Cory Home Delivery has been in business for over 70 years. Until the late 1990s, it concentrated on warehousing and delivery of furniture for large department stores and furniture chains in the New York metro area. Since furniture tends to be heavy and difficult to sell in the fast moving world of hot goods, it's not a prime target for cargo thieves who tend to focus on more portable, high demand items like cigarettes, clothing and electronics, and theft was a relatively minor concern for Cory.

With a third generation of Cory's coming of age in the 1990s, the company began an era of restructuring, moving to retail home delivery of all sorts of high-value products and extending its operations along the entire Atlantic Coast. De-emphasizing its own warehouse services, it began using contract drivers in its new operating areas to provide dedicated delivery services from the new clients' own warehouses to customer homes. The restructuring was, to put it mildly, a success.

“We saw annual growth averaging 20% by the mid 1990s,” says Patrick Cory, VP of strategic planning. Today the company delivers $1 billion in merchandise to over 1 million homes.

Along with that success, though, came a new problem — cargo security. While furniture is still a major part of Cory's business, many new clients for its dedicated delivery service are appliance and electronics retailers. A truckload of washing machines might not be too attractive a target for hijackers, but a truck filled with big-screen TVs is an entirely different story.

Michael Watson is regional vp for Cory's mid-Atlantic region, which runs from Philadelphia south to Virginia. Among Cory's customers in that region are two large electronics chains that sell large numbers of big-screen TVs.

“Security wasn't really much of a problem until two years ago,” says Watson. “We had a truck full of TVs high-jacked at gunpoint when the driver stopped at a gas station. Then we had four more within a month. They were cleaning our clocks.”

All of the company's contractors operate straight trucks with 26-ft. van bodies and no other identification but the Cory name. “But local delivery is a fairly small world,” says Pat Cory. “Everyone knew we had that [TV] business. We're largely self-insured, and we were facing claims of up to $65,000 for each incident, so we had to do something. Big-screen TVs are just too easy to fence.”

The local police did work with Cory, but the highjacks weren't a top priority since no one was hurt, says Watson. “We tried hiring security guards to follow the trucks, but that really wasn't efficient, so we decided to look at remote tracking devices.”

After testing a few systems, Cory chose a completely automated version of PeopleNet's Metro system without any driver interface. A two-way system, it regularly reports vehicle locations on a scheduled basis and can also be polled for its current position.

Now Cory's contracted drivers have to call in after every stop. If they miss a call and the driver can't be reached by dispatch, they pull up the truck's actual location to determine if it's where it should be.

“Tracking won't stop a truck from being stolen, but it can find it quickly if it is highjacked,” says Watson. “That's important because it usually takes them one to three hours to offload into another truck; if we can get the police there quickly, we can save the load.”

The particular crew responsible for the TV highjackings was caught last year robbing another fleet's delivery truck, and the cargo thefts have stopped in the mid-Atlantic region, at least for now. “But we did have an empty truck stolen from one of our lots, and we were able to locate it right away and recover it before there was any damage,” says Watson.

It also turns out that the tracking system adopted for security reasons is delivering an added benefit as a management tool. “We're able to monitor the speed of our trucks, how many times they stop, if they leave their routes, idling time and other things that are really helping us improve our productivity,” says Watson. “The operational management benefits are substantial.”

In fact, Cory plans to put the tracking system only on trucks delivering high-end electronics at this point, but it's reconsidering that decision. “We don't need to roll it out [for security reasons] to our furniture and appliance accounts, but in the future we may as a purely management tool,” says Pat Cory.