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Freight Shipping Tips

Transporting Perishable Goods? Some Important Factors to Consider.

Transporting perishable goods and fresh produce is fraught with higher risks than regular dry cargo. There’s a risk of spoilage and loss of freshness and quality.

Perishable goods need a specialized mode of transportation, refrigerated trailers, or reefers. It enables the movement of goods like fruits, vegetables, seafood, some medicine and other pharma products, dairy and bakery products, meat, and flowers and plants. Refrigerated trucking helps connect farmers, bakers, meat production plants, pharma companies with markets and ensures end customers even at remote locations get fresh and quality products.

While reefers are in use all year round, its demand increases during the fresh produce season.

While reefers are in use all year round, its demand increases during the fresh produce season. Given that the season is now in full swing, let’s take a look at what factors should be considered by both shippers and transporters while transporting fresh produce and perishable goods.

What important factors should shippers keep in mind while transporting fresh produce?

Each fresh produce or perishable product has a specific shipping requirement, like the mode of transportation to be used, type of container, temperature settings, and the transit time it can tolerate.

If even one of the transport requirements of perishables is not met, the goods can become unfit for consumption

If even one of the transport requirements of perishables is not met, the goods can become unfit for consumption or further processing. To ensure that this does not happen, here are a few points that shippers must keep in mind while transporting their fresh produce:

Complete Product Knowledge: This is non-negotiable. For safe and smooth transport of their perishable products or fresh produce, it is necessary for shippers to have complete knowledge about their product. Some important things that shippers and their teams should know about the fresh/perishable product they deal in are:

  • Packaging requirements of the product.
  • The best method and transport mode to ship it.
  • What is the coolant required for it – gel packs, dry ice, dry ice pellets?
  • The temperature needs of the product while in transit.
  • How long it remains fresh and fit for consumption.
  • Tolerable transit time for the product.
  • The documents/formalities required in both the importing and exporting state/country.

Conduct a Market Study: It’s important to find the right market for fresh produce, especially for those products that spoil easily.  It’s financially beneficial for the shipper if this product reaches the market quickly and in good condition. It’s also beneficial for the buyers as they get better quality and fresh products. So before you decide on a specific market, conduct a study to find out:

  1. Where all your product is in demand
  2. The rate at which you can sell the product there
  3. The transit time is taken to reach the destination
  4. Any specific customs formalities/documents required by the importing state for this product

Once you have this information ready, you can pick the best possible combination of market, rate, and transport requirements.

Choose the Right Transporter: If fresh produce is not managed correctly during transit, the quality and shelf life can be negatively affected. Thus, the choice of the transporter can make a huge difference in how your product is shipped. So, when you’re searching for a transporter, you must check the following:

  1. The track record of the transporter in trucking perishable goods.
  2. Do they have the requisite experience?
  3. Do they have the required vehicles and containers?
  4. Is the equipment well-maintained, cleaned, and serviced regularly?
  5. Are the drivers trained to manage the special equipment and carry perishable or fresh produce?
  6. Do they have tie-ups with service centers en route, in case the equipment or vehicle needs emergency servicing?
  7. Can they replace the container or the carrier in case of a breakdown?
  8. What is the transit time being offered?

In case you need multimodal transportation to ship your cargo, carry out this exercise for all the transporters in the chain.

Provide Clear Instructions: Once you’ve selected the transporter(s), it is important to communicate instructions specific to your product clearly to them. Make sure they know how the product is to be handled, the temperature to be maintained throughout the transit, and if it is an LTL shipment, then which products/goods can it not be carried with or kept close to. In the case of multimodal transportation, provide a set of instructions to each transporter and make sure each transporter knows who to hand over the cargo and onward shipping instructions to.

Communication with the Buyer: It’s often observed that while the goods reach the destination safely, they get spoiled at the buyer’s facility for lack of proper instructions on how to manage/store the goods. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that proper instructions have also been communicated to the buyer.

Get Adequate Insurance Coverage: Transporting perishables and fresh produce is expensive. There is also a risk of spoilage on the way. This is why insurance is critical in such cases. So before you put your cargo in transit, make sure you have the right insurance coverage for the cargo. This will ensure that you have financial support in case the cargo does not reach the destination in the best condition.

What Important Factors Should the Transporters Keep in Mind When Transporting Fresh Produce?

The transporter is responsible for the fresh produce while the goods are in transit. Hence, it is necessary for transporters to also have a checklist for perishable goods and fresh produce. Here are some important points that they should keep in mind when accepting fresh produce goods for transportation:

  1. Communicate Clearly with the Shipper: Transporting perishable goods is a serious business. Make sure you share the correct information regarding transit time, the route to be taken, contingency plans, documentation requirements, and payment terms with the shipper at the time of inquiry. This not only helps the shipper make an informed decision but also makes your business look professional and trustworthy. And, it’s great for building long term business relationships in the industry.
  2. Get All Required Details from the Shipper: The transporter should double-check if the shipper has supplied all the required information or not. In case any crucial detail regarding the product is missing, he should proactively ask for it from the shipper.
  3. Discuss Packaging Requirements: Check with the shipper how the goods will be packed and labeled. In case there are any specific requirements for packaging and labeling at your end, communicate the same to the shipper. It is important to get the packaging and labeling right in case of perishable goods as they need to be handled with care and can spoil easily.
  4. Understand Handling and Temperature Instructions: For perishable goods, the transporter needs to understand how the goods are to be handled and what temperature is to be maintained while the goods are in transit. Also, check if there are any specific guidelines on how the temperature is to be managed while the cargo is being loaded/unloaded.
  5. Assist the Shipper with Documentation: Fresh produce and perishable goods often have more documentation needs than regular cargo. Sometimes shippers, especially those new to the trade, are not aware of the cross-border documentation. In such cases, it becomes the transporter’s duty to make sure the shipper completes all documentation requirements in the right format. This not only helps complete the shipment formalities but also helps the trucker while crossing the state borders.
  6. Service the Refeers Before Allotting: The transporter should make sure the reefer is properly serviced, cleaned, and checked before it is allotted to the shipper. He should also check if the temperature required for the fresh produce being transferred can be maintained in the reefer throughout the transit.
  7. Train Your Drivers to Handle Perishable Goods: For transporting perishable cargo safely, it is essential to have experienced and trained drivers on board. The driver should understand the handling instructions of the fresh produce and be able to manage temperature settings of the reefer container.
  8. Update the Shipper Timely: Share regular status updates with the shipper while the goods are in transit. In case there are any issues with the container or temperature monitor, inform the shipper immediately, and seek alternative solutions.
  9. Deliver On-Time: It’s a good practice for logistics and trucking service providers to deliver goods on time. In the case of perishable goods and fresh produce, on-time delivery is crucial as even a slight delay in transit can affect the quality of goods, spoil them or make them unfit for consumption. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that the entire team handling the cargo understands the importance of on-time delivery!

If you’re looking for a reliable partner to transport your fresh produce and perishable goods, get in touch with our team today! We not only take responsibility for delivering your goods on time but also ensure that you get access to an online platform powered with advanced technology to plan and monitor your shipments more effectively!

A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing an Internal Audit of Your Supply Chain 

While all facets of the modern business are important, arguably the most important to any retail, manufacturing, or goods based service is their supply chain. The supply chain serves as the backbone of these companies and has a significant impact on the company’s business strategy which directly affects its operation and operational costs. Additionally, the performance of the supply chain has a direct impact on a company’s ability to provide services to their customers and create additional value via services offered or simply through reliability. With the multitude of changes that have been occurring within the logistics, trade, and freight industries now, more than ever, is an opportune time to conduct or review the process of internal audit of your supply chain. 

An internal supply chain audit is one of the most powerful methods of evaluating and possibly improving your supply chain, reduce operations costs, and increase competitive advantages.

An internal supply chain audit is one of the most powerful methods of evaluating and possibly improving your supply chain, reduce operations costs, and increase competitive advantages. The goal of the internal audit is to help you find weaknesses within your supply chain and correct pain points, bottlenecks to increase supply chain flexibility, agility, and overall efficiency.

To make the most out of your audit and its results, it’s important to understand that the supply chain isn’t a stand-alone, isolated feature of your business. In all actuality, the supply chain is suffused in every aspect of your business. As such the supply chain needs to be viewed between all participating companies and suppliers throughout the supply chain, with solutions applied from a holistic approach.

Why an Internal Audit is Necessary for Your Supply Chain

For most companies, audits are typically part of the normal routine, either for financial records or for physical inventory. The entire purpose behind an audit is to make sure things are where they should be and that everyone is playing by the same rules.

“Internal auditing is defined as an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization’s operations. It helps an organization to accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes,” as defined by The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

This is especially important when trying to maintain retail compliance, for example, with increasing customer demands like On Time; In Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD).

Simply put, an internal audit is a multi-step process that is a means of determining whether your current systems and operations are in compliance with your company’s predetermined operating procedures and regulations. This is especially important when trying to maintain retail compliance, for example, with increasing customer demands like On Time; In Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD). Conducting an internal audit does more than just evaluates the supply chain, it also takes a necessary look at the interaction between other aspects of the organization such as the accounting and financial systems, practices, and procedures. For example, are your planners and purchasers communicating properly, not only with each other but with the production floor and shipping department? Are parts coming in with enough lead time that items can be manufactured and shipped according to customer requirements? 

An internal audit is important because it allows the company executives and logistics decision makers to examine the effectiveness of their business operations and controls and applications of new policies. Over time, establishing those best practices means a more competitive and more profitable company in the future.

Things to Consider Before you Start the Audit

Performing an audit is one thing, but knowing what areas you need to be focusing on is something else entirely. While every audit should be more or less tailored to the specific needs of an individual organization, here is the basic framework for initiating an audit that needs to be included:

  • Audit Planning: Internal auditors should have a plan in place well before the actual auditing begins. 
  • Examining and Evaluating Information: Internal auditors should have a standardized criterion to compare findings against. 
  • Communicating Results: Audit should have a clear and concise method of reporting their findings. 
  • Follow Up: Internal auditors should follow up in a timely manner to ensure that appropriate actions have been taken to correct audit findings.

This framework also serves as a support system for corporate managers and allows managers of larger production systems to delegate the oversight of the audit to the internal audit department. This is important for a few reasons:

  • Operating Complexity: Automated data processing has increased the levels of complexity when analyzing data, a task better suited for those who know what to look for. 
  • Decentralization: Given that supply chains are prone to be decentralized in terms of a physical location due to globalization. 
  • Lack of Expertise: As the adage goes, stick to what you know. Leave those auditors in charge of the audit for the best quality audit.

With the right framework in place for the audit to commence, let’s take a look at the tasks involved for the actual audit.

Supply Chain Structure and Internal Audit Tasks

Like we mentioned above, every company is different and, as a result, the needs for every individual supply chain will vary. So while there is no hard and fast or “Use audit ‘A’ for Supply chain system ‘1’ ” convenient method of doing things, there are some common focal points that are applicable for just about every organization and style of the supply chain. 

