It may be a tough economic climate in which to operate a successful wholesale food delivery business, but Rancho Foods of Vernon, CA, is meeting the challenge head on. One thing that's made a difference in keeping the cost of driver hours down has been the institution of Xora's GPS TimeTrack system.

Andrew Abriel, director of operations at Rancho Foods, says a year ago his company began using the GPS tracking system, which works in concert with the drivers' Nextel two-way radio/mobile phones. “We used to hear excuse after excuse from drivers explaining why their hours of service were so high. Having the Xora system has eliminated that, giving us a means by which to accurately track their whereabouts throughout the day to within a 10ft. radius.” He notes that from May 2007 to May 2008, driver hours cut at Rancho Foods have amounted to 139 hours of regular time, saving $3,000; 183 hours of overtime, saving $4,200; and about 50 hours of double time, saving $1,000.

The Xora GPS TimeTrack system can be programmed to “ping” the tracking devices in the Nextel phones at any time interval set by a company. Abriel says his units are set for every five minutes. “The system has multiple uses besides tracking driver locations. For example, we can use it to track every time a driver exceeds our speed limit of 60 mph. Another feature is a map on which we can enter each of our customers' addresses, so when a driver gets to within 10 ft. of his delivery location, we'll know it,” Abriel explains. “This feature also helps us with planning and building routes. In addition, we can download and run a variety of reports, such as reports that provide the details of every stop a driver makes during a set period of time and how fast he/she was traveling between stops.”

Rancho Foods, incorporated in 1982, is a multimillion-dollar, family-owned wholesale meat distribution business. Charlie MacDonald, the company's founder, got his start in the '60s servicing local taco stands with cooked carnitas from the back of his pickup truck. The company's niche continues to be the Latino food market, with a 1,000-plus customer base that includes everything from major chains to independent “mom and pop” stores.

“We specialize not only in meat distribution, but also customer service,” says Abriel. “Our drivers' responsibilities include loading and unloading trucks, and interacting with customers on various levels. It's this kind of personal service and the ability to adapt to customers' needs that keeps us alive.”

Abriel knows firsthand how challenging it is for Rancho Foods drivers, having started out as a driver himself in 1992 before working his way up to operations manager. “We had six 50-ft. trucks back then,” he recalls. “Over the years, we've grown three to four times in size.” The Rancho Foods fleet now includes 19 Volvo FE Series bobtails with 22-ft. liftgates and 13 Freightliner Columbia tractors used in combination with six 36-ft. or seven 48-ft. Utility trailers with Maxon liftgates. The vehicles are spec'd with drivers in mind, including things like air conditioning and comfortable seating.

All equipment is also spec'd with Thermo King refrigeration units. Abriel reports, “For the last year, we've been working towards meeting EPA's December 2008 deadline for cleaner running reefers. In cases where our vehicles are still in good shape, we will most likely just trade out the refrigeration units to meet EPA guidelines. In other instances, we'll be buying new trucks — whatever is the most cost-effective for the fleet.”

Balancing fleet and driver needs keeps Andrew Abriel pretty busy. He says the biggest challenge for Rancho Foods is keeping up with the demand of an ever-changing, perishable commodity market. “We have to adjust and adapt to the economy, which drives the food business. That includes compensating for the rising cost of fuel. Having the Xora GPS TimeTrack system has helped keep our drivers moving along, tracking their time so we can be more efficient in customer service.”