfortably early on a mid-December morning.

 

5 a.m. – Wake up. The only time I ever wake up this early is for a flight. 

 

5:10 a.m. – Coffee.

 

6 a.m. – Arrive at Breakthru. It’s still dark. Great view, though! While I was taking this picture, security personnel informs me to keep watch for coyotes this early in the morning. Now, I’m looking forward to experiencing this part of the company today, but adding coyotes into the mix feels overwhelming. I’ll pass on that.

 

6:15 a.m. – I check in with Will at the desk. He tells me I’m paired with Mike, a 10-year Breakthru veteran. Great call, Will. I’ll need the expert tutelage.

 

6:30 a.m. – I meet Mike. He seems delightful (he is). He tells me the truck is being loaded, and I should use this time to rest, which will come in handy later.

 

8:30 a.m. – Mike says we’re ready to go. Awesome! At this point, I don’t fully know what to expect, but I’m eager to find out. We have 500+ cases to drop off. Let’s do this!

 

8:45 a.m. – Chicago traffic. We’re heading out to the far west suburbs. Buckle in.

 

9:00 a.m. – Mike’s chatty, which is great, because I’m chatty, too. He is a swing driver, so he executes a variety of different routes, both city and suburbs.

 

10:00 a.m. – We arrive at our first account, a large retail chain store. We have 19 stops to make today—very busy! There is only one loading dock here, and there is a line. We have to wait our turn.

 

10:10 a.m. – Mike uses this time to organize this stop’s products in alphabetical order because that’s how this account likes to receive it. It’s not a common request, but Mike is flexible and wants the delivery to be a smooth experience for the account. We have 61 cases to drop off in this stop, so this isn’t a quick little project, but Mike says he wants to be productive with this waiting time.

 

11:00 a.m. – We’re about to dock the truck. Game on.

 

11:05 a.m. – UPS shows up. Mike tells me that mail trucks get priority. We wait again. This wait is putting us way behind schedule. I’m feeling curious about whether or not we’ll make all of our stops now, because truck drivers have daily driving time limits for safety reasons.

 

11:15 a.m. – Our turn! I’m relaxed and full of energy. Let’s throw some cases!

 

11:30 a.m. – I’ve unloaded 61 cases and feel like my body is about to crumble to pieces.

 

11:35 a.m. – The receiver tells Mike they don’t need five of the cases, and we have to return them. Mike pulls out his pencil and calculator and adjusts the costs of the delivery. This part was news to me. He subtracts the dollars of the returned cases and checks his math twice. The receiver scans in 56 cases, and we take off. It’s now noon, and we’ve only hit one account. Not an ideal start, but it’s out of our control.

 

12:00 p.m. – Second delivery is another retail chain with a big order. The drop goes well, but I’m sensing there is no way we make all of our stops. We’re at stop 2 of 19. Mike says we have some restaurants coming up and those will go very fast.

 

12:15 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. – Mike’s right. We power through four restaurants very quickly. We’re still behind schedule, but the pace is moving nicely now. At each stop, Mike diligently checks the cases to ensure that every bottle is counted. If one bottle is missing, we’ve got to take note of it. So far, no bottle has gone missing.

 

1:05 p.m. – Mike brought granola bars. What a guy.

 

1:15 p.m. – We’re back to another big chain store, and there’s stuff blocking the dock. Ugh. We were on a roll.

 

1:25 p.m. – We’re in! I notice that Mike and the receiver have a great rapport. She clearly has worked at the account for a long time, and Mike knows exactly how they like to accept the delivery. There’s much more to this gig than just unloading product. Very cool.

 

1:40 p.m. – This stop is a large hotel, and they ordered water. Like, a lot of water. The water cases are heavy. The back pains are setting in, as well as the taxing of my arms using the hand trucks. I ask Mike how he does this every day, and he says it’s all in the attitude. I’m very impressed by this aspect of his job.

 

2:00 p.m. – I brought a sandwich. I’m very excited to eat my sandwich.

