Supply Chain Lessons to Remember
Amazon Prime Day has become one of the most popular shopping days of the year, growing since its inception in 2015 to rival Black Friday when it comes to money spent and overall excitement among consumers looking for deals.
The annual Amazon shopping extravaganza provides an opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses to increase sales and promote their goods in front of a larger audience. While Amazon Prime Day helps create excitement and generate revenue, it also challenges the global supply chain, which has been under increasing stress for the past two years.
From a lack of certain raw materials to a shortage of truck drivers, along with lingering issues from the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains struggle to keep pace. These problems become exacerbated during busier times, causing further delays and item shortages.
While the supply chain struggles can – in many ways – be traced directly to the pandemic and the ensuing fallout, there are lessons that parts of the supply chain, retailers, and even consumers can learn from this time to improve performance in the future and to better plan for surges.
Lessons for Retailers
Prime Day is estimated to have brought in $10.4 billion globally in 2020 alone, according to Digital Commerce 360.
Retailers will want to ensure they have as much inventory as possible, although that can be difficult for smaller companies. These businesses may not have the available cash flow to purchase additional inventory months in advance or have the resources to store excess products.
Part of this issue can be mitigated through predictive analytics. Retailers can try to use past sales records, predicted sales, estimated marketing impact, and other important metrics to better gauge the number of supplies that will be needed. While this is an imperfect science, it can provide retailers with a way to better plan for these surges in activity to ensure customers are happy.
For retailers that find themselves falling short on deliveries, it is critical to remain in communication with customers. Let those that made a purchase know of possible delays before a sale is made and make every effort to keep them informed as to potential delays in their delivery. Customers will be more understanding if they know beforehand that delays are likely and will feel more at ease if they feel informed throughout the process.
Additional Supply Chain Issues
To stay in step, shippers, carriers and other members of the supply chain should closely align themselves with the operations of business and vendors. They can do so using business intelligence software as part of an enterprise resource planning solution to better forecast potential hiccups. These systems can help track available resources, following the movement of products and purchasing trends, along with allowing for time to switch gears if needed. While there is no perfect solution, advanced technologies can help supply chain members stay on top of the latest needs to anticipate problems in the future.
Supply chain firms should also understand the changing global economic environment. Even as shoppers begin to return to stores, e-commerce delivery will remain a priority. Businesses should better anticipate large online shopping holidays such as Target Deal Days. These events help drive increases in business volume and have grown in importance as more consumers become comfortable shopping online.
Consumers still expect their e-commerce shipments to arrive in a timely manner. While delays could be expected during the pandemic, consumers have also grown accustomed to same-day service from some retailers. The speed at which merchants can get goods to consumers will be one of the most critical factors of their success.
The Ongoing Driver Shortage
For trucking companies, the ongoing challenge remains staffing. The trucking industry has struggled to employ enough drivers to meet demand, causing additional stress on the supply chain and delivery. Trucking organizations continue to make recruiting pitches to drivers – in particular highlighting the safety and security of truck driving – but still, find themselves in need of qualified applicants.
Both retailers and delivery providers need to plan for these spikes in demand. The logistics ecosystem features many pieces that right now face several obstacles. Businesses cannot just assume the system will work without a hitch. There must be planning and organization to ensure that retailers have the raw goods needed to make their goods and that those goods can be delivered to customers once complete. Customers will have some patience, but businesses – and the logistics companies that support them – should not get too comfortable.
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As the coronavirus took its toll on the world in 2020, some industries—like the hospitality sector—were deeply impacted as government-mandated restrictions and virus-related fear prevented restaurants and bars from operating at maximum capacity. E-commerce, on the other hand, saw an enormous surge in demand with companies like Walmart and Amazon seeing record levels of revenue during the pandemic. The trucking industry, too, was not insulated from the impact of the pandemic. Large numbers of jobs lost and new challenges on the roads forced the industry to quickly adopt innovative new technologies in order to overcome the impact of the pandemic. Here are four technology trends emerging in the trucking industry that owner/operators should keep an eye on in the coming months.
1. Autonomous Vehicles
Almost straight out of a science-fiction movie, autonomous—or self-driving—vehicles are becoming a reality as manufacturers like Tesla begin producing more autonomous consumer vehicles. The trucking industry has become an early adopter of autonomous technology for their freight shipments due to an increased demand for shipping and a shortage of long-haul drivers—caused by economic instability and the tough nature of the trucking industry. Autonomous trucks manufactured by Waymo are already in use on the roads today in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and Waymo has plans of expanding into more states in the future. Proponents of autonomous vehicles argue that self-driving semi-trucks will eliminate human error behind the wheel, lower costs of shipping, and increase efficiency across the board for trucking companies. There is some trepidation about turning toward autonomous vehicles; some worry about accidents caused by self-driving trucks while others worry about the loss of critical jobs due to the addition of autonomous vehicles. If companies begin turning toward utilizing their own autonomous vehicles, it could have a negative impact on the number of available trucking jobs.
