Thursday, July 24, 2008

Slow Night

Tonight was a slow night.  I could have easily handled the after 9 pm traffic single-handedly, but had another driver with me.

I should take advantage of slow nights more than I do.  Here are a few things I should do when it's slow:
  • Slower nights mean excess dough.  I should make pizzas with the excess dough and sell them to bars.  "Hot selling" or the less PC "pimping pizzas" are the terms used to commonly describe this practice.
  • Set up food trades.  I actually tried to with UDF and Steak & Shake.  All I wanted was a stupid milkshake.
  • Extra cleaning tasks. (just kidding)
  • Clean my car.  Hey, this would be a cleaning duty if I drove a company vehicle, as delivery drivers do in other countries.  I shouldn't be denied the chance to do this on the clock just because my company does not provide me with a vehicle.
But tonight, I just wanted to get my work done and go home.  I have to be in just the right mood to pimp pizzas, otherwise I feel too much like a door to door vacuum salesman.

On a brighter note, I posted this on TTPG today, in the topic "Why do you do it?":

I love driving.
I love working unsupervised.
I make very good money.
I get time off when I need it and extra hours when I need them.
I get free food.
I can even trade the free food for food from other restaurants or things like oil changes.
I love listening to music and I get to pick what music is on at work.
I am out of market for all my favorite teams (Detroit/U-M), but I get to listen to them via satellite radio, which is a tax write-off.
I always have great stories to tell.
As LoneStar once said, "pizza delivery is the last great job in America".

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blockbuster is Still in Business?

As a Guitar Hero enthusiast, I have been coveting the opportunity to play Guitar Hero Aerosmith.  On my way back from the gym yesterday, I turned my sweaty head to check traffic and happened to catch a Blockbuster Video location out of the corner of my eye.   Although the $8.54 I spent to rent the game for 6 days seemed high, it was a great alternative to paying $50 plus tax, especially considering the way I shredded through the game, quickly beating 30 out of 31 songs on Expert.  "Train Kept A Rollin'" is insanely difficult, and I have only made it 52% of the way through it.  My gut tells me I will have it beat before I turn the game in.

How is Blockbuster still in business?  With so many more convenient alternatives, I wonder how they are doing it.  I was the only person in that store besides the cashier, and most of their Wii games appeared to be collecting dust.  Netflix is so convenient.  Go to any gas station, grocery store or (soon) any fast food restaurant in Columbus, and you can rent a movie out of a machine for a buck a day.  Blockbuster tried to sell me some monthly plan for $22, and I pretty much laughed.  I know what real estate leases cost around that area, and I wonder how much longer they can stay open with their business model.

Speaking of real estate, I noticed something on Craigslist yesterday called "Housing Swap".  I think this is a great idea, and I wish it were more popular.  Take this ad for instance.  A family from New York needing to stay in Columbus for the weekend and offering up their place in Manhattan.  Brilliant.  More stuff like this needs to happen.

Monday night stiff:
Quoted time: 45 minutes
Actual time: 23 minutes
Total: $17.00 (3 Mias on CC)
Interaction went as follows:
Me - (reads order back), Sign and total, please.
IC - (signs slip w/o totaling)
Me - Can you put a total on there please?
IC - Oh, I'm sorry, dawg.  (writes in $17.00 and 0 on tip line)
Me - Is there anything I can do to serve you better?
IC - Oh naw, man.  Y'all are doin' great.
Me - (about to say something else as IC slams door, writes on back of receipt and leaves on porch)

Sometimes you just get stiffed, even when you make 2 aggressive attempts not to.  Fortunately I work at a place where I will not get in trouble for leaving TTPG materials at stiffer's houses.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

15 Year Fixed

There are a few non-negotiables Lindsey and I want in our next house.
-A nice kitchen (according to her very specific list)
-3+ bedrooms, 2+ bathrooms
-Hilliard Schools (or comparable, but not Southwestern or Columbus city)
-2 car garage (since I get the street right now)
-Needs nothing:  As some realtor on HGTV said, a lot of young people think they want a fixer-upper, but run away when they actually see one.

Additionally, it would be nice to have a good-sized yard, a large finished basement that could be converted into a projector/movie room, and walking proximity to local schools.  But these would be extras.