The supply chain management processes identified by The Global Supply Chain Forum are:

  • Customer Relationship Management 
  • Supplier Relationship Management 
  • Customer Service Management 
  • Demand Management
  • Order Fulfillment 
  • Manufacturing Flow Management 
  • Product Development and Commercialization 
  • Returns Management

All of these processes are hallmarks of a healthy supply chain and also indicative of the successful supply chain management. Here again, we can see all of the links that connect the supply chain to every other facet of the business. Another benefit to performing an internal audit is that offers to perfect opportunity to increase the synergy between these various departments. For CFO’s and supply chain leaders, this means that supply chain management deals with total business excellence and represents a new way of managing the business and relationships with vendors, suppliers, and partners.

An internal audit can help a company in finding answers to crucial questions about managing success factors of supply chain excellence, of which these can be divided into five main sections: 

  • Strategy – To determine if the enterprise has a clear strategy tuned to business expectations and focused on profitably servicing customer requirements 
  • Organization – To determine if an effective organization structure exists enabling the enterprise to work with its partners to achieve its supply chain goals
  • Process – To determine if the enterprise has excellent processes for implementing its strategy, embracing all plan-source-make-deliver operations
  • Information – To determine if the enterprise has reliable information and enabling technology to support effective supply chain planning, execution, and decision-making 
  • Performance – To determine if the enterprise is managing supply chain performance in ways that will increase the bottom line, cash flows and shareholder returns

Supply Chain Risk Management

As much as we wish we could, the ability to see and accurately predict the future still eludes us to this day. In the end, it all comes down we can optimistically refer to as an “educated guess”.  With that being said, even the most educated guesses can’t predict the weather or a broken down truck. This means that within every supply chain, there will always be an element of risk. That risk represents any number of things that can go wrong within your supply chain and halt or delay your shipments. For this very reason, risk management is incredibly important when evaluating your supply chain. 

An internal audit can provide business leaders with the necessary framework to develop an appropriate supply chain risk management program.

Risk management is a huge proponent of supply chain health, especially given the instabilities in the global marketplace created by political uncertainty, trade tariffs, etc. An internal audit can provide business leaders with the necessary framework to develop an appropriate supply chain risk management program. This is how your supply chain audit can also help with risk reduction and increased security: 

  • Reviewing and understanding supply chains, including their strengths and weaknesses, in developing markets, to validate monitoring programs
  • Working with the company’s supply chain specialists to help develop a monitoring process that can be repeated
  • Helping to identify which suppliers are critical 
  • Assessing which suppliers may be vulnerable to threats and helping draw up a residual mitigation profile
  • Identifying strong risk control procedures
  • Helping to develop key analytic tools and techniques
  • Aiding with compliance monitoring

Ideally, the risk mitigation will also allow companies to increase supply chain efficiency to the point where on hand stock can be reduced. While having excessive stock might create a buffer in time where shipments are running late or capacity is tight, that excess can also eat into company profit margins. Additionally, having a well-running supply chain vastly lowers the chance for disruptions, operating costs, and other unexpected costs such as chargebacks, detention fees.

Despite the cause, however, the results are often the same, a drastic slow down of operations and a huge impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

Supply chain management is a very complex structure of activities with cross-functional processes, and it presents one of the most important functions in the company since it is directly linked to all functions of the company. Supply chain problems can result from any number of things including natural disasters, labor disputes, supplier bankruptcy, an act of war or terrorism, systems breakdowns, procurement failures, and other causes. Despite the cause, however, the results are often the same, a drastic slow down of operations and a huge impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

The supply chain internal audit aims to support managers in process optimization and above all in cost reduction which result from an uncertain environment by evaluating and directing management towards approaches which will prevent or reduce negative effects. 

After analyzing definitions and some of the standards of internal audit, it can be concluded that this process can improve effectiveness and efficiency, and by that, the performances of many functions within the organization. High-impact supply chains are more competitive and are capable of winning market share and customer loyalty, creating shareholder value, extending the strategic capability and reach of the business. Independent research shows that excellent supply chain management can yield: 

  • 25-50% reduction in total supply chain costs 
  • 25-60% reduction in inventory holding 
  • 25-80% increase in forecast accuracy
  • 30-50% improvement in order-fulfillment cycle time 
  • 20% increase in after-tax free cash flows

To increase supply chain strength, agility, and overall integrity, companies should develop a framework for a structured approach to ongoing risk identification and management. This will enable businesses to proactively address organizational supply chain risks on a periodic basis – a practice that affords stronger company and brand protection against supply chain risk gaps.

The more we know the more we can simplify.

The more we know the more we can simplify. When we know what your current transportation situation involves and what your pain points are, we can really help you simplify. The journey with our customers begins with the Needs Assessment process and the goal to determine transportation management solutions that increase productivity and decrease overall costs. To speak to one of our freight experts, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to receive a FREE Supply Chain Analysis.

Walmart+ vs. Amazon Prime: How Different Are They?

Amazon delivered a swift blow to retailers with the introduction of Amazon Prime. Walmart is fighting back.

Amazon spent years building what was to be its competitive advantage in e-commerce, its formidable distribution network. By building distribution centers across the country, investing in algorithms to optimize pick-time, and hiring operational wizards from Walmart and other competitors, Amazon gets products to customers anywhere in the United States cheaper and faster than anyone else.

Walmart went in the opposite direction, taking a ‘build it, and they will come’ approach, building stores in rural areas and locating them close enough together to allow for shared warehousing and logistical resources. Walmart plays in the low margin discount retail arena, and they do it better than anyone else. Perishables such as bread and milk are extremely low margin products, but the wide range of offerings gets customers in the door more often and buying more while they’re there. This is their secret, money-making-sauce, the strategy that allows for a wide distribution of fixed costs and lowers their break-even point.

In 2005 Amazon launched a little thing called Amazon Prime, a membership program with perks which is now enjoyed by roughly 150 million global paying members.

In 2005 Amazon launched a little thing called Amazon Prime, a membership program with perks which is now enjoyed by roughly 150 million global paying members. At the time, Walmart was the giant, its profits being larger than Amazon’s revenue. A decade and a half later, however, and Amazon reigns supreme over online sales. In 2019, Amazon accounted for almost 40 percentof the US e-commerce market. Walmart lagged far behind with slightly more than 5 percent.

An ethos of sales is to make it easy for customers to do business with you. Prime aims to do just that. For $119 a year, Amazon Prime offers services such as music and video streaming, one-day shipping on more than 10 million products, and same-day delivery from Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods. It has its loyalty base hooked and has customers shopping more often and spending about twice as much as non-prime customers. 

Walmart, however, still reigns supreme in brick-and-mortar retail.

Walmart, however, still reigns supreme in brick-and-mortar retail. As reported by Recode, they’re now fighting back with an expansion to their grocery-delivery subscription service, which launched last year. Walmart will be using its 20% market share (of an $800 billion category) as a foothold to launch the introduction of Walmart+. To differentiate themselves, Walmart is looking to include perks that Amazon won’t be able to replicate and may offer discounts on fuel and prescription drugs. 

Walmart’s Delivery Unlimited service currently delivers groceries from more than 1600 US stores and costs $98 per year or $12.95 monthly and offers a free 15-day trial to lure new members. It also offers a per delivery fee for non-members and is testing a service that will take the extra few steps and deliver your groceries right to your fridge.

Widening the Customer Base

As we laid out in our Walmart and Whole Foods white papers, Millennials are outpacing baby boomers as the largest living adult generation, and their buying patterns are heavily focused on eCommerce. 

CEO Doug McMillon has given Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside the task of widening their customer base to include more upscale shoppers and create a seamless customer experience, whether shopping online or instore. Whiteside has also put together a product team, to be headed by Chief Product Officer Meng Chee and will focus on using advancements in tech to improve the customer experience.

Amazon is now also widening its target customer base to include lower-income shoppers and is hoping to lure them into Prime memberships with monthly membership rates.

Although both Walmart and Amazon deliver groceries to food stamp recipients, only Walmart currently offers a monthly membership fee option. Amazon is now also widening its target customer base to include lower-income shoppers and is hoping to lure them into Prime memberships with monthly membership rates. Customers may find more financially viable than a one lump sump yearly membership fee.

Walmart has had a bumpy road in its foray into e-commerce. In 2016 Walmart bought out Jet.com for $3.3 billion, but Jet failed to become a driver for online grocery sales and provide the boost into urban areas they were looking for. Walmart announced in June of last year that it would be folding Jet into its e-commerce operations and ended Jetblack, the AI-powered personal shopping service it rolled out in May of 2018.

Back in 2017, they tested a program called ShippingPass, a $49 per year two-day shipping membership, which was then discontinued, members were then refunded their $49 fee.

Both Amazon and Walmart are forerunners into e-commerce, struggles, and even failures are to be expected. Far from being out for the count, it seems Walmart is coming back swinging.

Do you ship to Amazon, Walmart, Target or other large retail or grocery store chain? The rules are changing and it is getting harder and harder to be able to adhere to them. This is where the logistics experts at BlueGrace Logistics can help your team! Feel free to contact us using the form below and set up a 15 minute chat to discuss how we can help you succeed!

Commercial Trucking: The Battle of the VMT Tax

Our highways and transit infrastructure are mainly funded through the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which in turn is primarily funded by the federal motor fuel tax. Since 2001 the HTF has consistently spent more than it generates through highway and transit programs. The shortfall has been covered mainly by the $144 billion it’s received from the Treasury’s general fund. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the HTF will hit bottom by 2022. 

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso and Finance Committee member John Cornynhave proposed the S. 2302 bill which would impose a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax on commercial truckers. The bill is part of a three-prong approach, Barrasso and Cornyn are also looking to tax electric vehicles as well as index the motor fuels tax.

As cars increasingly become more efficient, and the use of electric cars become more prolific, fuel tax revenues decline accordingly. The tax on electric vehicles looks to regain the lost revenue, and with automakers planning to launch up to 100 new electric vehicles by 2023, it’s a good idea. But it’s a small piece of a massive puzzle.

Commercial trucks do take a heavier toll on our highways than lighter vehicles. Therefore, the VMT imposes a tax on the miles traveled. The heavier the truck, the more damage it does to our roads, which is why a scaled tax structure based on a truck’s configuration and weight. It sounds like a fair deal, those who do the most damage pay the highest bill. 

However, the industry argues, that they already pay a steeper sum than other highway users through fees, an excise tax on tires, and a heavier gasoline bill, paying six cents-per-gallon more than other motorists. Then there’s the question if the industry can support the increase, given the number of trucking companies that closed its doors in 2019, it’s a fair question. And lastly, could the tax be implemented in a fair and trustworthy manner? 

The CBO Report

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released Issues and Options for a Tax on Vehicle Miles Traveled by Commercial Trucks. The report provides an analysis of the VMT tax, including the tax base, the rate structure, the revenue that would be generated, and the implementation methods.

Using data on 2017 truck traffic, the CBO estimated that a tax of 1 cent per mile on all roads would have raised approximately $2.6 billion if imposed on all commercial trucks. However, in order to cover $14.6 billion that truck owners paid in 2017, as well as their proportional share of the $13.5 billion deficit, the tax would need to be increased to 7.5 cents per mile, which would have generated a total of $19.4 billion. The CBO warns two behavioral responses would result: a reduction in overall freight shipments and a shift in some freight traffic from trucks to rail. 