2. Smart Technology
Another important trend to watch out for in 2021 is the use of new and improved technologies to optimize the efficiency of long-haul shipping. Smart technologies on trucks improve safety for lane departure detection, lane keep assist, assisted braking, tire pressure monitoring, and even load stability. Furthermore, logistics companies are utilizing new technology for enhanced tracking and reporting to minimize human error and to have a better grasp of where their freight is at all times. The improved tracking is beneficial for planning when truckloads can be dropped off and picked up, as well as for providing customers with accurate updates. Alongside this technology, owner/operators can use new technology to locate cargo while on the road to reduce the amount of time spent on the road with an empty truck. With freight matching technology, drivers can ensure their trucks are always full and they are maximizing revenue capabilities at all times.
3. Data Analytics
Data analytics has made its way into pretty much every industry, from marketing to manufacturing to the trucking industry. Owner/operators use analytics to capture important data pertaining to their cargo, their trucks, and their routes; using this data, they can make valuable improvements to their performance, thus saving time and money and even helping them to drive more safely. According to Transmetrics, one study conducted by Supply Chain Management World found that “64 percent of executives think that big data and the insights it brings will have a disrupting power that can pivot the industry forever.” Data analytics also provide valuable insights into freight markets that help owner/operators uncover trends and patterns in the industry to pinpoint new opportunities and improve existing ones.
4. Electric Trucks
Electric trucks are making their way into the freight industry. Tesla already designed an electric semi-truck that can travel almost 500 miles on a single charge, and in 2019, Neuron EV released the TORQ, a fully electric semi-truck. With rising fuel costs, electric trucks can save owner/operators money in the long-term, improving their overall bottom line. Additionally, electric semi-trucks are much better for the environment, and companies have begun employing electric trucks to lower their carbon footprints. While electric trucks will not be replacing your entire fleet right away, they might eventually as states like California begin passing legislation to crack down on carbon emissions produced by the trucking industry.
As truckers begin preparing for 2021, it’s important to embrace the new technologies that are changing the long-haul industry for the better. While the trucking industry isn’t going anywhere, we’re seeing the emergence of new technologies that can benefit both drivers and carriers. Autonomous vehicles, smart technology, data analytics, and electric vehicles are reshaping the modern trucking industry, making the job easier, more accurate, and safer along the way.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the vast majority of industries throughout the country; the freight industry is no different. Currently, carrier rates are skyrocketing, surpassing the all-time high for rate prices several times throughout the course of the year. As we enter peak freight season, now is the time for owner/operators to run hard in order to maximize revenue and take full advantage of a unique holiday season where spot rates are at record highs. Traditionally, owner/operators tend to work fewer hours when carrier rates are at their highest. With higher rates, drivers are able to reach their financial goals faster, using the extra time to catch up on rest or family time. A little downtime will always be a good thing, but this holiday season is shaping up to be different; rather than take time off, more and more owner/operators plan to run hard through the new year for multiple reasons.
Possible Country-Wide Shutdown
As COVID-19 infection numbers throughout the United States spike to global highs and the country prepares for a shift in leadership, the economic uncertainty in the air is palpable. The transition from President Trump to President-Elect Biden brings with it a new plan for combating the pandemic, which could mean another country-wide shut down. In November, the president-elect’s coronavirus advisors proposed a plan to shut the country down for four to six weeks at the start of the new year to combat the virus. Shutting down the country has a very real impact on the trucking industry, and owner/operators should understand the possible impact a shutdown could have on business and revenue streams.
Increased Wait Times for Pickup and Dropoff
While on the road, a driver’s livelihood depends on their ability to drop off one load and pick up another quickly and efficiently. Turnaround time for freight drivers makes the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one. During the first shut down, many truckers faced drastically increased wait times at pick-up locations due to social distancing measures and decreased on-site staff. For drivers, every hour is valuable and when they spend more time waiting they spend less time driving, or worse, less time resting—a tired driver is a dangerous driver. Ultimately, the increased time waiting leads to less time spent driving and loss of revenue. If another shutdown is on the horizon, owner/operators should use this peak season to prepare their finances to account for delayed travel times or anticipated time off if necessary.
