For Idaho’s largest and fastest-growing beverage distributor, the pandemic exacerbated its perennial supply chain issues: shortages of drivers, cans, pallets and ingredients. This suddenly caused a lack of control over inventory and freight management. 

“Last year, we were really struggling with getting trucks and suppliers to ship in a timely manner, as well as find out where our trucks were,” said Brandon Elliott, supply chain specialist at Hayden Beverage. “That was a big thing — we didn’t even know where half of our inbound trucks were. We couldn’t give our customers a good ETA on when that product was going to be in house or back on their shelves because we quite frankly didn’t know.”

Boise-based Hayden Beverage distributes beer, wine, and nonalcoholic beverages, including brands like Red Bull, Mike’s/White Claw and Pabst Blue Ribbon, with several warehouses in Idaho and Montana. Servicing big chains, convenience stores and restaurants, it expects to receive and ship out over 9 million cases of product per year to customers. 

“I used to dread freight day,” said Elliott. “I put it off as much as possible because it would take me a good three to four hours to cover anywhere from six to eight trucks just to Seattle and back to Idaho. We had a spreadsheet showing where the load is coming from, where it’s going, the quote the carriers provided and which one was the best financially. Then we send the carriers an email saying, ‘Hey, I have this load coming from Seattle to Boise. I need it picked up next Thursday. Can you cover this?’ You wait a good 24 hours before you hear back if they can cover it. If they don’t have a truck to cover, then you’re scrambling. We’re kind of like the middleman for the whole thing.”

Hayden Beverage had never used a third-party transportation management system (TMS) provider until April 2020, when it ran a pilot version of Convoy’s web-based TMS. Most of Hayden Beverage’s team have been with the company for at least 20 years and Elliott knew that this change would be met with skepticism. 

“We’re really good at adapting, but technology has been one of those things that we’ve been a little slow at integrating into our system. There’s a lot of technology out there that we can use and benefit from, and Convoy’s TMS has been a lifesaver. It used to take me over 4 hours, and now I’m looking at 30 minutes tops to do all my freight. That’s five people, saving four hours each per week, for a total of 20-hours saved each week for our team. I actually look forward to doing it because it’s so simple and easy and one of those things that I can knock out real quick. I wish I had had this TMS from day one,” Elliott said. 

Elliott and his team have been able to reallocate the four hours they each used to spend each week on procurement and reinvest that time into focusing on suppliers and managing inventory levels. “With our freed up time, we can make sure we don’t run out of anything. With the heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve been able to work more closely with our suppliers to get more bottled water to where it’s needed most.” One water supplier in California couldn’t find any drivers, so Elliott offered to take over its freight bids, since Hayden Beverage now has countless carriers at its fingertips in the Convoy TMS. 

Instead of using a spreadsheet and emails, the TMS allows Hayden Beverage to aggregate and automate all its shipments, send and accept bids from trucking companies, and tender loads to the carrier all in the same place. Elliott loves that he won’t have to ever worry about overpaying for a lane. 

“We put the shipment out there and let the carriers bid on it, and then after one accepts it, we tender it to them. It’s like eBay.” Elliott said. “Then, it’s in their hands for setting up appointments. They know their drivers and the roads better. I’m sitting in an office in Boise, Idaho. I don’t know what the roads are like going into Seattle for example.”

What Elliott can do sitting from his office in Boise is track the carriers to ensure timely delivery and reliability. He can see if a carrier actually delivers 100% of the loads it accepts. If a carrier drops a load, it’s incredibly easy to get it covered by going back to see who else bid on it and send out another request. “It’s super quick to get it covered by going back to see who else bid on it and sending it out again. We can also support emergency fire drill orders now. Before we had the TMS, there was no way we could get a load picked up in less than two days.”

“We can now look at the historical carrier performance data and see that some of the cheaper bids we get aren’t the most reliable. If they dropped 50% of the loads, we can see that right away. We may pay a little bit more for a carrier that’s super reliable and has never dropped a single load of ours,” he said.

Unexpectedly, the TMS has also been a huge benefit for building stronger relationships with their carriers. Hayden Beverage wasn’t sure their longtime carriers would adopt the new process, but they picked it up right away. A longtime carrier partner had begun bidding on loads within the TMS, but when it wasn’t winning, they asked why. Elliott told his contact that their rates were $800 higher than most other carriers. 

“She had no idea where the market rates were, so she actually worked to get the rates to be more competitive,” he said. “As a result, her company has seen quite an increase in truckloads now, so it’s been really good for their business as well.”

Elliott calls the partnership with Convoy collaborative, especially since the Convoy team is so open to listening to feedback. “Convoy has been an awesome partner to work with as far as getting us set up pretty quickly, getting us all trained on it and following through with everything. They want to hear how it’s going. They have taken our feedback and tweaked things for us. I’ll give them feedback and the next day, the product changes for us. This has put control back into our hands,” he said.

This article is published jointly with our partners at Convoy. To view more Future of Freight content, click here.