Together, the gasoline and diesel taxes yielded close to 90 percent of the $40.9 billion in revenues credited to the trust fund in the fiscal year 2017. Of that amount, $25.9 billion (64 percent) came from gasoline taxes and $9.8 billion (24 percent) from diesel fuel taxes. The three taxes that apply to trucks and other large vehicles generated revenues totaling $5.2 billion.

Capital and Implementation Costs

Three methods of implementation are offered: 

  • Electronic logging devices (ELD) installed in cars (capital costs would depend on the set of trucks included in the tax base, intermediate enforcement costs)
  • Collection booths or RFID readers on road gantries (significant capital costs, low enforcement costs) 
  • Periodic odometer reporting (no capital costs, high enforcement costs)

Although costs are uncertain, capital and implementation costs would, of course, cannibalize a portion of the revenue.

The Battle

The American Trucking Associations wants to raise fuel taxes by 5 cents annually over four years, which would bring in $340 billion over ten years. Although it continues to lack Senate support, The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) advocates for both an increased motor fuel tax and the VMT tax.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association(OOIDA) members aren’t mincing their words. In a letter written on February 24th to Chairmen Grassley and Barrasso, the OOIDA says the ARTBAs support of the VMT tax is “shameless, and exposes the organization’s ignorance.” Chris Spear, President of the American Trucking Associations, and Sheila Foertsch of the Wyoming Trucking Association call the tax discriminatory

Trucking-aligned farm groupswant broad-based funding mechanisms and caution the VMT would place a disproportionate share of the burden on freight transportation and would leave U.S. agriculture at a competitive disadvantage against foreign competitors.

As the ARTBA pointed out in their letter, if a controversy-free solution existed, it would have been enacted years ago. But America’s infrastructure is failing, and transportation investment is coming up short by the tune of $1.1 trillion by 2025.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’failure to Act study, by 2025, the nation will have lost almost $800 billion in GDP and have 440,000 fewer jobs due to transportation system deficiencies. Time is of the essence.

Truckload Freight Contracts: Understanding Contract & Spot Rates

Throughout 2020, truckload carriers felt the burn of the China-U.S. trade war, declining capacity, and low spot rates. In general, markets with lower spot rates are more beneficial to shippers, keeping carrier profitability in check. The opposite applies when contract rates are lower, allowing carriers to retake control and reap greater profits. In addition, the risk for a resurgence of higher spot rates and renewing interest in truckload freight contracts is an area, shippers should understand and keep their eye on in 2020. According to William B. Cassidy of JOC.com, he describes this chance:

“After six consecutive quarters of deflation, the market is rebounding, heading back towards an inflationary environment, the spot market will reach an inflationary environment by Q1 2020.”

To combat that prediction and also consider the influence of the coronavirus, shippers need to understand the driving forces of change in the truckload market, what is already happening with the coronavirus, and a few tips to better underscore and improve use of both truckload freight contracts and spot rate shipping. 

Driving Forces of Change in Contract and Spot Rate Markets

The biggest driving force of change in the market involves available capacity and its influence on capacity. As explained by Cassidy:

“DAT noted that freight demand, in terms of total spot and contract volumes, has been increasing, with spot volumes rising 7 percent in 2019 year over year and contract volumes 4 percent. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) predicts a 1 percent increase in contract truckload volumes for 2019, down from annualized growth of 3.2 percent in 2018 and 3 percent in 2017.”

How much capacity must exit the market before supply and demand move back to a closer alignment? Some experts believe truckload capacity and freight demand already are closer to equilibrium than they’ve been since 2017 and that a surge in demand could tip the balance. Others think trucking’s supply-demand gap will take more time to close.”

Unfortunately, that prediction and driving force now hangs in the balance with a likely swing away from the prediction. That’s right. Capacity is rapidly increasing overseas, and it will likely lead to changes in the U.S. truckload freight contracts’ market.

The State of Truckload Freight Contracts Will Retract Due to the Coronavirus

Capacity is dependent on the demand in the volume of imported raw materials, finished products, and other supplies from around the world. Many electronics, automotive, and medications and medical equipment arrive in the U.S. from China. In addition, the flow of exports from the U.S. to the APAC region, including the iPhone and agricultural products, are at risk. There is a near-stop to the flow of freight in the region due to the coronavirus. So, what happens in other areas abroad and in the U.S.?

The freight that would have filled trailers and help carriers push spot rates upward vanishes. Now, carriers have too much capacity, too many drivers, and too few lanes to travel that make a profit. As a result, the spot rate market is on the verge of bottoming out, and shippers will benefit to an extent. The real problems for shippers will not become evident until their favored carriers start to close lanes and begin to exhibit signs carriers are looking to gain profitability when more reweighs and reclasses occur or accessorial fees tick up. At this point, shippers will face the uncertainty of limited carrier availability, if any, and an inability to move freight to their customers as cost-effectively.

The only way to maintain operations lies in creating a balance between the use of contract and spot rates to get the best deal to benefit everyone.

The only way to maintain operations lies in creating a balance between the use of contract and spot rates to get the best deal to benefit everyone. As carrier operations begin to suffer the effects of continued drops in the spot rate market, it will be time for shippers to start looking for more carriers and fulfillment options to fill the void.  

How to Better Understand Contract and Spot Rates

Shippers that wish to create a successful balance between the use of spot rate and truckload freight contracts need to follow these steps:

  1. Connect your supply chain assets to a centralized supply chain control tower. 
  2. Leverage the full scale and scope of the BlueGrace TMS. 
  3. Take advantage of managed services, including invoice auditing and accounting services.
  4. Rate shipments across all modes and potential trade lanes to determine the best-case, not the cheapest, shipping option. 
  5. Always consider the “other” factors in tendering freight, including claims’ insurance and management needs.
  6. Diversify your carrier network to include the small and local carriers that have expertise in both truckload and last-mile delivery.
  7. Extend your TMS and order fulfillment systems across your whole supply chain, including brick-and-mortar stores.
  8. Remember to integrate new systems with existing platforms to enable omnichannel capabilities and take advantage of all available inventory. 

Gain Better OTR Rating With an Advanced, Customizable TMS at BlueGrace

The freight rate market is continuously changing to reflect the risks and opportunities in the market. As the year rolls on, shippers need to take the steps necessary to shore up their operations against the industry’s top risks, including market volatility and the coronavirus. Moreover, applying the functions and wide-ranging benefits of a dedicated TMS and 3PL’s lineup of managed services will provide a protective barrier against risk and help your organization succeed. Find out how more information and visibility can improve your use of spot rates and truckload freight contracts by calling BlueGrace at 1.800.MY.SHIPPING or filling out the contact form below. 

The Fifty Shapes of Amazon Logistics

Digital and physical are reaching a point of total convergence, something that would have been unheard of 20 years ago. Companies like WholeFoods and Amazon are changing up their logistics goals in a big way, something that is likely to ripple through other similar industries.  

Amazon Tips its Hand to Logistics  

It’s unarguable at this point that Amazon has a knack for developing an in-house system and turning it into a massive profit generator down the road. We’ve seen it before with Amazon cloud computing when the company needed to boost its data handling capabilities. Now Amazon’s cloud drive, known as Amazon Drive has become a for-profit service that is used around the world.  

So what happens when the e-commerce giant turns its eye towards logistics?  

Amazon Logistics  

We’ve seen over the past few years that Amazon isn’t content to wait for packages to be delivered at someone else’s pace. With Amazon Prime, subscribers have grown accustomed to two-day delivery, a feat which has made smaller companies buckle under the weight of consumer expectation. Not content to rest on their laurels, however, Amazon is pushing the envelope again towards next or even same-day delivery. Banking on the fact that as more people realize they can get their items delivered even faster the more people will sign up for a Prime Subscription. And so far the gamble has paid off.  

“Driven by Prime Free One-Day Delivery and Free Same-Day Delivery, it was another year in which Amazon was able to set shipping records. That was rewarded with a 4% surge in its stock. It now sports a market capitalization of $927 billion,” says the MotleyFool. 

“For the holiday period, the tech giant set records for the number of people who tried Prime. In one week alone, Amazon said five million new customers either began a Prime membership or started a trial. The number of items delivered via Prime Free One-Day and Prime Free Same-Day Delivery nearly quadrupled compared to a year ago,” the Fool adds.  

This year, Amazon’s in-house logistics delivered more than 3.5 billion packages compared to FedEx’s 6 billion. Which isn’t terrible when you consider the fact that Amazon started as an internet book store. What’s more, is 60 percent of Amazon customers opted to ship to an Amazon drop point to pick up the packages themselves, further pushing back FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service.  

It wants to control everything from shipping out of the warehouses to delivery to customers’ porches.

“It wants to control everything from shipping out of the warehouses to delivery to customers’ porches. That requires large upfront investments. In the second quarter of 2019 alone it spent $800 million to expand its one-day delivery for Prime Members. It’s also investing $1.5 billion to develop an air hub in Kentucky that’s slated to open in 2021 and will be home to fifty aircraft. Amazon announced its Delivery Service Partner program in May, enabling entrepreneurs to create delivery networks to handle last-mile deliveries for Amazon. The company is also investing tons of money into drone technology and, in June, debuted its Prime Air Drone design,” reads the Fool.  

Building their own in-house logistics network means less reliance on the now “competition” and giving their customers little reason to shop anywhere else. Amazon is also hedging a bet that by using its own logistics network, it can eventually cut down on the cost of packing and delivery.  

The Convergence of Digital and Physical and the Reimagining of the “Store”  

Amazon building its own logistics network is also changing the landscape for the traditional brick and mortar retailers. Within the past two years, we’ve seen the fall of some major retailers like Toys R’ Us and Bon-Ton. These companies are among those that lacked the ability to grasp the importance of a digital presence and the shape of consumer expectations. As we enter into a new decade, many traditional retailers are beginning to change the way they do business, which might be the only thing that keeps them out of Amazon’s massive shadow.  

“Shopping malls and physical outlets may have seen their best days for foot traffic. However, they have been given a new “lease” on life as fulfillment locations. Retail giant Target Corp. uses virtually all of its 1,900 stores as fulfillment locations, and about 80% of its online orders are fulfilled through a store. The new decade will see an increasing convergence of digital and physical operations as brick-and-mortar locations are positioned as hubs closer to the customer and e-commerce sites direct more package delivery to retail outlets, ABI Research said in a late December study,” reads an article from Yahoo! Finance. 

As e-commerce takes an ever-larger share of total retail sales, the strategy and execution of delivery networks will become the axis of success.

“As e-commerce takes an ever-larger share of total retail sales, the strategy and execution of delivery networks will become the axis of success. Regardless of the industry, logistics will increasingly be the difference between an enterprise’s success or failure,” the article continues.  

Even grocery stores are changing the way they serve their customers. 20 years ago, we never would have considered ordering our produce and perishables online, especially not for delivery, yet new startups like Misfits Market and Butcher’s Box are doing just that. Virtually every major grocery store chain now offers some form of digital grocery shopping where customers can order their items and have them delivered to their car in the parking lot.   

These are just some of the changes we’ve seen in the past few years, but some grocery stores are taking it to a whole new level.  

