- Richard Tierney, 66, lost all his work in events when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.
- When he needed money, he became a low-paid supermarket courier driver.
- This is what he learned about the supply chain crisis that developed during the pandemic.
When the UK went into its first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, all my work on creating content for events and coaching speakers stopped from one day to the next.
I needed to replace the cash flow, and I wanted to do something. I also felt antibody-laden when I had received COVID-19 early.
I had experience driving vans from my early work with events, traveling around the country setting up and dismantling equipment.
Supermarkets were also desperate after radically increasing their online supply. I applied and had to prove I could drive through small towns and through rural villages with a 15-minute van test drive.
Ten days after applying, I became a poorly paid delivery driver for the British supermarket chain Tesco in the Cotswolds in the west of England.
It was the first time since the 1970s that I had worked as anything other than a freelance event producer.
I enjoyed the exercise and felt like I was doing something useful. The gratitude from home-bound customers was palpable. I was surprised to get money tips. I had never thought of tipping for a supermarket delivery.
I had searched for other companies but the supermarkets seemed the best offer. We had fewer falls, even though the loads were greater.
I got a contract for five four-hour shifts a week, but the demand was so great that I was constantly asked to work extra. In a typical week, I would normally work eight or 10. A four-hour shift actually took me about 5 1/2 hours.
I was amazed at how small the “warehouse” area at the back of the supermarket was. A large supermarket received a delivery every 30 minutes.
Drivers like me loaded our small vans and transported boxes of groceries to the home of the store’s online customers.
Each time I returned, the contents of the warehouse were different – moved out onto the store floor by an army of stackers and pickers who paid even less than the £ 10 (about $ 13.37) per hour I earned. The store has no control over what arrives. Inventory is shipped based on recent sales.
With offices and restaurants closed, more calories were now being bought in supermarkets. The supply chain responded very quickly; equilibrium was restored after a few weeks of deficiency.
We have all learned to be a little more grateful. The sheer amount of stuff moving through each store is huge. During the lockdown, it became breathtaking. Home delivery’s share of the total business almost doubled.
I measured each shift by the number of falls to each customer. Between 12 and 18 was usually on a four-hour shift. The more experienced drivers told me that I should measure by weight, a much better metric, as each load had to be lifted twice, once into the van in the beginning, once more to the customers’ homes.
The weight alone I had to move took its toll on my body.
I would often deliver and one of our competitors’ vans would be in the same street. We became friendly and even helped each other a few times.
One day, in late 2020, I saw that the warehouse was half full
. When I came back it was still there. This was unusual. The store manager later told me that there had been a rumor of yet another shortage of toilet paper, like the one that gripped Britain early in the first shutdown earlier that year.
This time, the management’s solution was to ensure that the hallway was constantly aired with toilet paper. Customers did not see a shortage, so they did not panic and buy. It is easy to find some empty shelves close to closing time. The great reconstruction would happen from one day to the next.
After lockdown, I delivered to a woman who was still isolating herself when she was vulnerable. She was happy to have a conversation with me, even while she was at a distance. I was the first person she had seen in two weeks and she had not been outside her house for 18 months.
I started telling her about the products that were sold out and needed to be replaced, and she happily replied, “I do not care. I still do not remember what I ordered and I will cook whatever you have given me. . “
Eventually, virtual events restarted and my normal career could be resumed, which meant I could leave deliveries. It was strange to return to much better paid work online a few hours a day and then run for minimum wage in the evening.
I had typically earned £ 800 (about $ 1,071) per year. month on the run and £ 200 (about $ 267) an hour on returning to my “real” job. The crossover period did not last long.
It seemed that someone with a hobby horse has claimed that the crisis in the supply chain was caused by what they were bored of. In Britain, it blamed Brexit; the pandemic was certainly a factor; the unions were blamed when license applications for truck drivers were apparently held back by a dispute. Everyone feels free to blame the government, even though I’m not sure what they could have done.
The supply chain adapts as it has always done. The pandemic accelerated the shift to online shopping, which was already underway. Some things take longer to clear, but they will. Our obsession with an enormous variety that is always available has grown.
We demand more and more availability when we really just want something to eat.
The crisis is not with our supply chain; it has to do with the expectation of extremely fast delivery it has given us.