Closed Towns and Changed Routes
These increased wait times weren’t even the worst problem many drivers faced. Many of the towns, businesses, and rest stops long-haul drivers rely on closed as well, leaving drivers with few, if any, options along their routes. Long-haul life can be daunting and dangerous, and with limited access to clean and safe rest stops and restrooms, a shutdown would severely impact a driver’s quality of life while on the road, forcing some to make the decision to avoid those routes completely. When drivers are forced to change their routes navigating unfamiliar routes can lead to increased time on the road, unsafe conditions, and even delays in shipments costing drivers valuable time and money in the long run.
Possible Increase in Industry Unemployment
In the event of a second shutdown, owner/operators should be financially prepared to take time off of work. The first shutdown led to record unemployment rates in the trucking industry, with 88,000 people losing their jobs in the month of April alone. The previous record was set in April 1994 when 49,000 people in the industry lost their jobs. While unemployment numbers have gone down, the industry still faces the very stark reality that a second shutdown could have comparable effects. Owner/operators should take this opportunity to build a nest egg for their families while rates are at their highest and opportunities are available—before the new year brings further uncertainty to the United States economy.
Record High Rates
Even if the country doesn’t enter a second shut down, freight rates will likely never reach today’s record prices again. In October 2020, dry van spot rates were 60 cents higher than in October of 2019—a 30% increase year over year. This rise in prices is only expected to continue through the holiday season as e-commerce sales soar, making this the perfect time to execute one last push before 2021 brings unpredictability and doubt. With the inevitability of either a second shutdown or prices returning to industry norms, owner/operators don’t want to miss out on the current gold rush happening in the industry.
Whether the country faces another lockdown or not, the rates are bound to return back to normal early in 2021. Many owner-operators understand the importance of the next few weeks to reaching their financial goals for the year. As we enter the high-demand holiday season, driver’s should run hard to maximize their annual revenue before the start of the new year.
Days are becoming colder and shorter, festive lights are appearing on every street, and fleets of semi-trucks are working to move holiday goods in tandem with their essential deliveries. This peak season, you can anticipate a 10-20% increase in your mileage as you travel the U.S. to transport products and meet high consumer demand. The combination of demand, winter road conditions, and the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to truckers feeling more pressure than usual.
Not to mention, this year, companies like Amazon and UPS plan to fill over 100,000 seasonal distribution jobs throughout the United States. As these large retailers hire seasonal workers, the demand for shipping providers will mirror the growth—which means you need to prepare yourself and your rig before starting on a busy haul during peak season. In this blog, we will discuss how you can prepare, get ahead of your competition, and reach your maximum earning potential while staying safe and enjoying the holidays.
1. Preventative Maintenance
Caring for your rig is crucial to the survival of your operations. A great way to start the caretaking process and prepare your truck for peak season is through preventative maintenance. If your truck has recently been idle for an extended period, you could be looking at rusted parts, sludge where there once were fluids, and other potentially critical issues. With the holiday season approaching, take your semi to a mechanic to perform a full inspection; they can then handle any necessary maintenance, like an oil change or hose replacement. While this may seem like a costly process, it could mean the difference between a successful season and a broken-down rig. In the long run, taking care of your truck will keep you safe and your truck running smoothly all season long—which means more jobs and greater revenue.
2. Vary Freight Sources
When COVID-19 forced America to shut down, around 88,300 drivers lost their jobs in April alone. This hit was devastating to the trucking industry, and it caused many owner/operators to reevaluate how they run their fleet. As technology progresses, mobile apps and load boards are on the rise in popularity among drivers. A source like DAT keeps up with the industry’s varying factors, like the economy or the weather. Technology can also provide real-time updates and insights to keep you in touch with your supply chains and help obtain your maximum earning potential.
On top of mobile apps and load boards, you can work with companies like Amazon, Walmart, Target, and more. As e-commerce demand sets new records year after year, the holiday season continues to see spikes in spot rates as companies meet their contract limitations but rush to keep up with shipping demands brought on by the COVID-19 shutdown. Spot rates have hit a record high of $2.37 per mile this year and will most likely surpass that number in these next few months. Keep an eye out for these job openings over the next couple of months.
3. Revisit Your Insurance
Another way to prepare for this unique holiday season is to revisit your insurance. The COVID-19 pandemic brought immeasurable amounts of uncertainty, and it’s during times like these that insurance becomes crucial. While commercial trucking insurance is one of the more expensive components of owning and operating, it reduces the majority of your expenses and covers you in the event of an accident. With the winter weather bringing harsh weather conditions, your chances of an accident increase, making peak season the perfect time to reach out to your provider and reevaluate your damage and rental coverage.
