When Rodney Montgomery stepped into his first day of high school Algebra, he saw a sign on the chalkboard that read, “Never settle for mediocrity. Always ask yourself Why not excellence?” During his last twenty years as a route driver for Imperial, LLC in Tulsa, OK, Montgomery has been working by that motto.
Montgomery, the overall 2014 Route Driver of the Year winner, treats everyday as a new opportunity to surpass mediocrity by providing the best service to his customers, finding new ways of becoming more efficient on his routes and using technology to increase profits. “I don’t want to be mediocre,” he said. “Whatever I do, I want to be the best.”
The five year plan
In 1995, Montgomery came into the vending industry by chance. At the age of 25 he had been working nights as a manager for UPS. He liked the work, but he and his wife, Jennifer, were expecting their second child and working night hours was not going to be an option. An opportunity to take a job with more flexible hours and better pay came one day when an old friend called Montgomery up and told him that Imperial, LLC had an opening for a route driver.
“Working in the vending industry was part of my five year plan,” Montgomery chuckled. “At 25 I was headstrong and confident that I could do anything I put my mind to,” he said. As it turned out, Montgomery enjoyed vending. He enjoyed the freedom and pride it gave him and his five year plan became a thing of the past. On Jan. 3, 2015, Montgomery celebrated his twentieth anniversary at Imperial, LLC.
One thing that has kept Montgomery going as a route driver has been the transformation of his job due to technology. It has become easier, he says. “When I first started as a driver I’d have to turn in my own orders,” he recalled. “I’d pull up to a stop, go in and count my machines down. I’d come back to the truck, pull the product and then go back in. It was set up static so I had a schedule of when and how often I’d go to stops.”
Today, telemetry and the vending management system (VMS) work together to tell Montgomery which machines need to be filled. Pre-kitting has also helped streamline the process when he gets to the warehouse at 4:00 in the morning. “We have a crew at night that pulls all of the orders and loads our trucks. Now we grab the exact product that we need and go in the building one time,” said Montgomery. “With technology I can do double the work in the same or less amount of time.”
Montgomery believes that all of the technological advancements have helped the longevity of route drivers. He doesn’t see a lot of turnover anymore. But he does see a difference with the hiring of the younger generation. “Millennials want what I have immediately, instead of sticking around for a few years and working their way up,” he said. Nicknamed “the old man,” Montgomery says he likes to regale the younger crew with stories of the 1990s, when technology was minimal. “When I used to go into locations and carve things on stone tablets,” he joked.
Montgomery knows that being a successful driver means more than coming in for the job. “You have to show up on time, do a good job, be friendly with customers and always look for ways to be more efficient.”
Until the job is done
Montgomery tries many things in order to find the most efficient way to service a location. Rather than splitting two cases of soda, he will take both cases into a location. He also keeps his truck clean as he goes through the day and works with the pre-kit crew in planning the best location for product in his vehicle. “That way when I get into my truck everyday I know exactly what I have and where it is,” he said.
Montgomery’s passion for excellence led him to leave route driving for a management role early on. After six years he missed the independence and satisfaction of being a route driver. He also missed his customers. “I liked my route and I enjoyed being responsible for my machines,” he said. “The best part of my job though is interacting with my customers.”
When Montgomery began at Imperial, owner Paul Tims would say, “We never want the customer to suffer any long than they have to,” which is why they are Montgomery’s number one priority. In fact, he has never missed a day of work and has serviced locations with a hurt back, sprained ankle and broken hand. “My responsibilities are mine to handle,” he said.
When asked about the hardest part of his job, Montgomery says there is no hard part. “Technology has solved so many problems and hardships that used to come with route driving. When I think back to what it used to be versus how it is now, there really is no hard part,” he said.
“For me, I never come in dreading this job,” he continued. “I know I’m going to come in and see the same people everyday, but I know them by name, I know their kids and what they are doing in school.” Montgomery has in every way excelled past mediocrity. His attitude and actions have led him to become the 2014 Route Driver of the Year winner, a distinction that would not have been made possible without his nomination by Imperial General Manager George Berry. “I am thankful to Imperial for everything they have done for me,” Montgomery said. “Despite my hardheadedness early on, they saw something in me and kept me on staff.”
Montgomery doesn’t know where vending is headed, but he is excited to be attending his first NAMA OneShow in Las Vegas to see the newest innovations and technology for the future.