A True Change of Pace for Whole Foods 

Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the grocery scene is what we’re seeing from Whole Foods. The organic food market was purchased by Amazon in August of 2017 and under the titan of commerce’s influence has become a supplier for other retailers. How have they been doing so far and what does that mean for their logistics network? Download our White Paper about the subject and learn how you can establish processes and systems that are in line with supermarkets and retailers’ requirements, such as On-Time and In-Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD). 

How Can SMBs Contend With Big Box Retailers?

Small and mid-size businesses are finding themselves in a difficult position in today’s market, courtesy of the Amazon effect. Consumers now expect free shipping and in most cases they expect it to be either two days, one-day, or even same-day delivery. That’s all well and good when you have a massive financial engine to throw behind it (having your own in-house logistics and distribution network doesn’t hurt either) but for smaller companies, that’s not always an option. Instead, SMBs are left with the choice of eating exorbitant shipping fees to meet customer expectations or stick with standard delivery and risk losing their market share.  

In 2020, SMBs are going to have to make some tough decisions on how they invest their shipping and logistics dollars,

Through 2019, this tension has been growing, complicated even more so by big-box retailers, Walmart in particular. In 2020, SMBs are going to have to make some tough decisions on how they invest their shipping and logistics dollars, when and where to invest in technology over team (or vice versa), and where they can go for reliable and affordable delivery options. 

The Ever-Growing Logistics Challenge

SMBs are going to have their hands full when it comes to figuring out the best route to go for logistics, especially when trying to keep up with Big Box Influencers. Walmart has put a tight fist on logistics with its MABD and OTIF policies. In an effort to keep products on the shelves exactly where and when they need them, the retail superstore has begun punishing carriers who don’t deliver everything they are supposed to, exactly when they’re supposed to deliver it. Given that Walmart is an incredibly lucrative contract for carriers they will, of course, oblige. Ensuring that Walmart gets exactly what it needs. 

SMBs don’t typically have that sort of clout, however. So what options do they have available to them? Understanding that their customers expect a new level of service that would never have been considered as possible 20 years ago, SMBs will have to look at alternative logistics strategies to ensure that their customers are happy while keeping profit margins in the black. 

Knowing where to Source Carriers

Knowing where to source carriers from is among the top challenges for SMBs. Sure, there’s a UPS store down the street, but is that the most cost-effective means of shipping out goods? There’s also a USPS in every town on the map, but will they get products there on time? These are just some of the questions that SMBs will have to be able to answer. 

All of these questions and variables make it incredibly difficult for smaller companies to come up with a stable plan for their logistics.

There’s also the matter of fluctuating shipping rates, and tightening capacity, which are subject to change with seemingly little or no notice. All of these questions and variables make it incredibly difficult for smaller companies to come up with a stable plan for their logistics. Most of them are resigned to the fact that they will have to increase their shipping and logistics budget and hope for the best. 

Investing in Technology

Tech is another difficult consideration for SMBs. On the one hand, many companies realize that it’s important to have the right technology solution in place. On the other hand, it can be expensive to the point of being cost-prohibitive. What technology should smaller companies invest in? What is going to help them the most to stay relevant and viable in today’s market? These are questions that don’t always have an easy or straightforward answer and that tends to make smaller companies more hesitant when deciding how to invest their logistics dollars. 

Taking a Lesson from the Big Box

If Amazon and Walmart have taught us anything it’s “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Amazon has taken several pages from their competitors’ playbooks and made it work for their own operations and the same can be said for Walmart.  Learn more about the supplier retailer relationship from our whitepaper here.

In addition to managing the relationship with shippers, it might also be time to involve the financial experts that are in your industry.

In addition to managing the relationship with shippers, it might also be time to involve the financial experts that are in your industry. Many businesses tend to compartmentalize their logistics and their C-Suite when ultimately, both have tools and skills that the other needs to not only survive but thrive. We’ve also got something to say about that as well.

Lastly, if you still have questions about how to compete with the big box stores or make your logistics dollars go further, let us know. The BlueGrace expert team is ready, willing, and able to answer your questions and to help turn your business into a lean, green, logistics machine it was always meant to be.  

Automation In The Supply Chain

In a world that is constantly evolving and adapting to the newest technology, it’s important that companies keep up with the changes. We are at a point in time where consumers are getting their packages delivered by drones and cars are driving themselves. The demand for flexible, accuracy, and transparency in your supply chain increases daily. According to On Time, by the end of 2020, 17% of companies will still not have embraced automation techniques.  In a Third-Party Logistics (3PL) company, it’s important that we are using systems and processes that improve effectiveness and efficiency that enables business flow.  

Through cutting supply chain complexity and improving responsiveness, we rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. Artificial intelligence allows for supply chain planning, inventory management, and customer order management. It takes the repetitiveness of trying different processes and applying it every time in a much more efficient responsive time.

Access To Real Time Data

By having an effective TMS in place, your business can save money and make better shipping decisions.

When there is real time freight data and reports based on history and trends in the system, we can learn from things that went right and also things we could improve on when it comes to making better business decisions. By having an effective TMS in place, your business can save money and make better shipping decisions. In the past, manual data entry errors have been extremely costly causing increased rates and unsatisfied customers. By implementing an effective TMS, there will be less room for human error and allows repetitive tasks to become simple. The data that your TMS can provide also is asset to your customers, giving you the ability to enhance the customers overall experience.

Better Customer Service

By having automation in place, you can reduce the time between ordering and fulfillment, keeping the customer in the loop and increasing customer satisfaction.

Not only can automation reduce the amount of manual labor and repetitiveness, but it can also improve the relationship with your customer and enhancing their overall experience. A TMS allows the customer to track freight, generate auto pick up, and see real time payments and accounting information. Your customer will be able to see what they are getting charged for and when the freight will arrive. By having automation in place, you can reduce the time between ordering and fulfillment, keeping the customer in the loop and increasing customer satisfaction.

A Case Study: Invoice Automation

Recently at BlueGrace, we have adopted new software that allows for invoice automation. When a customer shipment is delivered, an invoice is sent to us by the carrier.  Historically, an employee would manually take the time to search for the shipment in our TMS and match up the information to the invoice. This is a time-consuming task when verifying thousands of shipments per day. However, with automated matching in place, we reduce the amount of time it takes for a customer to get invoiced. Utilizing a third party plugin, our TMS automatically verifies the information and sends it to billing if it matches up with the shipment details. This software takes out manual, tedious and time-consuming work and allows for automation step-in to make the process faster and more efficient.

There could be hesitation when implementing automation because of the fear of losing the human element. However, that isn’t the case when automation is improving the workforce. Employees will only perform the essential tasks, therefore improving productivity. This also attracts a new workforce to reflect an innovated supply chain by integrating mobility and collaboration with customers.

We are in a world where humans and machines are collaborating, not competing for a job.

At the end of the day, a supply chain can’t function without its people. We are in a world where humans and machines are collaborating, not competing for a job. If you have questions about how automation should be implemented to achieve the most efficient, sustainable supply chain, contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts.

The Key to Managing Disruption? Outsourcing.

Crises such as the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent disruption to our economy and supply chains have truly brought to light the importance of effective risk management. In a world where normally reliable trade partners are shutdown for weeks or ports are closed or workers are furloughed, companies that were one minute functional are now scrambling for solutions to move goods from manufacturing to warehouse to distribution center to retail outlets. What once seemed like a well-oiled machine is now full of chaos or emptiness. 

Hiring a 3PL can help companies work their way through tough times.

Hiring a 3PL can help companies work their way through tough times. A lack of resources to maintain and improve growth, lack of experience coping with crises, a deficient organizational structure or insufficiently trained or available staff are all hurdles that can be overcome by outsourcing logistics operations. 

86% of Fortune 500 companies are outsourcing to 3PLs, and with good reason. 

A 3PL Allows You to Focus on What You Do Best 

Handing off some or all logistics operations to a Third Party Logistics (3PL) provider allows companies to focus on the product or service(s) they provide without dealing with the, well, logistics of it all. Whether a company is looking for help managing their entire logistics operations or simply needs help putting together a tech stack that serves their needs and goals, 3PLs can tackle the operations that are out of their wheelhouse. 

It Can Cut Costs 

Because of their industry knowledge, access to top tech, highly developed networks, and the potential for bulk discounts, 3PLs may be able to help companies cut logistics costs and manage their budgets more effectively. Outsourcing can lead to the development of smarter, more efficient processes tailored to a specific business’ needs. 

Reducing logistics spend through better deals with carriers and/or improved operational efficiency opens up opportunities for growth.

Reducing logistics spend through better deals with carriers and/or improved operational efficiency opens up opportunities for growth. It leaves room in the budget for improvement, whether that be through expansion, R&D, or hiring on top talent. 

3PLs Provide Scalability 

When you hire a 3PL to handle logistics, you’re gaining a modicum of scalability that you simply can’t get with an internal department or positions dedicated to logistics. A 3PL can provide the staffing you need during every season. A 3PL may also allow for scalability in a new location without the upfront expense associated with opening a physical location, providing expertise and connections in new shipping lanes without a dedicated staff.  

Outsourcing Isn’t Without Risk 

As with just about any business endeavor, outsourcing to a 3PL isn’t risk free. When a company is spending money, it’s inevitable that things could go sideways and they won’t receive the return on investment they’d hoped for. Risks involved in outsourcing to a 3PL include unexpected costs, trouble during the transition of operations from your company to the 3PL, and reduced customer service. 

Mitigating the Risks 

Discussions on expectations, service requirements, budget, and other pertinent details should occur before hiring a 3PL.

There are certainly ways to reduce the risks listed above. Choosing a 3PL with extensive knowledge and experience in your industry and in the type of operation you’re hiring them to carry out is critical. Look at references and reviews of the company and speak with companies who have used the provider if possible. Discussions on expectations, service requirements, budget, and other pertinent details should occur before hiring a 3PL, plus continued effective communication is important to ensuring key players are on the same page. 

In Conclusion 

When times are tough, whether due to extraordinary market conditions like the ones today, or just about any other circumstances, a 3PL can help companies work through problems without the large capital outlay often required with internal operational improvements. Wondering how a 3PL could help your company through a crisis? Contact BlueGrace today to get a free supply chain analysis from one of our experts! 

Evolving Consumer Demands Prompt Continued Changes in Logistics

Twenty years ago, no one would have imagined for a second that they could order a product online in the morning and have it on their porch before they got home from work. Today, it’s all but expected that delivery occur within very small timeframes, even the same day.

The battle amongst large players in the e-commerce segment like Amazon and WalMart for fastest delivery times appears to only be escalating, meaning consumers are becoming more and more used to getting their packages within a couple days. This means changes in logistics operations must continue to evolve in order to support these demands. Note: Download our whitepaper, Walmart: The Retail-Supplier Relationship for even more details.

In order to keep up with consumer demand, logistics must evolve.

Today’s consumer demand means that buyers expect more from suppliers. They need the right merchandise delivered at the right time in precisely the way they need it delivered. When these expectations aren’t meant, suppliers may be faced with penalties that can be crippling. The drive for on-time delivery can also lead to unexpected accessorial fees. In order to keep up with consumer demand, logistics must evolve.

