Confessions of a Former White Glove Carrier

An interview with Ben Kaplan, CLDA Board Member and President of Rightaway Delivery in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Ben Kaplan founded Rightaway Delivery 17 years ago, growing it from a local courier company to a full-service transportation provider.  Rightaway supports businesses, universities and hospitals with scheduled and time- sensitive courier and trucking services.  Additionally, Rightaway solves nationwide logistical challenges for Fortune 500 companies.  
Here he talks about his company’s short-term and ill-fated foray into the world of white glove delivery.
Question: What was your experience like doing white glove deliveries?
Kaplan: Not good.  For years, I said I wouldn’t do it.  But then we decided to try it. We did high-end home deliveries for several years.  I personally did the first two refrigerators for Sears with another person.  I had a motto that I would never ask anybody to do anything I wouldn't do myself so I wanted to do it. Even though I herniated two discs in my back and was initially against it, we stuck with it.  The pay was always good.   I just had to change my philosophy on what I would ask drivers to do.  
Originally, these were one-off deliveries, based on time and distance.  We got good at it and earned ourselves a good reputation for doing these kinds of deliveries well.  Our good reputation got the attention of the big players and they came knocking at our door.  We got excited.  Unfortunately, when you’re doing business with the Big Boys you are no longer getting compensated for quality service or necessarily delivering a quality product. 
It became all about the number of stops the truck could make.  We were scheduling 10-hour days for each truck and then there would be a few assemblies thrown in.  The result was that we ran into problems.  There were missing pieces.  Or a bracket was broken so the customer refused delivery after my drivers had wasted 1.5 hours trying to set it up.  That meant we were stuck with a delivery we weren’t going to complete and we would be behind on other deliveries.  That meant we were dealing with mad customers because we were rescheduling them.  Plus, we’d have to bring the product back to our dock and it would just sit and sit and sit and sit. Pretty soon we had a 10,000 square feet of damaged furniture.
Question: What else turned you into a “former white glove carrier?”
Kaplan: When you deal with home deliveries, you’re opening the door to customer complaints about something you did to the home.  A customer calls and says you scratched her floor.  Or they say your driver drove over their lawn and broke their sprinkler system or took out a light pole.  Then there are the calls that say your drive bumped and broke a priceless vase from the Ming Dynasty.  
Every week I’d be looking at these complaints and running the numbers.  Every week I’d be expecting them to get better.  They weren’t.  After a while I looked at those numbers and asked myself, “What have I done?”  It was fortunate that I was making money in other areas of the business or we would have been done for.
I thought we knew what we were doing, but we got in over our heads very quickly. Not only did it cost us a lot of money, but upset consumers were writing bad reviews about our company because they didn't get that dresser within a few days. It seemed like every day someone didn't get what they ordered, when they wanted it or in the way they expected it to be delivered. Not only did they write reviews, they’d call and insist on speaking with the owner.   
Question: So what was the ultimate outcome?
Kaplan: We got out of that line of business.  We lost a lot of money doing these home deliveries.  So, as much as it bothered me to fail, I threw in the towel and fired all the customers I was working for.  I thought I did that professionally and that we were parting ways amicably.  I gave them enough time to find someone else.  In some cases, they needed three companies to do what we did. Then, once the transition was made, they started sending us bills.  One was for a TV that went missing four years before that.  Another was for $10,000 worth of furniture that was "damaged" in the box that we didn't catch. This was after theses deliveries were safely out of our operation.  We were able to come to equitable agreements with these customers, but overall it was a nightmare.
Questions: What advice would you give a carrier interested in getting into white glove deliveries?
Kaplan: I’ll give you seven lessons I’d like them to learn:
1. Make every consumer sign a damage waiver before you enter their house.
2. Don’t go into people’s homes if at all possible.
3. Understand your real costs for storage.
4. Realize all the indirect labor that goes into running this kind of operation.
5. Make sure you are not taking on too large a delivery area.  We got killed on making deliveries to rural regions.
6. Set your own delivery windows for each region.  Make them work with your schedules
7. Know the true costs of doing a delivery so you can negotiate the price that gives you a better chance of succeeding.
Question: What’s the one best piece of advice you’d give someone considering getting into this vertical?
Kaplan: This is a huge and growing market in our industry.  If you prepare for, protect yourself, and make sure you charge enough, you can make it.  work. The key is listening to others who’ve been in it for a while and learning from their mistakes. Good Luck!
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