Unfortunately, Lindsey and I live in one of the most heavily taxed areas of the country.  A $200,000 house (which looks like the minimum price we will pay for this house) carries around $4,300 in annual property taxes, or $358 per month.  The 30 year fixed payment on a 200k loan at 6.5% would be around $1,264, so $1,622 with taxes.  Dave Ramsey says people should only have a mortgage payment of 25% of their take home pay.  Lindsey and I would be in this range, but Dave says you should forget the 30 year loan even exists and only do a 15 year fixed.  The problem with this, even at the lower interest rate of 5.75%, is that the monthly payment goes up to $1,661, over $2,000 with taxes.  And even if we did take home over $8,000/mo, I'm not so sure I'd want a 2k mortgage payment.  Right now, we're paying less than $650/mo for our condo and building up equity, albeit at a snail's pace.

What do those numbers mean?  The first one is the total interest paid in the 15 year fixed example, and the second is the total interest for the 30 year fixed example.  This means that if we can sacrifice, save up $60,000 or so in a combination of equity and savings, we can get Loan A, and save over $156,000 in interest payments.  Sometimes, it's frustrating to hear Dave Ramsey say "act your wage", as so few others around me do so.  It's very tempting to go out and get that 30 year loan right now, as we could qualify and comfortably make the payments.  However, this is the time we need to buckle down, not try to keep up with the Joneses, and live well below our means.  It would be really nice to get this taken care of in the next 3 1/2 years.  How amazing would it be to have a paid off house by the time our first kid graduates high school!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Delivery: Like Running a Business

Disclaimer: This will be a lengthy post, and it will be pretty in-depth about pizza delivery.

Business owners are faced with tough decisions when it comes to things like cost control, equipment selection, and involvement. In my job as a delivery driver, these decisions can make the difference between running a successful $1,000/week driving "business" or a losing proposition involving $1,900 transmission repairs. And while I am currently enjoying the former and then some, I suffered the consequences of the latter in previous years.

The two most important decisions drivers make involve which shop they will work for and their vehicle. An outsider might think a rich town like Dublin would be the best to deliver in. However, when an experienced driver breaks a city like Dublin down, it is only slight favorable compared to a ghetto shop. Let me explain: First, Dublin is a town full of 9-5ers. This makes for a very tight dinner rush and an awful late night. To be successful as a driver, late night hours must be spent on the road, not in-shop. Second, a common misconception is that rich people tip well. Rich people typically became rich by being cheap, not by tipping the pizza guy $7. Per capita, I've gotten more $1 tips from $500,000+ houses than anywhere - except the retirement home. Components of a great shop include management that allow triples and quads, slight understaffing of drivers, smooth traffic flow during rush hour, and a demographic of lower-middle to middle class. A bonus for late night traffic would be a state college campus, and having a lot of businesses in the delivery range can boost lunch traffic, which is traditionally a slow time in Pizza World.

3 things are important to a delivery driver when it comes to a vehicle. Fuel efficiency, reliability, and comfort. The first 2 are obvious, but the 3rd can easily be overlooked. To be successful, drivers must work a lot of hours. In addition to increasing weekly income, working a lot of hours gives drivers the chance to get to know the repeat customers, which leads to a higher tip average. If a vehicle is too small, uncomfortable, or not equipped with heat/AC, the driver will not enjoy the job as much, and not want to work as many hours. I can't say anything about fuel efficiency that hasn't already been said here. An important thing to note is that only the City EPA rating is relevant to delivery drivers, as they typically spend over 90% of their driving on city streets. Reliability is extremely important to drivers. The way I see it, a driver can never go wrong with a Honda or Toyota for a delivery vehicle.

Driving style is a big decision for pizza guys. There are three schools of thought here. One is the idea of hypermiling to save gas. While this is the cheapest way to drive, I personally think pizza guys who hypermile too much will save even more gas by missing out on a lot of runs. Idea #2 is the standard style of driving, what they teach you in driver's ed. This can also include slight speeding. This is basically what I do, but I would also point out that I have developed the skill to cut into traffic quickly over time. This probably gains me more time than excessive speeding ever would. The third and final idea is to excessively speed, drive very aggressively, and hope the cops see your cartopper and give you a free pass because your shop gives them free food. In the past, I have incorporated #3 into my arsenal, but I do not attempt this much any more because of the cops in Hilliard. It is very important to know about the cops in the town you are delivering. Depending on where you are, cops may be much tougher, much easier, or impartial to delivery drivers. Generally, I feel that no tip is worth a speeding ticket. While it's true that the tip is much lower than the cost of the ticket, the worst parts of a ticket are the added insurance cost and another strike toward delivery ineligibility, as determined by the shop's insurance company.