4. Practice COVID-19 Protocol
Possibly the more obvious way to prepare for the COVID-19 holiday season is to familiarize yourself with the standard protocol. As you travel, you’ll find yourself in unfamiliar locations; plan your route by keeping in mind where you can eat, sleep, and refuel. Restaurants and fast-food locations across the country have had to change their operation hours, so you’ll need to consider that when planning your route. On the bright side, some of these restaurants are providing discounts and other offers for the inconvenience. These can be found under the International Franchise Association at franchise.org.
The same restrictions and benefits go for accommodations as well. Try to limit your exposure by decreasing the number of times you interact with frequently touched objects and disinfect these objects and surfaces when you can. Stay socially distanced from others during stops or when loading and unloading, and use a proper face covering in public. Wash your hands after visiting a location or handling items like clipboards or other frequently touched objects. To keep up with state and local regulations, use government resources like the CDC, ATA, CVSA, FMCSA, FHWA, and the SBA.
Now that you know what it takes for a successful peak season, it’s time to get to work.
While this year has higher shipping demands due to COVID-19, the holidays have always come with their own set of challenges. Read our post, How the Holiday Season Impacts the Trucking Industry, to see what obstacles the holidays present and how to overcome them.
COVID-19 changed just about every aspect of American society, including our work lives. Earlier this year, many offices and places of business transitioned to a remote work structure with a majority of employees working out of their homes. One of the results of this change is some people no longer have a daily commute. The initial lack of commuters on the road drastically impacted traffic patterns and the transportation industry as a whole. While traffic patterns are increasing again, the transition continues to impact truckers—who are now in higher demand. Keep reading to find out exactly how remote work impacts traffic patterns, demand, and the day-to-day lives of owners/operators.
Truckers Have the Roads to Themselves
While some U.S. cities are seeing lower traffic levels—a decrease by up to 63%—trucking continues to be steady. The pandemic increased trucking activity and boosted cargo volumes since the shift in March. For truckers, large chunks of time can be spent battling gruesome traffic, drastically lowering the productivity of the entire supply chain. In 2016, the American Transportation Research Institute determined an estimated $74.5 billion in excess operating costs could be blamed on heavy traffic. This impressive figure speaks to the extent to which traffic determines the effectiveness of the entire supply chain.
Peak traffic hours in the mornings and evenings can almost entirely be contributed to commuters. Without them, those hours don’t bring the same congestion. Trucking companies used to have to completely change their routes in order to avoid high traffic areas. Many companies even planned the locations of their facilities in order to avoid trucks having to cross through metropolitan hubs. With lighter traffic than usual in some areas, many truckers can now take more direct routes and get to their destinations much faster.
Less Traffic Equals Less Liability
Having fewer drivers on the road makes traveling safer for owners/operators. By having fewer cars on the road, there is a smaller margin of error when it comes to accidents and collisions. Busy roads and traffic have been linked to increased rates of reported low-speed accidents. A study conducted by the Department of Transportation in the state of Maryland confirmed a positive correlation in the frequency and severity of collisions in high congestion lanes. When there are more cars on the road, it adds an elevated level of unpredictability. When accidents do occur in heavy traffic, that collision is much more likely to reverberate and cause pile-ups.
Streamlining the Supply Chain
The work-from-home structure also necessitates additional supplies. Since people are in their homes all day, they’re using delivery services more frequently, thus boosting business for truckers. Because of this increase in demand, trucking companies are rapidly adapting to make it all work. As mentioned earlier, many owners/operators are trying to plan routes for more direct travel. Additionally, warehouse reconfiguration allows truckers to spend less time at inventory facilities, and more time getting everyone the supplies they need to thrive from home.
Getting Back to “Normal”
Studies by StreetLight Data note that traffic is returning to its previous levels, particularly in rural areas, at a quicker pace than originally expected. As more motorists return to their daily commute, truckers might see a return to pre-COVID conditions. Fortunately, the transportation industry as a whole has evolved during this period. Even after traffic picks back up, the industry has found new and creative solutions—such as redesigned routes, streamlined loading procedures, and overall supply chain optimization—to make the entire supply chain more efficient and profitable. Additionally, as the disruption continues, more and more people will remain in their homes, amplifying the demand.
While traffic may be starting to increase again, getting up to 90% of the pre-pandemic levels, most metropolitan areas are still reporting lower congestion rates. The advancements made during this new period will have ripple effects that remain far past this period of uncertainty.
