Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

tel:18662240767

By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

Delivering customer service for 28 years

 

Kathy Koors

UPS driver Matt Hoge hanging out with Kathy Koors' dogs on one of his last stops before retirement. Hoge retired May 7 after 24 years as a driver. Koors, who boards dogs, said that there were times when 10-15 dogs would greet Hoge and he always had enough cookies in his pocket. While others were amazed that her dogs loved the UPS guy, Koors would laugh and tell them, "Oh, you don't know Matt."

SWAN VALLEY – It was just another day delivering packages to the Swan Valley. UPS driver Matt Hoge was within 10 feet away from the house carrying a package when two black bear cubs came running out from the corner of the house. While they narrowly missed Hoge who was in shock, his attention quickly shifted to the sow that was right behind them.

The homeowner, who had opened to the door to greet him, stepped back into the house and closed the door.

"I'm trying to get in. I had to yell at him and say 'Hey, let me in,'" said Hoge laughing at the memory. "He finally let go of the handle on the screen door and let me in." Hoge spent the next half hour waiting for the sow and cubs to move away from his truck so he could leave.

While Hoge has driven the Swan Valley route for the past 18 years, monotony is not a word that even entered the conversation about his 28-year career with the UPS center in Missoula. He has always taken pride in offering the best customer service possible, taking extra time to chat or going above and beyond to deliver packages to the address on the label, and had the dogs in the valley eating out of his hand with his bottomless pocket of dog cookies.

"It kind of drove UPS crazy but that was the way I did it and that was the way I would do it again," said Hoge who retired May 7.

* * * * *

Hoge started working for UPS in October 1991. He was a student at the University of Montana and worked as a seasonal hire in the warehouse for Christmas.

UPS hired him permanently as a part time employee in the warehouse January 1992. After five years in the warehouse, they made him a full time driver.

"When you've got three little ones at home and you get a good job with full benefits and everything, you've got to take it," said Hoge.

When Hoge started driving there were less than 40 routes out of Missoula. He used to start delivering in E. Missoula then head to Clearwater Junction and deliver packages north on Highway 83 to Salmon Prairie. Most of his customers were commercial businesses.

Winter weather was always a challenge. Hoge did the route to Condon for many years in a two-wheeled drive UPS trucks. Some days it wasn't unusual to chain up 10-15 times a day to finish his route. He got so efficient he could chain up in five minutes.

Eight or nine years ago, Hoge got a four-wheel drive UPS truck.

"That was a big game changer," said Hoge.

While he still had to chain it up on occasion, he always tried to match the effort to deliver the package with the effort put into maintaining the driveway.

"If I saw a customer put a lot of time and money into keeping their road open well I made sure they got their deliveries," said Hoge.

As the online industry grew, the demand for package delivery service has steadily increased over the past 24 years. Now with "more people living online," Hoge said Missoula runs just over 100 routes. His route has shrunk to a few stops in Seeley Lake and all of Condon. Most of his deliveries are now in the residential areas.

The past couple of years have been very busy and has been amplified even more with the pandemic. The industry has grown so quick and so fast, Hoge said UPS could not keep up.

"You can't just go out and buy a UPS truck off the lot," said Hoge. "If you were short 10 trucks, it took a while to get 10 trucks, built and delivered."

When COVID-19 hit, the orders for everything online including groceries increased. Since many of Hoge's customers are older, they were scared to go to the larger cities to shop.

"I don't think they will ever go back to Missoula or Kalispell to shop because it is so convenient to have everything delivered," said Hoge. "Instead of delivering to a house in Condon three or four times a year, it switched it to where I'm delivering three of four times a month."

Summer residents also returned to Seeley Lake and the Swan in March instead of the end of May. Instead of bringing supplies with them, Hoge said many just ordered everything when they arrived.

"It's been quite a change over the years," said Hoge. "That has been an interesting thing to watch."

