Breakout the ibuprofen because the 2022 supply chain doesn’t appear to be clearing up any of the issues that caused headaches over the past two years — at least not in the short term. Driver and labor shortages, container limitations, carrier constraints, and even the weather are making it a tough to improve logistics this year. Thankfully, however, there are some things companies can do to start creating their own silver lining on these dark clouds.
We sat down with Lorrie Watts, Red Stag Fulfillment’s Director of Logistics, to discuss today’s supply chain and logistics world and what companies can do to address it. Good partnerships, an openness to new moves, and greater sharing will be part of every successful effort to improve logistics in 2022. So, let’s look at what to start thinking about to safeguard your options for when you need to scale up or down — as they say, it’s never too early to think about the next peak season.
Be flexible and keep an open mind
“The main thing companies can do is be flexible and keep an open mind about operations,” says Watts. “Look at things differently than you have in the past and ask partners to do the same.”
Flexibility is how companies can simultaneously respond to supply chain issues happening at multiple areas. At different points during 2021, only 30% to 40% of containers arrived on time in ports globally, reaching record lows for some ports. Dwell times at the ports are still high. Many companies are seeing LTL carriers not perform as well in the past due to the driver shortage. And so on.
“With COVID, of course, everything is just combined,” says Watts. “The best thing you can do is look for alternative options. If you’re shipping out of Asia and typically coming in through Long Beach, look at potentially coming in through the East Coast. See if more inland rail moves are available to get goods closer to final delivery to try and clear up or avoid some congestion.”
There is some supply chain headbutting happening as companies shift modes. For example, steamship lines don’t want to see containers moved inland because they lose control of containers for a long time, while their main goal now is to get equipment back to Asia as quickly as possible. Reviewing options and being open to different moves or shifting some container traffic may help you maintain inbound consistency, though this can require an excellent internal department and strong partnerships.
Pursue multiple solutions with partners
“Focus on options that will suit your business and your needs, not just what you’re used to,” says Watts. “People are going to find that we often can’t do things like we’ve always done. Some things aren’t working, and you need to change your approach. We can’t read the same book over and over and expect a different ending.”
The best way to discover what’s available and make these options viable is to work through foreign and domestic partners. You may not be able to shift much in the U.S. market but could change lanes and speed up goods moving from manufacturers to the port to make up for some delays. At the same time, look to see if a railhead gives you a competitive advantage at a port. Can you move goods further inland before shifting to a truck to avoid some of the driver shortage concerns? Should you change how much stock you hold?
“Reach out to whoever you’re working with and start looking at their place in the supply chain,” says Watts. “Start looking for partners that are strong in particular markets, too, because those companies will have somebody with regional experience or existing partnerships in those areas.”
Prioritize information and relationships
“Things change so quickly in this environment — nothing looks like it did two years ago, and I’d say we have at least six more months of just chaos in the market,” warns Watts. “So, you need to either be reading the latest articles or have a partner that will keep you informed. If companies like yours don’t stay educated and up to date, you can get some nasty surprises.”
She suggests having someone in your logistics and supply chain management team stay on top of new developments and share them with the rest of your team. If you’ve got a large department with many outside partners, share what you discover to help them improve logistics efforts too. This can be a quick email, posts on LinkedIn, or updates to a company blog. Know what’s happening and ask questions, which reaffirms Watts’s last piece of advice.
This is another area for companies to protect operations by being good partners. That means offering the information and support that you can, plus using what your partners share and expressing gratitude for it. Work to show your value and share what you’ve learned so everyone can be better protected.
Red Stag is ready to help improve logistics for you
“I’ve been on the international side for years, and I’ve seen what the U.S. markets are doing and where the hang-ups are,” says Watts. “I want to leverage that experience and offer suggestions that say, ‘Hey, we can make this slight tweak, and it can save you X amount here.’ You know, for example, there are times when transloading is cheaper than paying detention on a container because those fees can mount quickly.”
It’s about looking at and understanding the big picture so that you can identify realistic steps to take and get where you need to be. Red Stag Fulfillment aims to be your partner in those efforts. When you’ve got questions about the current state of the supply chain or are wondering if today’s efforts aren’t the way things have to be, ask. Our experts like Lorrie Watts are here to see what we can do.