How to reduce frustration and extra costs resulting from lost tools and touch-up materials during delivery.
Age-old quandaries include: Why are we here? How was the Earth created? And, how do I get my drivers to maintain a tool kit without everything getting lost?
Making sure your drivers are supplied with all the tools and materials needed to service their routes should be of paramount importance to furniture store owners. It can, however, be frustrating because of how quickly they tend to lose them. It’s as if they unwittingly sacrifice their tools to some otherworldly being, hell-bent on siphoning off profits and testing your mettle. And there is always that blank stare of disbelief from drivers who can’t fathom how it happened.
but despite all this, the most important thing to remember is that without the right tools and materials, a successful delivery is nearly impossible. Can you remember life before the 4mm and 5mm Allen key? When “some assembly required” didn’t mean virtually hewing the boards yourself to make a table? Some vendors such as La-Z-Boy and Ekornes require specific tools for assembly, but there are commonalities.
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are necessary for every retail operation. People need clearly defined parameters and instructions to accomplish most tasks. They also need to be held accountable for executing these SOPs that they’ve read, understood and acknowledged with their signatures.
Let’s delve into how to create SOPs that will keep drivers on-task with respect to a tool inventory. Begin with a solid assortment list such as:
Crescent wrench, 6”; SAE hex key set; Metric hex key set; White one pound rubber mallet; Philips head screwdriver No. 2; Claw hammer; Cordless drill; Drill bit set up to 1/2”; Angle drill adapter; Pliers; Diagonal cutters; Box wrench set; 2”, 6” screwdriver bits: #2 Phillips, #2 Robertson; Multi-bit kit with adapter for drill use; Flashlight; Hand saw; Scissor; Hand vacuum, corded.
First, take inventory of each driver’s existing tool bag. Have them lay everything out and check off the items.
Then, for each driver team do the following:
Purchase appropriate standardized tool boxes. This lets drivers know you’re serious about their tools. Number the boxes, but do not assign them. This lets them know that they are basic, standardized kits. Extraneous tools and materials they want to supply must be carried in a separate bag of their choosing.
Set up a drill charging station in a secure area, numbering drills to correspond with the tool kit numbers. Drills used by drivers should be standardized so that batteries can be swapped and replaced as they expire.
Before they hit the road, insist that drivers check out a tool kit from a responsible person in a secure area, after taking inventory to make sure no tools are missing. If the kit is complete, the driver takes the box along with its corresponding drill and signs it out. If the kit is incomplete, responsibility for the loss needs to be assigned to the previous driver who used the kit.
If there are missing tools, give the driver who lost tools the opportunity to find them by the end of his or her shift. In the interim, have a couple sets of replacement tools handy, under lock and key, to lend out. Indicate this information in a column marked “Lent Tools to:” on the check-out sheet. If replaced, draw a line through the entry. If not, consider debiting the driver’s pay as appropriate and allowable.
At the close of the week, meet with drivers to offer them a final chance to replace or return missing tools. If they fail to do so, forward the completed, manager-approved sheet to the human resources department for processing.
Who Should Supply Tools
Some owners say that drivers should supply their own tools. I respectfully disagree. If drivers insist on using their own tools, fine. But I would argue that they should do so at their own peril. Whatever the arrangement, it should be spelled out on paper in writing, signed and filed in the employee’s records folder. Retailers shouldn’t need to replace a broken or lost $500 Hilti drill that a driver brought from home.
To set your drivers up for success, touch-up materials are equally important. However, they are consumable and perishable. Wax sticks can melt and markers can dry out. I suggest that drivers be given a basic kit of markers and a wax stick or two in addition to a product like Mohawk’s Wax Wash, for cleaning delivered items. Here’s a basic list:
Having rock-solid SOPs and enforcing them will
go a long way toward lowering costs and the frustration that comes along with lost tools and touch-up supplies.
Markers. Include at least dark, medium and light color stain-type markers. I like Extra Dark Walnut, Old World Walnut, and Ash Natural. Black and white pigmented markers are also essential.
Wax sticks. Pack clear and black wax sticks. Drivers can add color to clear rather than buying a huge assortment.
Cleaners. Pack leather/vinyl cleaner as well as a fingerprint remover, like Mohawk’s Wax Wash that can remove marker, grease, oil, etc., on wood. I’m dubious about packing a fabric cleaner. Not all fabrics are colorfast, and trying to remove stains can open up a can of worms. The safest cleaner I’ve ever used is also, in my opinion, the most efficient, and that is Folex, available in most home centers.
Rags. Include clean, white rags.
Your color assortment may vary based on the type of furniture you sell, but in a pinch, these materials will correct most superficial problems.
These items should be kept in a small tackle box, separate from the tools. The reason for this is that perishable materials should be kept in the cab with the drivers where it is cool, not in the van where temperatures can soar. Aerosols should not be allowed to exceed 122 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the manufacturer, and wax sticks can melt at 100 degrees—easily possible in the summer no matter where deliveries take place.
Pay attention to touch-up materials usage. Some time ago I discovered that a driver was selling markers on the side to customers for $10 each. After that we required that spent markers be turned in.
Having rock-solid SOPs and enforcing them goes a long way toward lowering the cost and frustration that comes along with lost tools and supplies. The process is similar to installing surveillance cameras. Once people know that they are being watched, they become more mindful. If they lose a drill or hand tool, it’s OK to call customers to ask if they’ve seen it. Sometimes you’ll get it back, sometimes not. It’s worth a try.
Peter Schlosser is a backend furniture consultant based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His focus is repair, quality control, exceptional customer service, and all things operational. He is a contributing editor to Furniture World. To see all his articles
. Questions on any aspect of this article or furniture repair can be directed to Peter Schlossser at