After putting on 250-300 miles a day for 24 years, Hoge ended his career without an accident. He was one year short of UPS's Circle of Honor, an honor given to drivers with 25 years behind the wheel and a clean driving record.

"My days kept getting longer and my pension was mature," said Hoge. "I decided to retire early when I'm healthy enough to enjoy it."

Hoge said he looks forward to enjoying his hobbies of fishing, hunting and woodworking. While he is not sure if he will stay in the Missoula area or move closer to family, he promises he will return to the Swan to visit his customers.

* * * * *

Hoge's favorite part of his career was his customers, whether they were regular stops or he only saw them one or two times a year.

"It was the people and the characters," said Hoge and laughed. "The wildlife isn't always furry up there, sometimes they have two legs and they are very entertaining. I really get along with those people well."

Hoge said the first time he delivered to one of his Swan Valley customers after getting his new 4X4 Ford pickup with the box on it, he was surprised not to see him. While he never had visitors and only got packages once or twice a year, the customer was always home.

After leaving the package on the porch and starting to drive out the driveway, the man came out of the trees. Hoge stopped, waved and asked if the man was okay. Hoge remembered him saying, "I didn't know it was you. I thought it was the SWAT team rolling up."

"I started to ask why are you worried about the SWAT team but then I stopped," said Hoge laughing. "I just said this is my new UPS truck. Have a nice day."

Hoge took pride in knowing his customers by name. He was known for dropping parts off at logging jobs or catching someone at the gas station.

"I would do it any chance I could get," said Hoge. "Some people really appreciated that especially if they got the part instead of going home at night to find it sitting at their shop."

While these deviations from the route drove his supervisors a little crazy, Hoge felt in the long run it worked out to UPS's advantage.

"If I had a part for someone and I saw them, it was quicker for me to hand it to them there than drive clear out to their shop and deliver it there," said Hoge.

Hoge did not just serve his customers, he kept a pocket full of dog cookies since there were a lot of dogs on his route. Since the UPS truck is big, one color and makes a lot of noise, it is often frightening to dogs.

"If you can calm them down with a cookie then they get used to that," said Hoge who added it hasn't always worked and he has been bitten. "If you keep the dogs happy then that is a good day."

Hoge would have dogs come out to the end of some of the long driveways to greet him and he would let them jump in and ride to the house.

"That just made their day," said Hoge.

While Hoge often hears about the "porch pirates" stealing packages off porches, his route has bigger issues.

Photo provided

UPS driver Matt Hoge traded in his truck for a snowmobile loaned to him by a customer. While Hoge said he only did it a handful of times, when the weather made it exceptionally challenging to get into driveways in the Swan, he appreciated the opportunity. He strapped a few packages on the back, made his deliveries and returned for more. "I think I caused a lot of heartburn with my management team over that kind of stuff but I got the job done," said Hoge. "That is the kind of people there are in Seeley and Condon...they say, 'You want the snowmobile? Take off.' We all help each other."

"I've literally lost more packages to bears than to people stealing them," said Hoge. "I would leave a package on the porch. I would get a report that they found bear scat with an Amazon label in it or there were bear tracks across the porch."

Despite the bears, Hoge has received many goodies and treats through out his career. For his retirement, a group of Swan Valley residents purchased him a Henry Golden Boy 22. The butt plate was engraved, "Matt forever grateful, Swan Valley Montana" He was showered with cards, gift cards, bottles of wine and thank yous.

"Our valley just appreciated him. He always went above and beyond – if the gate was locked, he would walk up my driveway, he would take extra time to talk and always had a dog cookie," said Ronda Feucht who organized the gift with Joe and Becky Anderson. "Everyone appreciated him so much. We wanted to give him a very special going away retirement gift."

"I was shocked. I was not expecting that and it was really heartwarming," said Hoge. "I just enjoyed the people. It was always great to pull up and hand someone a package that they are waiting for, ask how the fishing or the hunting was. It was a great place to have a career, it was a very satisfying career and I was very grateful for it."

 

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