ED WATERS Jr.
The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — It is 5 a.m., and the Wolf’s cross dock on Bowman’s Farm Road is bustling with activity.

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On a typical early morning, three or more tractor-trailers loaded with furniture back in, and a dozen employees are hard at work.

Doug Wolf, CEO of the company, said the recent opening of his firm’s outlet store on Ballenger Creek Pike was a good fit because of the cross dock. His company was closing an outlet store in Pennsylvania and in addition to regular loads of furniture, the odd lots and discontinued furniture for the new outlet can be brought from stores to the cross dock and the new outlet.

At the company’s main site in Bellwood, Pennsylvania, trucks from manufacturers come in and the furniture is stored. When orders come in or stores need to be stocked in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, the furniture is loaded onto tractor-trailers and sent to the Frederick cross dock.

“We don’t store any furniture here,” Wolf said during a 5 a.m. interview and tour of the facility near Frederick Municipal Airport, “and no one can pick up furniture here.”

Trucks back in, and the crew — all contractors from Cory First Choice Home Delivery who began working at 2 a.m. — unload all the furniture. The items are checked, tracked for where they will be going (a store or a home) and reloaded onto large box trucks with specific delivery routes.

Charles Roberts, liaison for Wolf’s, Patrick Cory, CEO of Cory First Choice Home Delivery, and the independent drivers, said the facility moves more than 450 pieces of furniture a day, five days a week, or more than 13,500 pieces a month.

Joe McFarland, facility coordinator, explained that the unloaded furniture, each piece carefully moved on dollies and cushioned carts, is placed in lanes behind the doors to the truck that will carry it. The furniture is unpacked, checked to make sure everything is OK, repacked and loaded — again carefully — onto the delivery trucks.

“We check to make sure every truck has what is needed. That means drills to assemble or disassemble the furniture, lots of pads and any other tools they may need,” said Cory, who drove five hours to Frederick from New Jersey for an interview to explain how his teams work with Wolf’s to ensure customer satisfaction.

Cory has 53 locations in 33 states, working with other companies such as Ashley, Rooms to Go, Best Buy and Home Depot to deliver merchandise.

“We have 12 to 14 trucks that run in this area,” Cory said. His grandfather started the company with one truck in Brooklyn, New York, 80 years ago.

The drivers contract through Cory for delivery for Wolf’s in the region and use their own trucks. Cory helps with leasing trucks to drivers and has a financing program for those who want to buy the trucks.

Christopher Joaquin of Hagerstown is a typical Cory driver. Since 1989, he has driven an average of 300 miles a day to deliver furniture. On the day of the interview, Joaquin left Frederick at about 6:30 a.m. and headed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, before moving on to several other locations, and he would make his last delivery that afternoon in Middletown.

Joaquin proudly shows the interior cab of his truck, emphasizing the cleanliness. “I want it like this. I don’t want to work all day in filth,” he said. On the “fleet check” of the trucks, the cargo area was checked as well, showing how Joaquin had packed the load with plenty of pads to ensure nothing shifts around while in transit.

“We get letters from customers about our drivers, and Chris has gotten a lot of very good ones,” Cory said.

Every morning, the drivers and team members attend a “stand-up meeting” to discuss any problems. There is a door and part of a wall that represents a customer’s house. Two of the team members are instructed to make a pretend delivery of a small table.

They first check to make sure their appearance is proper and clean, then check the table. They knock on the door and meet the customer (a team manager) and make sure they put down a welcome mat and padding on the door frame before bringing in the table and placing it where the customer wants it. When leaving, they thank the customer and remove the mat — carpeting would be used for a real delivery — and padding from the door frame.

McFarland asks what the team members missed. “You didn’t ask them about the survey,” he said, showing a copy of the survey. “It is important in tracking how we are doing in customer service.”

One of the supervisors said a possible added touch would be to carry a small, portable vacuum cleaner. When a sofa or chair is moved, the delivery person can use the tool to pick up lint or dust before putting the new item in place.

Wolf said he takes customer calls directly if they have a complaint, and he and Cory tell the team members that if they have questions or a problem while delivering furniture to call a supervisor.

“It is the little things that count,” Cory said. “Wiping off the table after you put it in place. Tell the customer what a beautiful table it is. Thank them for buying from Wolf’s. Don’t ask for a tip, but if the customer gives you one, it shows they are happy beyond just the delivery.”

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The furniture market has changed drastically, Wolf and Cory said. Wolf’s business has seen many changes in its 109-year history.

“Almost everything is made overseas today,” Cory said. “You have to consider that this furniture has traveled thousands of miles just to get here.”

Wolf said his is seeing a pickup in Amish-style furniture made in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. La-Z-Boy furniture, made in Tennessee, remains his biggest line, but most of the other furniture comes from Asia.

“Ninety-one furniture stores have gone out of business in the past few years in this area,” Wolf said. “This year has not been good for the furniture industry, but we will come out with a larger market share in every age group and geographic area we serve.”

The key, Wolf said, is “growing by the speed of competence.” A business must keep in mind what it can do, how it can best serve its customers and grow only to the rate it can ensure that service, he said.

Wolf said even with the slowdown this year, his customers are tending to buy higher quality furniture in his stores.

“Many are catching up from the recession,” he said, “and getting the furniture they want that will last and enhance their homes.”

Customers are also offered a way to dispose of their used furniture through Allegheny Furniture Consignment. Customers can contact the company through a card provided by the delivery person to see if AFC will consider the item and pick it up.

Most people don’t think about the importance of trucking, and how it provides transport of goods from start to finish.

“Trucking means a lot to the economy, up and down the line. Wolf’s is a good example,” said Louis Campion, president and CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association. “Someone made the furniture, it had to be transported to the store, then by truck to the person’s home.”

Trucking creates not just direct jobs, but helps the entire economy, Campion said.

All of the various jobs, just at Wolf’s for example, from the stores to office work to the workers at the cross dock, all are connected with the trucking aspect of the business.

Howard Levine sees furniture at the other end of the spectrum.

Ramar Moving in Frederick helps move household furniture and other items across town or across country, said Levine, president of the company.

His company also picks up new furniture at manufacturers and delivers it to Wolf’s main site in Pennsylvania.

“The jobs are handed to the drivers, and if they are running late, they call customer service, and the customer is notified,” said Levine in a telephone interview.

When the driver arrives, he introduces the crew to the customer and then does a walk-through to make sure all the items are packed and protected and ready for loading on the truck.

“If it is a local move, we don’t do an inventory, but for a long distance move, the driver does an inventory before it is loaded,” Levine said.

Trucks, often with electronics and other items, may come into Ramar on Thomas Johnson Drive and are sent to a cross dock in St. Louis, Missouri, for sorting and routing to the customer.

Ramar does a lot of pick up of new items for trade shows, Levine said.

One example was five truckloads of new cars in enclosed trailers for the Washington, D.C. Auto Show. “We pick them up, take them to the convention center and unload them,” Levine said.

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(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)