Logistics Technology Evolves to Meet Demands

Many logistics divisions are turning to technology to help meet evolving demands. Without the technology, keeping up is a pipe dream for many operations. Here are some of the technologies logistics operations are falling back on in order to serve their customers better:

  • Demand Planning– It’s critical to stay ahead of the game when delivery timeframes are so short. Demand planning software is changing to make sure suppliers are ready to meet demands.
  • Smarter Analytics– Top notch analytics are being implemented across logistics operations, from warehouses to transportation, to give logistics providers a leg up. Analytics are used to support many arms of the logistics operation, as well as keeping stakeholders informed.
  • TMS– Comprehensive transportation management systems are critical to getting loads out the door and ensuring on-time delivery. Improved routing, load tracking, cost control, and reporting are critical to helping companies meet consumer demands while working within their operational budget.
  • IoT– The Internet of Things has major potential to help suppliers meet stringent demands. Load tracking (i.e., real-time GPS tracking) and monitoring (i.e., atmospheric conditions, handling sensors to detect impact to parcels) are two major IoT applications being implemented by cutting-edge suppliers to improve delivery.
  • Blockchain– Blockchain is a technology being implemented to improve traceability and accountability in supply chains by recording data in a way it can’t be tampered with or changed. 

Demands for Faster Delivery Mean Demand for Better Visibility

A transparent supply chain is one of the most important factors in meeting deadlines. Consumers and retailers alike insist on knowing where their merchandise is, when they’ll get it, and how they’ll get it. 

Supply chain visibility is a top priority at most companies, but only 6% of companies say they’ve achieved full visibility. While supply chain visibility ranks behind OTIF and delivery issues in a 2017 Geodis survey, it may hold the key to solving those problems.

Staying one step ahead is critical to supplier success, and stagnation simply won’t do in the current logistics

Consumer and retailer demand will inevitably continue to evolve and put more pressure on the logistics industry. Staying one step ahead is critical to supplier success, and stagnation simply won’t do in the current logistics market. Wondering how your logistics operations can keep up with ever-hastening delivery expectations? Contact one of our representatives at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to get a free supply chain analysis from one of our experts!

The Impact Of The Coronavirus On Surface Freight

Recall that at the beginning of the year, industry experts expected the surface freight spot market would gradually increase to make up for its decline over the past year. Every publication on the planet was encouraging shippers and logistics service professionals to start thinking about renewing their interest in contracted freight rates that would help keep freight spend under control. In addition, the uncertainty over a global trade war between the US and China was on the brink of collapse, and all signs indicated growth in the market. Then, the coronavirus became the latest hot topic in supply chain management. Shippers that wish to stay competitive need to understand a few things about the true impact of the coronavirus on surface freight and what they need to do to prepare for it now. 

What’s Happening With The Coronavirus? 

The coronavirus is a major threat to the global supply chain. While its spread has been largely limited to areas of the AIPAC region and a few thousand cases outside of that region, it appears to be catching fire more quickly. The mass quarantines in Wuhan applied the metaphorical breaks to production and left the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index closed for more than three weeks. Substantial drops in ocean container rate indices occurred, losing up to $100 per $800 in the time frame. While this might not seem like an issue for surface freight, it alludes to a lowering of spot rate volatility. Meanwhile, Greg Knowler of JOC.com notes that the coronavirus has not yet led to a “rapid resumption of manufacturing almost 4 weeks after the Chinese new year, factories are struggling to restart production. An advisory from UK foreign affairs stated February 17 words that China continues to restrict the movement of people in response to the coronavirus outbreak.” As the restrictions continue and grow more common, especially in areas like the US that are trying to keep the virus from spreading at all costs, the risk to spot rate markets will increase. Restricted movements effectively open more capacity and lead to the bottom falling out from the spot rate market.  

Potential Ways Coronavirus May Disrupt The Surface Freight Supply Chain 

The impact of the coronavirus on surface freight in the US is not yet a primary concern, reports DAT. It’s relative containment overseas and strict containment in the US means that its disruption will be menial for the upcoming weeks. However, even that is a relative example. US supply chains depend on Chinese imports, and as the factories shudder in empty silence, technology products, auto parts, and medicines and medical equipment import levels will decline. Thus, volume in the US will drop. As the drops occur, more carriers will face the problems of too much available capacity. It’s the grand irony of 2020. There were years upon years of discussions of preventing the capacity crunch, and now, there is just too much capacity to make a difference. 

The potential for disruption is severe, and companies need an alternate way to ensure a disruption-free supply chain.  

Of course, additional disruption risks remain. Widespread contamination of freight or spread of the virus in people could lead to mass callouts among drivers, a flat-out refusal to accept mildly ill truckers at warehouse gates, and more. The potential for disruption is severe, and companies need an alternate way to ensure a disruption-free supply chain.  

How to Lessen the Impact of the Coronavirus 

Let’s be clear on one area of concern. There is not a way or step that individual shippers can take to 100% stop the coronavirus from spreading around the globe. It is a virus, and it’s up to health professionals and experts to stop it. Now, that does not mean shippers are left with empty shelves and angry customers. Instead, it just implies a need for more diversity in the supply chain. Shippers need to increase the number of working carrier relationships.

Shippers should take added steps to ensure carriers comply with all applicable health and government regulations.

Shippers should take added steps to ensure carriers comply with all applicable health and government regulations. More visibility into truck location and ETA can also provide peace of mind to ensure shippers are not on the verge of interacting with truckers or others that were recently exposed to locations with a high volume of viral activity and potential effects of coronavirus on surface freight movements.  

Ensure you can always find available capacity and routes by leveraging an advanced transportation management system (TMS).  

Compared to the flu, the coronavirus is more life-threatening when people fail to take basic precautions, such as hand-washing, not touching the face, and staying home when ill. With that in mind, shippers should take those basic steps and radically evolve their logistics management operations to secure more drivers, more carriers, more trade lanes, more stops (or vice versa), and more suppliers. In other words, it is time to scale the supply chain network upward to find more suppliers and available business-to-business service partners to avoid disruptions. Also, do not cut your shipping volume due to the coronavirus. Instead, ensure you can always find available capacity and routes by leveraging an advanced transportation management system (TMS).  

Vaccinate Your Organization Against The Coronavirus With A BlueGrace Partnership 

Using a TMS is one critical way to vaccinate your organization against the coronavirus. If it is going to spread, you cannot necessarily stop it. However, taking the step of investing in a quality relationship with a TMS vendor and third-party logistics servicer, such as BlueGrace, will have a protective effect and help keep your business in business even as the virus spreads. Find out more about how to get started by completing the form below or call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING today. 

What Matters Most When Choosing A 3PL: Cost Or Customer Service?

While there are many factors to consider when choosing a 3PL service provider, cost and customer service are two of the most critical factors. 

Finding the right balance is the ultimate chicken and egg situation for all logistics managers. If they can crack this, they can get a step closer to creating a better and more effective supply chain.

Why The Conundrum?

On the one hand, organizations have a set budget to spend with a 3PL partner on transportation, warehousing, and related activities. On the other hand, the logistics partner is not only accountable to provide precise, efficient, and affordable logistical services to the organization but is often the face of the company for the end customers – regardless of the organization operating in the B2B or in the B2C space.

For both sectors, the 3PL is the first point of contact with the customer and more often than not, it has multiple contact points in the end-to-end supply chain. 

This is why, for logistics managers, choosing a 3PL partner is the crux of their job.

This is why, for logistics managers, choosing a 3PL partner is the crux of their job. The right decision may make the difference between success and failure. The wrong choice wrecks havoc not only in the logistics department but company-wide. When negotiating a contract with a 3PL starts logistics manager should: 

  • Conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the proposal sent by the 3PL
  • Understand and calculate an estimate of the lost opportunity cost of choosing a low priced service at the expense of efficient customer service. 
  • Find out if the lost opportunity cost would be less or more than than the cost of hiring a 3PL which provides a premium customer service 
  • Understand the management’s position on overshooting the logistics budget

They should also ask the following questions: 

  • Can the organization accommodate an increase in logistics cost?
  • How will it impact the bottom line if the costs were to be absorbed by the organization? 
  • Is there a scope to increase the product price? How will it affect sales? 

Now that we know why the decision is critical and why it poses a challenge, it’s also important to know why both of these factors are individually critical. 

Why Is Cost Important? 

The cost of hiring a 3PL forms a part of the complete product cost and thus impacts the pricing. While a slight increase in the pricing for high-value goods may not affect a customer’s purchasing decision, it may impact sales of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). Sometimes even a slight increase in the price for FMCG goods can negatively influence its sales, giving the competition room to gain market shares. 

Why is Customer Service important? 

Like cost, customer service also plays an important role in the complete packaging of the product. How long can an organization sustain its business with a transporter who delivers goods late or in damaged condition? Or a warehousing facility that is not able to maintain the goods in a sale-able condition? Not for long. Sooner or later, these aspects – late delivery and poor product condition or damaged products will start to impact the product image in the market, and thus start to adversely impact its sales. 

How a 3PL handles customer queries related to product delivery, or processes returns also form a part of customer service and affect the overall perception of the customer about the product and the company. 

In addition to the above aspects, how a 3PL handles customer queries related to product delivery, or processes returns also form a part of customer service and affect the overall perception of the customer about the product and the company. Thus, both of these factors have the ability to influence the success or failure of the product or an organization. Then how does a logistics manager choose on which factor to focus on and where can he take a little leeway? 

So, What Is More Important? 

As we have seen, if the cost for a 3PL goes up, it will to some extent affect the product pricing. And depending on how the company chooses to deal with extra cost, it can also have a bearing on its profit margins and the bottom line. 

An article in CMO by Adobe shares that according to a survey by PwC titled Experience Is Everything, “52% of the respondents would pay for speedy and efficient customer service”. For 73% of the respondents, “a good experience is key in influencing brand loyalties”, and “60% said they would stop doing business with a company if they experienced unfriendly service”.

survey carried out by Capgemini in 2017 talks about consumer willingness to pay for a better service. According to the survey, 81% of the respondents are “willing to increase their spend with an organization for a better experience”. According to an article in Multi-Channel on a 2018 PwC survey titled: Future of Customer Experience, “customers across a wide variety of industries said they were willing to pay as much as a 16% premium for better service”.

The importance and need for good customer experience are only going to become more critical. 

These statistics spread over a couple of years adequately highlight the growing importance of good customer experience. In the interconnected global business environment, the importance and need for good customer experience are only going to become more critical. 

The above survey results also highlight two very crucial points related to customer service: the first, if it is good, it can help retain customers and even bring in new ones; the customers are willing to pay for quality customer experience and service. The second point that these surveys bring forth is that customers can discontinue business based on even single poor customer experience. In the long term, poor customer service will tend to have a larger impact on the bottom line than a slightly higher cost of the 3PL’s service. 

If you choose the right 3PL, in addition to good customer service you get many other benefits as well.

And if the surveys on customer service are anything to go by, efficient and timely customer service will be able to persuade the customers to bear a slightly higher product or service cost. If you choose the right 3PL, in addition to good customer service you get many other benefits as well. 

BlueGrace knows both these aspects are critical in creating a winning product proposition. We help build a cost-efficient and customer friendly supply chain, get in touch with our team today!

