Each night the Customer Success department at JMC Restaurant Distribution Co. shares with company personnel what they call “wow stories” phoned in during the day. The stories are usually about something extraordinary a company driver has done during the ordinary course of making restaurant-supply deliveries to CiCi's pizza franchise stores. At the end of the year, the winner of the best “wow story” is honored at the company's annual banquet.

JMC Restaurant Distribution is itself a “Wow story.” The transportation service company was started in Plano, TX, in 1990 by CiCi's founder, Joe Croce, to support the pizza buffet franchises, making certain they got prompt deliveries of all the supplies needed to operate their stores profitably. Robert Kulick, president of JMC, came on board 18 months later and has been at the helm for 14 years. Three years ago, he and three partners bought out Croce's share of the business.

CiCi's restaurants have been a huge success. The franchise has grown from 22 restaurants and one distribution center in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to over 600 stores in 26 states, and three distribution centers in strategic locations.

The 55 tractors and trailers in the fleet are all leased from Penske under full-service contracts. The majority of tractors (52) are Freightliner 70-inch raised-roof sleeper units. Trailers are primarily 48-footers all equipped with Thermo King refrigeration units. They include 41 Great Dane and 14 Utility vans. Kulick notes the fleet is moving away from the use of ramps for loading/unloading and has begun spec'ing Maxon liftgates to make the work easier for drivers.

In an effort to improve fuel economy, the fleet has begun testing a TriPac APU from Thermo King to operate the liftgate during unloading, enabling drivers to shut off the engine. Kulick says another way his company has been able to fight higher fuel costs without imposing surcharges is to increase revenue through more backhauls.

Between the three distribution centers, there are currently 75 drivers, each assigned to his/her own vehicle. “Our drivers deliver bags of flour, yeast, salt, etc., so the restaurants can make their pizza dough from scratch. The loads they deliver are large — between four and five pallets. We also keep someone on-call 24/7 to make sure the restaurants never run out of a product. And in an industry that brags about 98% fill rates, we are running at a 99.8% fill rate,” Kulick states.

Credit goes to JMC drivers, who Kulick say are some of the best in the business. JMC says it can attract good drivers because of its excellent benefits and bonus programs, as well as top-notch fleet equipment.

Drivers' routes vary from local ones that take them out every weeknight, to the longest routes, which mean three days away from home. The average run is just one overnight. “We schedule routes so that all the trucks are back in by noon on Saturday, so drivers have Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. We also allow drivers to bid on routes a couple times a year as new ones are added or older ones get revised.”

A program for drivers Kulick calls “hire to grave” enables drivers to move into other positions within the company if the delivery jobs become too demanding for them physically. Several drivers, in fact, have been promoted to transportation and warehouse center managers through this program.

“What it all comes down to is relationships,” says Kulick. “Relationships between us and our drivers, with our suppliers like Penske and Thermo King, and with the CiCi's restaurant franchisees who count on us and our drivers every day to make sure they have all the tools necessary to meet their paying guests' expectations and keep them coming back.”