It's 4:45 a.m. in the city that never sleeps and, save for a few delivery trucks and cab drivers, the city is still. But down on Pier 3 in Brooklyn, a truck idles in front of the Strober Building Supply yard, and as the first steel shipment of the morning is unloaded, employees inside the warehouse are gearing up for another unpredictable day serving builders in and around New York City.
Receiving shipments before dawn in time to add to that day's deliveries—which begin as early as 6:30—is just the start of a regular workday at Strober, a day that most likely will be filled with challenges only an urban pro dealer team can truly know and surmount. Ask the employees here what it takes to survive and keep contractors on schedule in an environment replete with obstacles—from traffic to road restrictions to parking—and they'll tell you the key is an experienced, dedicated staff that utilizes strong local knowledge along with the ability to adapt to any situation.
Prime Real Estate Situated on the edge of the East River across from Lower Manhattan, the Strober Building Supply yard in Brooklyn boasts a number of luxuries most New Yorkers only dream of: lots of space, plenty of parking, and a million-dollar skyline view. Spread over a little more than 8 acres, the yard includes a front paved area for parking and material storage, and 4 acres inside the warehouse with ample under-cover storage, roomy drive-through loading areas, and more parking. The warehouse also holds yard offices and offices for the Strober Building Supply division headquarters.
“We're able to take advantage of the space, and if there is an opportunity to assist our customers in saving money by purchasing something in bulk or purchasing an entire job and storing it here for them, we're able to do things like that,” says general manager Dan Scanlon.
Obstacle Course No matter how close the highway, getting materials to customers on time with next-day or sometimes same-day delivery means facing any number of potential obstacles each time a driver heads out. Servicing New York City's five boroughs and often suburbs in Long Island and New Jersey can entail traversing packed and narrow streets, crossing bridges and tunnels, and maneuvering through toll roads. “There are more challenges in this location than my other three locations on an everyday basis,” acknowledges Rich Schaefer, executive vice president for Strober Building Material Centers, who oversees Brooklyn and three nearby facilities.
Despite ongoing and unpredictable logistical difficulties, the atmosphere at the Brooklyn yard is decidedly business as usual in the face of adverse conditions thanks to a number of tools that help keep drivers on time and deliveries on schedule. For instance, traffic is monitored constantly via the Internet and radio, as well as through feedback from delivery drivers on the road; all of the trucks are equipped with GPS and two-way radios. Mapping tools also are helpful for analyzing trips after the fact.
But perhaps the most important tool is the staff itself—both at the yard and in the trucks—whose local knowledge is requisite for routing drivers around traffic jams. “It's just something that has to be kept up with throughout the day,” Scanlon says. “... I can't stress enough the fact that we have a very talented, knowledgeable group of people that we rely on considerably to analyze this information and get the trucks where they have to be in the time-frame that they have to be there.”
All but one of Strober's delivery drivers have been with the company for years, including some for more than 20. This experience is important for navigating not only the streets, but the regulations that sometimes can change by time of day and day of week. Some flat-bed trucks can go through tunnels, for example, but trucks can't go over the Brooklyn Bridge. Restrictions often vary by truck height and by the type of materials being transported. “You also have to know what can and can't fit,” Scanlon says. “You can't send a 40-foot tractor trailer with a 40-foot beam on it onto Mott Street at 3:00 in the afternoon. We really rely on our people to understand the environment that we deal in.”
In addition to the traffic mix is the threat of inclement weather: Though Strober's trucks aren't likely to be halted, looming rain and snow can affect orders from customers. “When they forecast a snowstorm four, five, or six days in advance, [customers] just freak out,” Scanlon explains. “They plan past it and things just start to slow down. Weather is something that we have to keep an eye on daily.”