Amazon’s Next Frontier: The Food and Grocery Business

Amazon has already proved its mettle in the e-commerce space and in the distribution sector. Earlier in the year the company also staked its claim in the digital freight brokerage industry. Now, it has set its sight on the grocery business.   

Amazon’s Grocery Connect 

Unlike its other ventures, the retail giant’s foray into the food and grocery business has not been profitable — at least not yet.

For the uninitiated, Amazon is not new to the food business. It has been operating in the food and grocery sector since it acquired Whole Foods in 2017; Amazon Go stores; and its fresh grocery delivery service. However, unlike its other ventures, the retail giant’s foray into the food and grocery business has not been profitable — at least not yet. According to an article published in The Motley Fool, Amazon’s CFO Brian Olsavsk speaks about the company’s latest quarterly results saying, its sales from physical stores, which are principally Whole Foods revenue, were actually down by 1.3% from the previous year — “this is the only major segment of Amazon’s net sales that didn’t show any growth”. 

This has not dissuaded the company from making further investment in the food and grocery business though. Early last month, it announced its plans to launch a new brick and mortar food and grocery store brand. The first store will be opened Woodland Hills, California in 2020.  This new business will be separate from its existing food and grocery business.  

With this announcement, one can say with certainty that for next year, one of Amazon’s major business goals will be to acquire a large slice of the global grocery and food retail market which is estimated to be worth USD 12.24 trillion by 2020

What will be different in the new venture?  

While Amazon has a presence in the food business, its reach has been limited. According to news reports, Amazon is aiming to reach a wider customer base. While Amazon’s Whole Foods business caters to the high-end customer, the new stores will be designed to cater to mid and low-income households. The new stores are expected to enable Amazon to offer their customers a range of products more in line with other large retailers like Walmart, Costco, and Kroger.   

In an article in Forbes retail expert Neil Stern, explores in-depth what the customer can expect from Amazon’s yet to be named new grocery venture: 

  • The new store will be omnichannel from the beginning 
  • It will have ample space for in-store picking and holding facilities 
  • The focus will be on mainstream products 
  • It will be more price-competitive than the Whole Foods business  
  • It may focus more on Amazon’s private label  

Will technology be a part of the new venture?  

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology.

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology. So it goes without saying that technology will be a large part of the newly announced grocery venture as well. In his article, Neil shares that the new store might not be as tech-savvy as the facilities available at Amazon Go stores. Further adding that technology in the new store might not be immediately scalable.  

Irrespective of the level of savviness, we can safely assume that technology will play an important role in the store, if not initially, then going forth.  

What’s in it for you?  

Business opportunities.  

Anyone associated with the business world knows, Amazon works on a large scale. The new grocery venture will sell a wide range of products. To run this operation efficiently and competitively, Amazon will need to source products from a variety of suppliers. And for this, the e-commerce behemoth will need to enlist a large number of suppliers.   

While working with a large scale operator like Amazon has its perks, it also has stringent requirements. Organizations like Amazon expect high quality, regular supply of goods, and adherence to delivery timelines from their suppliers. Given the fact that the e-commerce giant is a technology-driven company, it will also look for tech-savviness in its business partners.  

So, what are the qualities required to become a supplier for such a large scale venture? 

You need to have a rigorous inventory management system, a strong forecasting technique, and a well-managed distribution center. 

While the company will share what it would look for in a supplier, there are a few things that are usually expected from suppliers working with large scale multinational companies such as Amazon: 

  1. Quality products: There can be no compromise on this ever. The product, packaging, and delivery all have to follow a set standard. Any deviation from the standard can lead to losing the contract.  
  2. Technology: Technology is gradually taking over the retail space. Data transfer, reports, and invoicing are all done electronically, usually with the help of specialized software. Suppliers need to ensure that their organization is not only able to transfer required data in a systematic way electronically but is also connected internally through technology. This will help ensure both accuracy and speed in work and data exchange.  
  3. Strong supply chain: A robust supply chain with end-to-end visibility is an essential requirement to do business with large scale organizations such as Amazon. For this, you need to have a rigorous inventory management system, a strong forecasting technique, and a well-managed distribution center. 
  4. Reliable transporters: Another important factor in successfully servicing a large retail store chain is a reliable transporter/carrier with a well-connected network and a good track record of on-time delivery.  

To know what other factors come into play for qualifying as a supplier for a large, food and grocery retail chain, download our whitepaper  Whole Foods: Thriving as a supplier in the complex supermarket supply chain.  

The food and grocery retail landscape is set to change with new technologies being adopted by the retail leaders. To cater to them and work alongside them, their suppliers will also have to deploy modern technology in their business.  This is where we can work with you to make your supply chain – Amazon ready or any food and grocery retail business ready.  To know how we can assist you in getting there, connect with our team at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below.

What you can do to help “Weather-proof” Your Supply Chain?

Weather events can put a drastic slow down on your operations and unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to predict exactly when these events will happen. Sure, there are seasonal weather events like snow and hurricanes, which gives us a reasonable timeframe in which to expect these types of events. But even then, it still becomes a matter of “wait and see” as to whether or not the event will come to pass. And what about the events that we don’t expect such as nor’easters, polar vortex, or wildfires? There are certain catalysts that can create a potential for these events, such as an extended drought, but there’s no way of knowing for sure until the event is actually happening.  

In the event of something truly catastrophic, such as a hurricane, there’s even more pressure for the trucking industry to keep rolling on schedule.  

For most businesses, bad weather simply means staying home for the day and waiting for the weather to pass. Trucking companies, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Drivers are still expected to maintain their routes and delivery schedules, in spite of bad weather conditions. In the event of something truly catastrophic, such as a hurricane, there’s even more pressure for the trucking industry to keep rolling on schedule.  

Severe weather events can disrupt the supply chain causing lag and bottlenecks, especially during a true black swan event in which trucks are rerouted for emergency relief.  

For shippers and manufacturers, weather events can wreak havoc on delivery schedules, even when the weather event is thousands of miles away from you. Severe weather events can disrupt the supply chain causing lag and bottlenecks, especially during a true black swan event in which trucks are rerouted for emergency relief.  

So what can you do to prepare your supply chain against such events? 

A Reason for the Season 

Winter or summer, springtime floods or tropical storms in the fall, Mother Nature has predictably unpredictable conditions to throw at us. Plan in advance for alternate routes and parking locations if the regular road is closed and the usual truck parking is filled. Know in advance where road construction is planned. Always carry emergency gear appropriate to the season. Have a reliable response ready when faced with unreliable weather conditions. 

Part of preparing that reliable response is having good resources to turn to for accurate information. Every truck driver and every motor carrier dispatcher should have a list of phone numbers and websites for up-to-date reports on local weather, road closures, road construction and emergency notifications, such as during floods and storms. There are, of course, excellent commercial websites, products and services available. 

Here is a guide to begin building your own list of resources:

Always pull off the road and park in a safe location before checking websites or placing a phone call. Predictable responses and resources will help you meet the unpredictability of Mother Nature. 

Dealing with Sudden Spot Rate Hikes

One of the major aspects to keep in mind when you’re planning for weather events is how truckload rates can be affected by the weather. Since supply chains have become a global engine, a disruption in one location can cause problems in another. For shippers, that disruption can mean unexpectedly higher rates for shipping.

Here are a few best practices to dealing with a sudden surge in spot rates.  

  • Consider working with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to augment your available capacity and carrier options: Outsourcing eliminates the burden of completing work in-house, but it still relies on efficiency in operation. 3PLs holistic approach, buying, and negotiating power can help augment your operations year-round.  
  • Explore intermodal and multimodal shipping options when the first chances of a storm’s arrival become apparent: Intermodal and multimodal shipping are usually used interchangeably, but both offer unique advantages to getting around after a major weather event.  
  • Increase the shipping budget through proactive, cost-saving measures through year-round operations: Cost-saving measures, such as improved dock management and load planning will naturally lead to savings in the budget. Such savings must not be 100% logged into the company profile. Instead, a percentage should be allocated for use in handling stretches in the freight budget after a disaster. More importantly, gains in efficiency will build resiliency and agility, allowing the supply chain to flex to meet the demands after a disaster.  

Batten Down the Hatches at HQ 

Spot rates are one way to deal with weather events abroad, but what happens when the storm is on your doorstep? Trucks being diverted can slow down your supply chain but when your base of operations is out of commission, everything comes to a grinding halt. Having a robust plan in place is necessary, especially if you operate in a location where inclement weather events is a yearly risk.  

Having the right infrastructure in place should be your first step.

Having the right infrastructure in place should be your first step. Does your main office have a contingency for backup power? How about internet access? Can your employees remotely access your company’s phone and operating systems? Something so simple as backup generators and remote desktops can keep operations moving despite external factors.  

Consider your personnel as well. Flexibility and cross-training of your staff mean that everyone on your roster is capable of handling a wider array of responsibilities. This is especially crucial during situations of crisis management when your A-team for customer service might be occupied with other necessary tasks.  

The better prepared it is, the more efficient it will be when it really counts.  

Having the right infrastructure in place is only the beginning, it’s important to have a plan in place for when the weather turns awry. More importantly, your team should know and understand the procedures for when such events take place. The better prepared it is, the more efficient it will be when it really counts.  To speak to one of our freight experts, contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below

USMCA – What is It and How Does It Impact the Shipping & Logistics Industry?

What Is USMCA? 

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is the new trade deal between the three countries. It is set to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was in effect since January 1, 1994.  As on date, the new trade agreement has already been approved by the Senate Finance Committee and it is due to be presented in the full Senate in the latter half of January 2020. While Mexico has already ratified the new trade deal, Canada is yet to ratify it.  

The Office of the United States Trade Representative describes the new agreement as: “The United States, Mexico, and Canada have reached an agreement to modernize the 25-year-old NAFTA into the 21st century, high-standard agreement. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will support mutually beneficial trade leading to freer markets, fairer trade, and robust economic growth in North America.” 

The Trade Representative’s website also quotes President Trump on the new agreement, saying – “USMCA is a great deal for all three countries, solves the many deficiencies and mistakes in NAFTA, greatly opens markets to our farmers and manufacturers, reduces trade barriers to the U.S. and will bring all three Great Nations together in competition with the rest of the world.” 

In short, the new agreement aims to update the provisions of NAFTA to suit the current economic and business scenario. 

How Does The New Trade Deal Benefit The US?

The new trade agreement provides the US with benefits in the areas of intellectual property, digital trade, De minimis, financial services, environment, currency, and labor. It is also expected to help improve agriculture trade in the region and boost manufacturing activities.  

According to an article published in CNN.com, which quotes data from the US International Trade Commission, a federal government agency, the initial phase of the new trade agreement is expected to add around 176,000 jobs after 6 years of its implementation and increase the GDP by 0.35%. It is also expected that the USMCA will help streamline trade among the three participating nations and provide them with opportunities to optimize trade transaction costs.  

What Will Be Its Impact On The Shipping And Logistics Industry? 