 

2:10 p.m. – I’m learning a lot about Mike’s role at Breakthru. He tells me that he’s often tasked with training new drivers, and I can tell he really likes that aspect of his job. He’s doing a great job directing me on how to organize cases, and how to efficiently move and drop off cases with the hand truck. He’s an excellent teacher.

 

2:15 p.m. – Next stop is a nice Italian restaurant, and so far, my day of throwing cases hasn’t involved going up or down stairs, which has been good news for this novice helper. That changed here.

 

2:20 p.m. – I’ve got a hand truck with 5 cases of fine wine on it and I’m staring at a staircase I have to go down. Focus.

 

2:21 p.m. – I’m going down the stairs much slower than Mike is. He’s a pro. I’m trying my best not to break anything.

 

2:22 p.m. – My arms hurt.

 

2:30 p.m. – Took four loads down the stairs. Nothing broken. I’ll toast to that!

 

2:45 p.m. – Mike says we’re headed to Arlington Heights where there are many deliveries in near proximity. This is where we will make up some time. We’re almost halfway done with our deliveries at this point and still behind schedule, but we are catching up.

 

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Now we’re cooking with gas! This part of the day is a blur. My body is already technically dead, but we’re moving at such a fast pace, adrenaline is kicking in. We knock out six stops, and we’ve almost caught up with our schedule. Arlington Heights is going to drink well tonight.

 

4:05 p.m. – Mike has to take a scheduled break, although he doesn’t seem to need one. He has energy levels that I don’t identify with. This fact is a very good thing for Mike.

 

4:35 p.m. – Break over. I loved this break. This is one of my top moments of the day. Mike is anxious to get back to work and knock out the rest of the deliveries. We have four more deliveries to make, and Mike thinks we can squeeze them in. Let’s do this, Mike!

 

4:45 p.m. – On our way out of Arlington Heights, we make a quick stop to drop off some mini kegs at a pizza place. I would literally pay $100 dollars for pizza and beer right now.

 

5:00 p.m. – Hello, Rolling Meadows! Three stops left. We’re going to make it!

 

5:15 p.m. – Mike maneuvers the truck into the smallest alley way. I don’t think I could fit a bicycle into this space. Mike fits a truck. He might be a wizard.

 

5:20 p.m. – Here’s another delivery where there is a discrepancy in what the account wants and what we are delivering to them. Mike has to do some math on the fly again to line up the numbers. The receiver seems a bit agitated at the discrepancy, but Mike handles the conversation very professionally and leaves on good terms with the account. I wasn’t expecting the customer service aspect of this role, and once again I’m impressed by Mike’s thoughtful communications with accounts.

 

6:00 p.m. – Our last stop! It’s a small restaurant with a small order. Nice way to end the day. Physically, I’m running on fumes.

 

6:15 p.m. – Mike buys me a hot dog. He continues to impress me every step of the way.

 

6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. – We make the hour drive back to Breakthru and have a great chat to wrap up the day. Mike tells me about several close friends he’s made that are also Breakthru drivers, and he really enjoys the team culture.

 

7:30 p.m. – Goodbye, Mike! Thanks for carrying me all day!

 

9:30 p.m. – I sleep like a baby.

 

8:00 a.m. – The next day, I wake up feeling like my body doesn’t know how to move… like at all. Once again, I’m in awe of people who do this job on a daily basis.

 

 

My day as part of the operations team at Breakthru was a meaningful experience for me. As someone who writes daily content for this company, it’s helpful to understand the nuances of the operations flow.

 

What stood out to me the most was Mike’s ability to adjust on the fly. There are so many curveballs that are thrown at truck drivers over the course of a given day, and it’s up to them to handle the action in an efficient and thoughtful way. Mike, and the other truck drivers, are key ambassadors between Breakthru Beverage Group and the places where consumers enjoy their favorite drinks. And their hard work and successes are appreciated by the very people we serve—the customers.  

 

So next time you’re sitting at your favorite bar, just take a moment to realize that the whiskey you’re sipping on is from a bottle that Mike may have confidently delivered, or, quite possibly, one that I almost dropped down the stairs. 

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