A Route Salesman - Winter 1978/79
As a route driver for Royal Crown Cola, I learned many aspects of the consumer products business. I experienced first hand the varied issues of store shelf space, product distribution, market share, well-financed competition, and marketing promotion. I also experienced working for a weak organization with a third place product in a highly competitive market.
During my first semester at OBU in 1978, I worked part-time for Cleo Tibbs at his Texaco station on North Kickapoo. One of his commercial accounts was RC, whose warehouse was just across the street. The operation consisted of the manager, a short, mustached cowboy dude, and two truck drivers. One of the drivers, Bob Brown, was an outstanding guitarist and an fellow OBUer. We became great friends, but have somewhat lost touch over the years. Anyway, when the other driver was fired, I jumped on the position.
My route was different on each day of the week. Three of the days were rural routes across several counties. I enjoyed the time on the road and the autonomy the job provided. I moved much more soda than my predecessors and was well-liked by both management and customers. My product lines were RC, Diet-Rite, and Nehi. I'd usually sell 100-200 cases per day, not much by Coke standards, but I did it all myself. I sold the merchandise, collected the money, stocked shelves and storerooms, and hauled away empties. I was particularly successful in negotiating center aisle and end displays for two liter bottles with store managers and owners. Still, I was less than comfortable with what I viewed as poor ethical standards and a culture of mediocrity.
Overall, it was a very weak, harvest-type operation, based primarily on cost discounting. The manager would encourage doing whatever it took to make quota. This could include overstocking trusting customers (I've seen convenience stores with over fifty cases of peach Nehi stacked in the back.) or giving additional discounts and hiding the costs with empty carton credits. The manager even subtly suggested loosing the caps of Dr Pepper two liter bottles (Flat DP - Yuk!) and spraying the tops of Pepsi cans with Fantastic or 409. The trucks were in terrible shape and mine was the worst. No way would it ever pass a safety inspection and it left me stranded in the country several times. When the weather was bad, the three of us would pile into the company pickup truck and drive around town looking for a Pepsi or Dr Pepper trucks. The rule was if the big boys aren't working, why should we?
I made a difference where I could, but found myself quite constrained in my ability to effect any significant change. My perspective was limited to the view from the bottom of the organizational hierarchy and there was no desire for change communicated by management. Still, I took pride in my work and, with the exception of a few roadside naps, was a conscientious and industrious employee. Nonetheless, I had viewed the job as temporary from the beginning and I quit after only a few months. I found a new job that had much more to offer and I don't drink RC anymore.
I have, however, followed the industry and believe Triarc's acquisition of Snapple to be a winner, even if they just milk it like RC and the other brands. I wish Quaker Oats would call me when they have millions to through away. We'd both have more money. BTW, I like Pepsico's acquisition of Tropicana and I think they should look seriously into dairy and premium water. Although Frito-Lay seems to be a good strategic fit, I also think Pepsico should divest the restaurants and invest the capital in vertical integration in international markets. The new Pepsi One advertisements seem to me a great campaign with the wrong product.
My personal preference for cola is still Coke.
Copyright © Ronnie Oldham 1998. All rights reserved.
Revised: April 01, 2011.
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