For 25 years Derek Eastland has been proud to call himself an employee of Coca-Cola Refreshments, working out of the busy Houston, Texas, warehouse. Today, he is part of a five-driver Special Events and Bulk team that’s responsible for delivering liquid refreshment to many Texas retailers every day.
On the Midnight Shift
The most challenging part of Derek’s job, which sees him loading up his 18-wheeler between four and six times a day, is “getting up!” he says. “My day actually starts at night; I come in at midnight.”
Fortunately, Derek explains, the entire Houston team works together as a unit. “When I come in, my trailer is loaded, and I just have to hook up my tractor, check my load against the diagrams, sign the paperwork and I am on my way to the first stop,” which is usually a Sam’s Club within the city limits.
Delivering Over a Million Cans a Week
For each trip, Derek’s truck is stacked with 20 grocery pallets, which can carry 80 cases of 32-pack cans, or 70 cases of half-liter bottles. (We’ve done some of the math for you – that’s more than 50,000 cans of soda per delivery, four to six times a day, so you’re looking at more than 1 million cans of soda delivered each week.) Most shifts include four and a half to five hours behind the wheel, unless there’s a stop at the Huntsville Prison Commissary, which at 90 minutes or more from the warehouse, is the farthest the team’s route extends.
Even after all these years, Derek says he feels honored to put on his Coca-Cola shirt every morning. “It’s like a rolling billboard, everybody knows it and it makes you feel good. Coca-Cola is a good company to work for. It’s taken care of me and my family. I look at it as a career — not as a job.” He credits management for creating a real sense of personal investment in employees. “In a sense it feels like it's your own company and you want to do your best, every day. Because it has given me so much, to be able to provide for my family.”
Derek’s family is another source of great pride. He and his wife have two children. Their daughter is 15, a high school sophomore who was just named homecoming princess this month. And his son, 21, has one more year of college, and Dad would not be surprised if he joined the family business. “I would encourage my kids to come to work here. I would want them to finish college first because the opportunities are just so unlimited here with an education. My son is kind of hinting around, he’s kind of intrigued.”
You Need the Right Attitude
Working at Coca-Cola is not for everyone, but if you’ve got what it takes, Derek says it is the place to be. “You have to be open minded and you have to be a people person. You are going to have some challenges out there in the field. We have a saying here that the customer is always right — you always try to make the customer happy, whatever that may be. What I have always done, in 25 years here, is try to treat people the way I would want to be treated.“
“It’s a great company to work for. I’ve been here half my life, and I could not see myself working for another company. I don’t look at it as a job, I look forward to coming to work when I supposed to come to work.”
He also admits that driving a big rig emblazoned with the iconic Coca-Cola logo can offer a little thrill. “You get a lot of beeps. Like they say, Refreshing Coca-Cola — and it’s refreshing when people always have a positive outlook and to see the response. That’s what I am most appreciative of — people treat you with respect. You’re the top dog on the block.”