Going forward, many companies are discovering that remote work is productive, and as everyone settles into working from home, it might remain that way. If working from home becomes the new standard, the benefits it’s had for the transportation industry can be further capitalized upon in the months, and possibly years, to come.
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The American economy took a serious hit in March, April, and May of this year, with unemployment spiking at nearly 15%. This percentage of people left without full employment in America was so large, you’d have to go back 80 years to find a comparable moment of economic strife. Much of the spike is attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, a serious public health crisis that required many industries to slow down or cease operations completely in order to prevent a widespread infection.
Luckily, there’s been good news on the job front. As of early July, unemployment decreased to 11%, indicating roughly 4.8 million people returned to work since the coronavirus pandemic began. This brings the rate of unemployment back in line with some more relatable markers in American history, not too long ago. The recessions of 1983 and 2009 both yielded unemployment rates of roughly 10%, which gives Americans who have lived through past economic downturns a small indication of how things might progress in America moving forward.
Employment in the Freight Industry
Trucking in America has gotten a lot of positive attention from the federal government from the very beginning of the pandemic. Truckers were declared essential workers by the White House with little delay. This kept owner/operators’ jobs secure, to some degree, but also created new challenges for workers in an industry becoming more isolated by the day—with truck stops and highway restaurants shutting down left and right due to the pandemic and necessary practice of social distancing.
The following months were a mixed bag for O/Os, with notable difficulties for freight owners and logistics companies. The American supply chain became severely lopsided overnight, with demand for medical supplies and food products spiking in urban areas, causing full truckloads to enter metropolitan areas at an increased rate, only to find there wasn’t anything to fill their trucks with on the way back out to a factory or distribution center (and we all know how fast you bleed money driving an empty semi-truck). This caused per-mile rates to be wildly inconsistent across different areas of the country, with some O/Os making money hand over fist, and others finding out they’d make more money if they chose not to drive at all.
Good News for Truckers As of July
We’re starting to see a steady rebound in trucking rates all across the country. According to data gathered by DAT Freight & Analytics, Los Angeles and Chicago have continued to improve, with substantial rate increases on nearby high-volume freight lanes.
Note: The rates listed below are averages from the beginning of June, based on actual transactions between carriers, brokers, and shippers.
- Chicago to Columbus, OH, rose 19 cents to $2.34 per mile
- Chicago to Detroit gained 15 cents to $2.78
- Chicago to Allentown, PA, was up 13 cents to $2.32
- Los Angeles to Denver jumped up another 25 cents to $3.09
- A. to Seattle climbed up to $2.74
In addition to this good news, there was another increase on the lane from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Buffalo, New York, where the average rate increased by 20 cents to $2.31 per mile.
Prices from Atlanta down into Florida are on the way up as well. Produce season is starting to end in the southern states, so demand has begun to shift away from outbound and back toward inbound traffic. The rate from Atlanta to Lakeland, Florida, was up to $2.41 per mile at the start of June as a result.
Overall, 72 out of the top 100 van lane rates have increased, while 16 others maintained their previous levels. This makes it a great time to be on the road, and gives O/Os good reason to watch rate changes with a sharp eye in order to maximize their route efficiency.
Trucking’s Long Term Trajectory
It’s no secret the freight industry has been seeing troubling signs for a couple years running. Class 8 sales have dipped, and even before COVID-19 there were prominent news outlets writing about the freight industry being in recession.
Press surrounding trucking can be a tricky subject. It’s true transport stocks haven’t been doing well for a long time. The SPDR S&P Transportation ETF is down more than 24% year to date as of June 9, an abysmal return when compared to the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average. This ETF is well-diversified, and a commonly used indicator for the health of the freight sector. The holding includes planes, trains, and auto companies. Uber Technologies (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT) are in the ETF now, along with the usual suspects, such as United Parcel Service (UPS), the Union Pacific railroad (UNP), trucking firm J.B. Hunt Transportation Service (JBHT), and JetBlue Airways (JBLU), among others.
While XTN is a good indicator of the transportation industry on the whole, it also includes a healthy percentage of some of the worst performers in 2020 like airlines and rideshare companies, both of which suffered monumental losses as a result of COVID-19.
The trucking industry on the whole hasn’t suffered the same level of constriction that airlines have, and the health of the industry isn’t well measured by the health of public companies. As a matter of fact, more than 95% of carriers have less than five trucks. The country is full of small, independent truck operators, and as long as rates increase, it’s expected they’ll come out just fine.
The bottom line is trucking companies are the lifeblood of America, and there’s no indication the demand for truckers is going to decrease any time soon. If you’re interested in getting started as an owner/operator, contact us at Mission Financial.