Like all cross border trade agreements, the USMCA will also have some amount of impact on the shipping and logistics industry. Chapter seven of the trade deal talks in detail about the Customs and Trade Facilitation aspect of the agreement, the points mentioned here will directly affect the shipping and logistics industry.  Some of the key points are:  

  1. Digitalizing regulations: Lack of proper and accurate regulatory information is one of the biggest hindrances to cross border trade. Incorrect information or cumbersome data gathering process often keep small businesses away from expanding their trade. USMCA aims to eliminate this primary barrier to trade. It has provided guidelines to the trading partners to provide easy, free, and online access to the country’s regulations, trade procedures, laws, duties, various charges, and documentation requirements. 
  2. Online documentation processing: In keeping with the current times, the USMCA has directed the member nations to leverage technology to simplify and speed up the process. The trade deal requires the trading partners to create a digital platform to submit customs declaration and other required documents and make the system accessible to all concerned parties.
  3. Streamlining compliances: In Article 7.11- titled Transparency, Predictability, and Consistency of Customs Procedures, each of the participating nations are expected to create uniform trade/export-import rules and regulations for their country.  This will not only help smoothen the trade procedure but will also simplify it. 
  4. Increase in De minimis: In the new trade deal, the US has acquired an increase in the De minimis shipment value from both of its trading partners. When the USMCA comes into force, in addition to the current USD $50 threshold for tax free shipment, the US will also get duty free shipment up to USD $117 from Mexico. Canada has also increased its De minimis shipment value from C$20 to C$40 and will offer duty-free shipments up to C$150.   

A higher De minimis value will help both small businesses and transporters to increase their trade with the two partner nations without having to bear the burden of additional duties and taxes.   

  1. Express shipments: One major complaint shippers have is delay in shipment release at customs. This point has been addressed in the new tri-party trade deal under the express shipment clause. The clause asks the nations to process all documentation prior to shipment arrival and expedite the release of such shipments if all required documents and data have been duly submitted.
  2. Single window: To speed up the cross border trade, the new agreement has made provisions to set up a single-window clearance system that is technology-based. It also instructs the trading countries to ensure that the system timely informs the exporters, importers and other users of the status of their cargo.  

Along with these provisions, the USMCA has also taken into consideration import-export aspects like post-clearance audit, risk management, protection of trader information, and creation of a committee on trade facilitation among other various provisions with an aim to boost trade in the Northern region.  

If you would like a FREE supply chain analysis or if you would like to know more about how the Customs Administration and Trade Facilitation rules and regulations impact your business, get in touch with our team today at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below !  

Shippers Growing Success With 3PLs 

The 24th Annual Third-Party Logistics Study for 2020 has been released and it shows a growing success between shippers and their 3PL partners. 

“The majority of shippers, 93%, report that the relationships they have with their 3PLs generally have been successful. A higher number of 3PLs, 99%, agree that relationships have generally been successful,” the study says.  

As 3PLs continue to offer a wider array of services, shippers have been eager to leverage what they have to offer.

The study continues to find that shippers and their 3PL partners are developing a much greater awareness and synchronicity of goals, as well as how data sharing and new technology can help them advance those goals. As 3PLs continue to offer a wider array of services, shippers have been eager to leverage what they have to offer. The result is an optimization of the supply chain, reduced costs, and the creation of overall value within the supply chain.

“This year’s study once again proves that shippers and their 3PL providers are strengthening their relationships and continually moving toward meaningful partnerships. They are collaborating to accomplish their supply chain goals and improve efficiencies. The available evidence confirms that both parties are creating reliable solutions and improving the end-user experience for the customer, which is allowing shippers to use the supply chain as a strategic, competitive advantage.” 

3PLs Are Rising to the Occasion 

Currently, both shippers and 3PLs have been enjoying favorable economic conditions both at home and abroad. That is not to say that it has been a perfectly smooth road as both continue to face challenges in transportation capacity and facility-based resources. However, the relationship has proven to be beneficial to both parties as they’ve worked together to overcome tight customer deadlines and raise both customer and consumer satisfaction levels. 

Another advantage to the relationship between 3PLs and shippers is the ability to adapt to and overcome challenges .

Shippers, of course, have higher expectations of their service providers and third-party providers have responded by increasing not only their service offerings but also their innovations when it comes to overcoming challenges within the current market environment. Simply put, transportation and logistics companies are realizing that the focus needs to be placed on digital capabilities, cost and asset efficiencies, and a broader range of services to meet their customers’ needs.

Current Global Market Challenges

The logistics and freight industry is in a state of flux currently. New technologies, tighter regulations, and growing customer expectations are all forcing necessary changes to the supply chain. According to the 2020 study, here are some of the biggest challenges shippers and 3PLs are facing to date. 

Growth of e-commerce: E-commerce and the “Amazon effect” have had a tremendous impact on brick and mortar retailers. The result is that many of them are branching out into omni-channel marketing and distribution to meet customer needs. This adds a whole new layer to existing logistics and supply chain structures.  

There are both domestic and global economic changes that are putting pressure on supply chains to adapt and react.

Economic uncertainty: There are both domestic and global economic changes that are putting pressure on supply chains to adapt and react. Many of these include sourcing new suppliers and improving cross border relationships with trading partners. There are also signs of slowdowns within certain major global economies which will soften demand and create new challenges for shippers.   

Driver shortage: This problem is not unique to the United States, but it’s certainly one of the most prevalent locations. With the average age of the American truck driver approaching retirement, there is a decided lack of interest in younger generations to get behind the wheel. ATA’s chief economist,  Bob Costello estimates that the current 60,000 driver deficit could reach 160,000 by 2028.  

Disruptive technologies: While disruptive technology breeds innovation within the industry the difficulty of adapting and integrating these new technologies also increases. Some of the disruptive technologies impacting supply chains include the use of drones, autonomous vehicles, cloud-based capabilities, artificial intelligence (AI), internet-of-things (IoT), blockchain.  

While dealing with all the above challenges, there’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the competition.

Competitive challenges: While dealing with all the above challenges, there’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the competition. Especially as there is a new start-up for every day that is poised to disrupt businesses, business models, or even entire industries. This applies to all, trading and manufacturing companies, as well as logistics providers, who are attempting to differentiate themselves from a growing number of startups backed with millions of dollars worth of venture capital investments. 

The take away from the survey is that shippers and third party providers are growing and prospering together.

The take away from the survey is that shippers and third party providers are growing and prospering together. As new challenges arise, shippers are looking to 3PLs for answers, innovations, and solutions. Conversely, 3PLs are looking to build long term and steady relationships with shippers as the number of providers continues to grow.  

With growing uncertainty in the geo-policitical arena, new technologies, and the explosive growth of e-commerce, it’s likely that we will continue to see growth in the relationships between shippers and 3PLs. For more information on how BlueGrace can be the partner to help strengthen and bring visibility to your supply chain, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts.

Can Advanced Analytics Put a Pin in OTIF?

According to the 2020 Third-Party Logistics Study, data analytics is not only becoming more viable in the logistics industry, but it’s also becoming a necessity and make a difference. With the growing storm that is e-commerce, brick and mortar retailers have had to step twice as fast in order to stay in the game. Especially, when you consider some of the power plays made by the internet titan, Amazon. As one of Amazon’s biggest sources of competition for domestic goods Walmart, in particular, has tightened their game up significantly.

In particular, Walmart uses some stringent policies to ensure that shelves stay stocked and goods are arriving exactly when the retail stores need them to. First is the Must Arrive By Date (MABD) provision, which means that suppliers must have deliveries to the store within a certain delivery window, typically four days, while also having a high invoice accuracy. This is a fairly standard industry practice for retail stores to ensure timely deliveries. 

Failure to meet these requirements could mean a 3 percent chargeback per case value of each missing item. 

However, Walmart as since followed that up with their heavy-handed On Time In Full (OTIF) policy. Now suppliers must have deliveries at the store within a two-day window, no later and no earlier either (even early deliveries will still be penalized.) Failure to meet these requirements could mean a 3 percent chargeback per case value of each missing item. 

As of April 1st of 2018, the company made the policy even harder. Prior to then, the OTIF policy stated that full truckload shipments needed to meet a 75 percent OTIF rating and less-than-truckload shipments needed to meet 33 percent OTIF to avoid fines. Now, FTLs are required to meet an 85 percent standard (down from the lofty 95 percent they had originally planned) while LTL requirements have increased to 36 percent. In addition to the chargebacks, too many violations could cause a shipper to fall out of favor with Walmart and lose supplier status, which would be a major financial hit for most companies.  

But what happens if demand is peaked and capacity is booked?

For shippers, OTIF can make for a tight schedule. But what happens if demand is peaked and capacity is booked? What if there’s a major weather event that has the logistics network scrambled? Shippers need better tools at their disposal to keep things running smoothly, and that’s where data analytics comes into play. 

How Analytics can Make a Difference 

There is a truly astounding amount of data that can be captured within the supply chain. As more companies begin the process of digitizing their operations and automating their systems, just about everything can be tracked, traced, quantified, and speculated. The challenge, however, is making sense of it all. There is such a surplus of data that it leads to a sort of data overload and can turn even the most avid analyst catatonic. 

Analytics turns this vast amount of information into insight, according to the 2020 Third-Party Logistics Study by Infosys Consulting, Penn State University and Penske Logistics presented at the CSCMP Edge conference in Anaheim, California. And with this insight, “you stand a much better chance of improving your operations,” says John Langley, professor of Supply Chain Management at Penn State University. 

Real-time information can help to match supply with demand. But that’s not all it can do. Far from it, in fact.  

To some degree, the logistics industry has already started to use real-time data and analytics. Langley sites dynamic pricing in freight for an example. Here, real-time information can help to match supply with demand. But that’s not all it can do. Far from it, in fact.  
 
For shippers, there is a wide array of challenges they encounter on a daily basis. Of the shippers that responded to the 3PL study, many agreed that the use of analytics would be helpful to many facets of their operations as well as overcoming the challenges they face day to day.

Type of problem % of shippers who said analytics would be helpful 
On-time and complete order fulfillment 69% 
Shipment visibility 63% 
Freight costs per shipment 60% 
Transit time 59% 
Cost to serve 58% 
Order-to-delivery cycle time 58% 


Langley says that analytics is ideal for tracking and improving a KPI like Walmart’s OTIF, because the policy itself is a compound metric. And while it might be easy to villainize Walmart from a shipper’s perspective, they aren’t the only company to use aggressive tactics like this. Target, Kroger, Costco, and others are also tightening their regulations in order to keep their shelves stocked. 

Learning From Your Mistakes 

Perhaps one of the most powerful tools of data analytics is it gives you a different perspective of your operations and allows you to drill down to pivotal details. Why was your shipment late? Why were there missing pieces? Analytics can determine the cause and effect relationships to target the root cause of the issue while sorting out coincidence and other anomalies. In other words, real-time data analysis allows you to track where things went awry and focus on improving operations so that particular issue doesn’t happen again. “If you can measure it, capture it, analyze it, you can use it to your advantage in terms of knowing more about your own processes,” Langley says.  

Getting to be a supplier for Walmart is no small matter.

Getting to be a supplier for Walmart is no small matter. For companies that already have that title, keeping it is important. However, even shippers that don’t have the best scorecards, analytics can prove to be a useful bargaining chip. If you’re able to prove yourself, and that you have the right measures in place to improve operations, it’s likely that you can demonstrate your worth as a supplier and make it to the “in” list.  

