Iceland Foods is switching its entire fleet of home delivery vehicles to Mercedes-Benz Sprinters driven by staff trained in a smart new Centre of Excellence sponsored by the manufacturer.
The move follows the high-profile retailer’s recent return to the online shopping arena it pioneered.
All but a handful of its 800 stores already offer a long-established and highly successful home delivery service used by up to 190,000 customers every week.
Iceland is replacing the 1,300 vans currently assigned to this operation with Sprinter 313 CDI chassis cabs fitted with temperature-controlled box bodies – more than 300 of these new vehicles will be on the road by the end of this year.
Iceland’s Centre of Excellence represents a £250,000 investment and is located at Deeside, alongside the company’s head office. The vehicles are being supplied by Road Range, which opened its state-of-the-art commercial vehicle dealership next-door to Iceland’s HQ last July.
The dealer is also providing specialist driver-trainers to work alongside Iceland’s own team at the Centre, with vehicle familiarisation sessions being delivered in the ‘Mercedes-Benz Room’. Other Iceland staff including store managers will receive training at the new facility too, to help them better understand the challenges faced by their home delivery drivers.
Iceland undertook a comprehensive vehicle evaluation exercise before committing to Mercedes-Benz. Key to that decision was the Sprinter’s reputation for reliability and proven fuel-efficiency, as well as its market-leading armoury of safety features, and the round-the-clock repair and maintenance back-up of the Mercedes-Benz dealer network.
Crucial, too, was the availability of a fully automatic transmission. Iceland’s Head of Home Alex McKinlay confirms: "Not only does the auto ‘box make a difficult job that bit easier for our drivers, it will also improve safety and help to reduce wear and tear on the driveline. This, coupled with the 24-hour support of Mercedes-Benz dealers, will keep vehicle downtime to a minimum."
Mr McKinlay continues: "At Iceland we’re proud of what we’re doing to light up the high street, and now we’re challenging our drivers to light up the doorstep too!
"We’ve said to them: ‘We’re providing these fantastic vehicles but we want something from you in return, in the shape of the very best customer service and a reduction in our accident repair bill’. Their response has been every bit as positive as we’d hoped – the drivers love their new Mercedes and really appreciate the investments we’re making in them."
Iceland was the first UK food retailer to offer a nationwide online shopping service as long ago as 1999, but withdrew to focus on other priorities. It has now re-launched and rolled out the service to just under 300 stores, with additional stores due online in 2014.
Centre of Excellence Training Manager Simon Pill explains: "Our drivers are ambassadors for Iceland and never more so than where online shoppers are concerned, because the doorstep delivery is likely to be their only direct interaction with a representative of our business."
The initial, two-day Driver Academy programme opens with a ‘hearts and minds’ session in which Mr Pill and his colleagues spell out the crucial role that drivers have to play in delivering customer service, and the importance of ensuring that vans which also serve as mobile advertisements for the brand are clean, well maintained, and driven professionally and courteously.
For day two the emphasis shifts to ‘hands on’ instruction delivered by Road Range Driver Training Manager James Green and his colleague Dylan Yates, and based on economical driving modules designed for truck drivers working towards the DCPC qualification. The pair aim to ‘light up the road ahead’ for Iceland’s drivers by outlining the Sprinter’s key features then providing practical guidance on applying anticipatory and defensive techniques at the wheel – not only do these save fuel, they also improve safety and cut maintenance costs.
Nearly 1,300 of Iceland’s 1,600 drivers are scheduled to attend this course during the first year, while longer-term staff development initiatives will also be introduced.
Adds Simon Pill: "We want our customers, and indeed the wider community, to recognise that we have great vehicles, being driven by great people, in a great fashion. The support we’ve had from Road Range and Mercedes-Benz in creating our new Centre of Excellence has been fantastic – we couldn’t have asked for more."
Powered by smooth and economical 129 hp engines, Iceland’s Sprinters are air conditioned and equipped with hands-free Bluetooth telephony, as well as telematics systems that monitor driving style, and forward- and driver-facing cameras.
Their purpose-designed, dual-compartment bodies are being built by Gray & Adams and Paneltex, with refrigeration by GAH and Alex. The vehicles carry up to 72 crates in a one-third, two-thirds split – the front, frozen section operates at minus 22ºC, while the bigger compartment is used to carry chilled and ambient products at 4ºC.