There are a lot of additional decisions that can influence profitability:

-Buy gas now while I'm half full or wait until tomorrow to see if it goes down more.
-Rent a car for $30 while my car is in the shop or give my shift to someone else/call off. (this should be an easy one for any serious delivery professional)
-Be frugal on expenses or buy items like TTPG pens and dog treats to boost tips, and hope the break-even analysis works in your favor.
-Take the single run that's close to the shop or take the double that is further away.
-Confront the stiffer and risk the consequences or stand there and take your beating.
-On a double, take the guy who always tips $5 first or the unknown who will be late if taken second, et al. (There are very few situations where I won't give preference to the high tipper, one happened tonight when I had a known $5 tipper 27 min OTD on a 60 minute quote, and an unknown 42 min OTD on a 40 minute quote. Tough call, but I knew I would still be quite early for my good customer)
-Tip out cooks/managers on exceptional nights or keep it all. (see below)

A lot of decisions that drivers make may serve no benefit at the time, but will come in handy for the future:

-Tip out: If I have a great night, it means the inside staff worked their butts off while I cashed in. Spreading the love is not only the nice thing to do, it keeps these insiders happy to the point where it can hopefully happen again in the future. Additionally, this helps underpaid insiders to root for drivers to have good nights, instead of becoming upset that they are making significantly less money than drivers. My favorite thing to do is buy the closing insiders ice cream at UDF.
-"Forgetting" the TTPG pen at a stiffer's house.
-Buying a first class stamp to send the TTPG letter to a stiffer's house.
-Building rapport with customers to sow the seeds for long term business relationships.
-Learning how to cut pizzas and make pizzas: While this doesn't seem necessary, just today I got a double that I would have missed if I didn't make pizzas. With just Grant and me as the drivers, I saw an H-10 pop up 9 minutes after a J-10 was already on there, and Grant already had his run allocated in D-9, far away from mine. I rushed the pizza in the oven, the two orders came out 4 minutes apart, and I got them both to the door in under 30 minutes, collect $6 and $4.75 tips for my efforts. The $6 was from the second order that went in. On a close-together double, the second reimbursement becomes free money, so it's like I got an extra $7.30 for knowing how to make pizzas in just that one instance. Breaks like that can mean the difference between good and bad days.

I think I had more to say on all this, but I'm getting tired and I've already written a lot. I'm done at Pizza Hut until next Saturday. I'm going to San Antonio with the youth group this week. I will finally get to see my wife as well.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Income Ceiling

One of the only drawbacks of my job is that it seems I have come close to reaching my income ceiling. I cannot learn the delivery range any better, as I know every street and how to get there upon seeing an address. My demeanor at the door is top notch (IMHO!), I am unparalleled at turning stiffers into tippers and turning low tippers into average tippers without being pushy (or being pushy when the situation calls for it).

It's not that my income is too low, my income is great. I average $2.84/tip, $1.30/run from the store, and take 3.5 runs per hour. Add my wage of $7.07 over 50 hours a week, and do the math. The part that I don't like is that the opportunities to improve that are limited. As an extremely competitive person, this is very tough on me.

"Climb the ladder"

Assistant managers make $28k salary. 50 hours per week with no extra overtime pay. Yuck.

General managers make around $35k salary, and can work 45-70 hours per week depending on a variety of factors. They also have an opportunity to make a quarterly bonus if they can overcome the ridiculously tremendous odds, keep labor under control, and put up with all the BS. Basically, they have to keep the store understaffed as the norm and do the work of 4 insiders themselves. No thanks. I don't want to take a pay cut just to be a pseudo-white collar employee who is under constant stress.

Area coaches probably make around $50k, and they get all the cool perks like a car allowance. I don't know if I would want to put up with what it takes to get there, namely several years in the 2 previously described positions.

