In the age of fast, free e-commerce shipping and painless returns, more companies—even small businesses—view their supply chains as part of their customer service experience, and treat them as sources of additive value rather than cost.
The company had already made the transition from recovering, sterilizing, and recycling bottles to importing new glass and creating custom packaging for its customers, expanding its service offerings. But the sales and customer service teams selling bottles to winemakers were responsible for finding their own transportation solutions, including booking trucks.
It took Encore’s customer service too long to cover their orders. They often purchased transportation at a significant premium to market prices.
Encore’s transportation operation—it had no dedicated team—stood in stark contrast to its commitment to customer service. Encore required no minimum order, promising to fulfill the smallest customers’ needs with exactly the right bottles, delivered just in time to be filled.
Getting the right product on time to small winemakers, who often don’t have sufficient storage space and are tucked away in remote corners of the Santa Cruz Mountains, requires experienced carriers who know what they’re doing. Encore found those carriers, but it didn’t have a way to efficiently manage its relationships with them.
Near the end of 2016, Encore asked Phil Russell, one of its customer service representatives who had recently moved to operations, to take on the job of managing the company’s transportation on a full-time basis.
“One of the big things in being asked to run a transport department was to be more diligent in how we booked a truck or spent money on freight,” said Russell, now the transportation supervisor at Encore. “After a year into it, I needed help wrapping my arms around the entire picture, so I recruited another logistics rep to help manage, and now we’ve added a third.”
Deliberately managing a transportation department requires a certain amount of clarity about what the company is trying to accomplish through its supply chain.
“I don’t want the cheapest freight; I want the best overall service and value,” Russell said. “Value is service first and then dollar paid. It’s about keeping our customers happy and maintaining continuity.”
Russell also emphasized Encore’s strategy of demonstrating commitment to the smallest winemakers and helping them grow their businesses through reliable service and top-notch glass and packaging.
“If our customers don’t grow, we don’t grow,” Russell said. “Smaller winemakers have friends— if I’m bottling in my garage, I might know people at a larger operation. It’s a tight-knit industry, and both positive and negative experiences travel far.”
In 2019, Encore shipped to customers in 241 cities from its facilities in Fairfield, California and on the East Coast. Winemaking and bottling are linked to the agricultural rhythm of grape harvesting, which drove seasonal volatility in Encore’s transportation needs. November through March is typically the slower season before a huge rush in the summer, Russell said, noting that smaller winemakers are typically quite seasonal. Recently Encore added some large “custom crush” facilities that bottle wine year-round to its roster of customers, smoothing out some demand volatility.
Russell said that partnering with Convoy, the Seattle-based digital freight network, back in 2017 was a major step forward in making Encore’s transportation operations more efficient and freeing up his team to focus on customer relationships.
Convoy built a desktop solution for Encore that allows Russell to offer loads to the 20–25 trucking carriers he prefers working with, he said.
“Wineries are in beautiful places in the country, and they’re hard places for trucks to get to, sometimes in the middle of the mountains,” Russell said. “Not every truck driver can drive a 53-foot trailer into these locations. Our carrier base has to be very skilled at navigating small roads and making small deliveries.”
With Convoy, Russell’s team cut their average time to book a load from an hour to about 10 minutes, he said. Encore’s transportation department had been consumed by putting out fires on a daily basis without the ability to get ahead of the work or make data-driven adjustments, but greater efficiencies have freed up resources and time.
“By getting out of the emails and having to babysit every load, now we’re looking two weeks in advance—we’re that far ahead—and looking at orders that are going to be a challenge,” Russell said. “Convoy allows us to be smarter about what we’re doing.”
A more efficient supply chain operation allows Encore to prioritize what matters: carrier and customer relationships.
“The carrier is an extension of Encore,” Russell said. “I want each carrier to know that not only do I care about on-time delivery and pickup, I care about your family, and we can talk about stuff outside of work—we have a relationship.”
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