"Get a 'real' job"

With my 4 year business degree, I could go somewhere and make close to what I make now, with a good chance of passing it in the first few years. The problem with this is I do not think I could sit at a desk all day, I hated the ethics issues in my sales jobs, and I am vehemently opposed to a job that pays hourly/salary and pays no attention to performance. This rules out just about every job. And even if there was a job that didn't fall under this category,

I'm spoiled. I sit in a comfortable vehicle all day. I make personal phone calls when I feel like it. I eat wings and drink Diet Pepsi at my leisure, free of charge. I listen to Dave Ramsey, great stand up, NPR, Detroit sports, and the music of my choice on SIRIUS. I get scheduled during the prime hours, but still get Sundays off to enjoy with my friends and family. I can get time off whenever I need it, but seldom do because I actually enjoy and look forward to going to work. I can be rude to a stiffer, and I always get the benefit of the doubt from my boss, despite the fact that I work for a Big 3 chain. I find it hard to give this up for the "opportunity" to waste away slowly in an office.

"Start your own pizza place"

This will probably be my next job. I might put in a year or so as a manager, but it surely won't be at a Big 3. For a while, I thought owning a pizza place was way too difficult. I never saw it as an option until recently, and this is mainly because of Pizza Hut's way of doing things. Like any corporation, they have a ton of paperwork, layers of management, and an abundance of rules - all things I am opposed to. After researching successful local pizza joints like Sparano's, I see that pizza shops can be pretty simple, and I know I could make it. Right now, this is not a possibility, as I have a lack of capital, a kid on the way, and uncertainty about the future of the local economy. Plus, I would be committing to Columbus for life, which I certainly am not ready to do. I think this would be an awesome way to make a living, but I want to make sure I have the capital, time, and knowledge necessary to win.

As for now, I'll put up with well-meaning people that ask me why I don't have a 'real' job, and I'll keep trying to get that tip average and runs per hour higher.

Crazy Caller on Dave Ramsey Show

Yesterday, a 50's/60's-ish lady called Dave Ramsey about a car dilemma. She wondered if she should trade in her paid off SUV to save money on gas. With gas obviously at record prices, and her SUV getting 16 MPG overall, the lady had the best of intentions, and wanted to save some money on gas. Dave has been getting a lot of these calls lately, but this one was quite ridiculous.

I'm all for saving money on gas, and I think conservation is important, but two things about this call really made my jaw drop:

1) The lady wanted to trade in her 2004 Trailblazer for a new CHEVY AVEO. Not only is the Aveo the ugliest car on the road, it has sketchy crash test ratings, poor reliability scores from Consumer Reports, and it really isn't that great on gas for its size at 26 MPG overall.

2) The lady bought her Trailblazer new in 2004, and has put 19,000 miles on it. I'll say it again: She has put an average of 4,750 miles per year on the vehicle. Elderly lady + low miles = practically new vehicle.

Dave Ramsey correctly told this lady off, and I was happy he did. I did some additional research on the situation, and Kelley Blue Book quotes this Trailblazer's trade-in value at $6,790. And any used car manager with a pulse will try to steal it for $5,000, even though it probably drives like new, as most cars driven 4,750 miles per year by an elderly lady would. Most people are so emotional about getting out of their SUVs that these snakes can get away with it. After taxes, document fees, and title, A new Aveo will cost around $16,000. Here is a break-even analysis of how long it will take this lady to save money on gas with her driving habits:

Break-Even Analysis (Trailblazer vs. Aveo)

Trailblazer Aveo
Fuel Economy Overall 16 26

Gas Costs ($4/gallon, 4750 miles per year) $1,187.50 $730.77
Annual Gas Savings
Additional Vehicle Cost - $9,210.10
Amount of Time needed to break even, in years 20.17

It's not always the correct choice to hold on to your guzzler, but in this situation it is. The phrase "worth more to me than anyone else" is especially true for this lady. Why anyone would even think of trading in their 4x4, towing capable, roomy, comfortable, practically new SUV for a low quality, unsafe, underpowered, subcompact just so they can start saving money on gas in September 2029 is beyond me.

For the record, I put about 3,000 miles per month on my CR-V, so I am not in the market for a guzzler. However, there are unbelievable deals out there for businesses who need trucks, large families that do not drive much, and people looking for a good deal.