For a better understanding of how to navigate OTIF and other ways to improve your operational efficiency, check out our white paper: Walmart: the retail-supplier relationship. You can also speak with one of our experts by calling us at 800.MY.SHIPPING, or filling out the form below.

The Definition of Transparency

As companies mature and the market changes, our understanding of crucial operating components of any industry has also grown. Supply chain transparency, in particular, has come a long way over the past twenty years. Transparency within the supply chain has gone from an unrecognized concept to a focus item for the C-Suite across a vast number of companies and industries. Given the current state of the market, it’s no small surprise either.

So in order to begin understanding transparency in the supply chain, we first need to define it.

Many, if not all, companies are facing increasing pressure from governments, consumers, non-profit / activist groups, and stakeholders to provide more information about their supply chain. Failure to do so could mean some serious damage to the company’s reputation. Slave or forced labor conditions, health and safety violations, animal exploitation, and child labor are all becoming hot button topics of the growing consumer conscience. While the reasons for explaining a higher need for transparency are clear, what is less clear is how to get there. Some companies are struggling to make a meaningful change to their operations to provide the much-needed levels of transparency.

As it is with most problems there is a lack of a clear and concise definition, according to an MIT study which conducted a survey of the apparel industry only to find wildly different results. So in order to begin understanding transparency in the supply chain, we first need to define it.

Understanding the Need Transparency

At its core, supply chain transparency is understanding what’s happening within the supply chain and being able to communicate that knowledge both within and outside the organization.

As we mentioned earlier, there is an increase in customer demand for insight into the supply chain, but it’s not without benefit. The researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management found that consumers are willing to pay between 2 and 10 percent more for products produced by companies that have better supply chain visibility. The study showed that consumers place a higher value in a company that can prove the ethical treatment of their workers. What’s more is that this growing consumer base is seeking more information about product ingredients and materials, where the product is coming from, and the conditions in which it was produced.

As the demand for visibility continues to increase, so too will the potential fallout for companies that fail to provide it.

As the demand for visibility continues to increase, so too will the potential fallout for companies that fail to provide it. Over the last decade, there have been a number of scandals that have had a significant detrimental impact on company image and reputation. Slave labor in the Thai seafood industry and deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia are ample examples of this.

The backlash created from these scandals has forced the creation of new transparency laws around the world. Australia the UK have created new regulations to combat forced labor. The state of California has also created supply chain transparency laws (California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.) The U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act is targeting food safety and ingredient fraud. There are also further regulations to come from the Netherlands and Switzerland, with other countries to follow suit.

What this means for companies is that a lack of supply chain transparency can stop operations dead in their tracks.

What this means for companies is that a lack of supply chain transparency can stop operations dead in their tracks. Something as simple as missing origin documents could cause a shipment to be either held up or even turned away at ports which can result in a costly delay throughout the entire supply chain.

So Why Aren’t All Companies on Board?

You would think that with the new levels of consumer consciousness and the growing global regulations that all companies would be scrambling to build transparency into their supply chains. Yet, there are many companies that are either slow to act or not act at all.

One reason for the delay is that the supply chain itself was never designed to allow for transparency. Manufacturers and suppliers alike fear to expose their sources as they might lose the edge against their competition. Another explanation for being slow to act is inaccurate data coming from upstream, assuming there is data to be had at all. Lastly, there’s also considerable concern about the ROI for investing in supply chain transparency.

Despite the challenges, there are plenty of reasons to get on board with supply chain transparency.

The Benefits of Supply Chain Transparency

The returns gained from efforts made on improving supply chain transparency will vary by business model and industry but overall there are a number of benefits that are applicable to most companies.

One of the most straightforward benefits is that increased transparency means keeping in compliance with the new regulations that are being enforced. Operational risks drop as a result as companies no longer have to worry about being able to get freight through customs.

There are also considerable benefits to a company image that come with higher levels of visibility. Consumer conscience is a huge market factor right now. Customers are happy knowing that their products are made with care and concern towards the environment and the people working to make their products. As a result, they’re willing to pay more, which can help offset potential higher supply chain costs. Additionally, consumer trust and satisfaction also rise, which creates stronger brand loyalty and a larger customer base.

Better visibility means better, more actionable data, which in turn can help drive a company’s growth and profitability.

Of course, there are also operational benefits to be had by utilizing a highly visible supply chain. Better visibility means better, more actionable data, which in turn can help drive a company’s growth and profitability. That data also highlights areas of improvement, meaning a company can run leaner, cleaner, and a whole lot greener.

This isn’t a trend in the sense that we’ll see it fall out of fashion any time soon. Supply chain transparency is becoming an industry standard and will continue to flourish. If your company isn’t working towards transparency, it might be time to get started. For more information on how BlueGrace can help give you the visibility you need to gain efficiency, feel free to contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below:

Making your Warehouse, Worthy

For a logistics player to be successful, it is imperative to regularly check if every aspect of the supply chain process is working at optimum capability. The surest way to ensure this is to keep a checklist. Tom Peters, the author of In Search of Excellence, says, “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing, layout, processes, and procedures.”

In this article, we delve into the details of making a warehouse future-ready and examine the steps required to achieve warehouse excellence.

The Bigger Picture – Before getting into the nitty-gritty and finer details, it is first important to have a macroscopic view and understanding of the warehouse as a whole. This entails mapping the warehouse, studying the building & area and checking the surfaces for damages and weak areas. All these actions ensure that before the warehouse is stocked, and equipment such as forklifts are brought in, it is capable of handling the capacity and regular operations.

Goods that are easily visible, make them easy to locate when timelines are short and add to the smooth functioning of the supply chain process.

Light, Ventilation & Drainage — A well-lit warehouse makes it easier to navigate and work in. Goods that are easily visible, make them easy to locate when timelines are short and add to the smooth functioning of the supply chain process.

Ventilation goes a long way in combating dust and fumes that may arise when moving equipment within the warehouse. A well-designed ventilation system will make a huge difference in maintaining the longevity of the warehouse. 

In a similar way, a disaster-proof drainage system can make all the difference in the preservation of products during a natural disaster such as a storm or a fire or even areas that are exposed to the elements. Paying due attention to designing these crucial details improves efficiency and adds immensely to not just improving daily operations, but also, preserving the warehouse in the long term.

Cleanliness is the Key — Keeping the warehouse clean entails a number of practices that contribute to the overall hygiene of the warehouse while making it easy to maneuver on a daily basis. Ensuring that trash cans are placed at convenient locations, emptying trash cans periodically, keeping the area clean, all play a part in the overall maintenance and upkeep of the warehouse. Additionally, keeping the floors clean afford clear visibility of the exit signs and protect against accidents that could occur due to spillage and obstructions that may happen during daily operations.

Safety is the most important factor in any industry and must be prioritized above all else.

Safety is Paramount — Safety is the most important factor in any industry and must be prioritized above all else. This includes various aspects from regular fire drills and ensuring the equipment is serviced and up-to-date for any contingency to giving employees access to adequate training and gear for safe operations. Staff handling forklifts and heavy machinery must be provided with certified hard hats, gloves, and other protective gear to protect against any mishap that might happen. Labels and handling instructions on products must be visible all the time. Continuous training of staff about the correct and expected ways of protecting themselves, others, and assets is essential. In the event of an emergency, staff must have easy access to all the tools necessary to not just protect themselves but any other persons that may be in the warehouse. These competencies can be the difference between life and death in times of crisis.

Regular checks and inspections are essential for maintaining the standard of a warehouse.

Miscellaneous — Apart from taking care to examine that the above aspects are in order, regular checks and inspections are essential for maintaining the standard of a warehouse. From checking the storage racks and vehicle inspection processes at the loading dock, to inspecting elements such as the quality of the railings, uniformity of the stairs, access areas, aisles etc. on a regular basis must be taken into due consideration and set within processes that should be part of a cycle within organizations.

Apart from the above, Everything Warehouse lists a warehouse audit checklist that demonstrates what an audit should include:

  • Facility current and optimum capacity and throughput
  • Logistical layout and material flow
  • Safety, security, and housekeeping
  • Systems functional capabilities and performance
  • Customer service performance metrics
  • Productivity analyses
  • Storage and handling equipment
  • Inventory accuracy
  • Identification of opportunities for improvement
  • Comprehensive warehouse audit report with recommendations

In conclusion, there are many aspects that go into making a warehouse and in turn, the whole supply chain process efficient and future-ready. If done periodically, this ensures smooth operations, regular maintenance & review and better planning.

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An Uncertain Trucking Horizon—“The Risks of a Mild Recession Have Increased”

While the U.S has boasted some rather pleasing levels of growth and continued prosperity following the recession nearly a decade ago, we might be seeing an end to it, at least in some sectors, shippers and carriers in particular. According to the Cass Freight Shipments Index, May statistics dropped 6 percent, year over year, while the ATA For-Hire Truck Tonnage index shows only a suggestion of growth at 0.9 percent from May 2018, the smallest annualized gain since April 2017. 

Shippers not only paid less to move freight, but they also moved less product as well, indicating a slowing down of business. 

That however, is only the tip of the iceberg. The Cass Freight Expenditure index turned negative by one percent, beginning a descent after climbing a healthy 6.2 percent. This is a rather substantial switch which indicates that shippers not only paid less to move freight, but they also moved less product as well, indicating a slowing down of business. 

Stats are also slowing down for the US truckload linehaul rates, with rate increases of only 1.2 percent in May, year over year, whereas the Cass Intermodal Price Index was up 4.2 percent the year before. 

As the Cass Shipments Index has declined for the sixth straight month, author of the index report Donald Broughton, declared it a signal of economic contraction. “Whether it is a result of contagion or trade disputes, there is growing evidence from freight flows that the economy is beginning to contract,” he said in the report, issued Tuesday.

Contraction, as you might have guessed, is quite the opposite of expansion. It’s not even a matter of incrementally slow growth, but rather shrinking. A contraction is what has people nervous. Textbook definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of economic contraction and we’re at six, presently. That has Broughton sounding the alarm, however, the contraction is not yet universal, nor is the Cass Shipment index going negative a guaranteed indicator of economic distress.  

The question is, does this sudden reversal in spending and drop in shipments mean simply a slow down in growth, an economic contraction, or is it mirroring a shift in freight demand brought on by the Trump Administrations tariffs?

The question is, does this sudden reversal in spending and drop in shipments mean simply a slow down in growth, an economic contraction, or is it mirroring a shift in freight demand brought on by the Trump Administrations tariffs? Or, is it a mix of all these factors? 

A Recession Could Hurt Some More than Others

When you don’t take risks, that means we are not going to grow at the same pace that we were.

Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist and senior vice president of international trade policy and cross-border operations, spoke to the council here. “When I come to meetings like this, everyone is like, “What is going on? Are we headed for a recession?’ ” Costello said. “When people start asking those questions, you know what that tells me? You go back to your businesses, and you are not going to take risks. And when you don’t take risks, that means we are not going to grow at the same pace that we were.”

Costello sites President Trump’s trade war as a cause for much of the uncertainty in the industry which is one of the many unknowns that could hurt the U.S. economy, ending the period of expansion since the third quarter of 2009. 

To be fair, that is a considerable time for expansion to go uninterrupted, but Costello also is hesitant to call the current market status a possible recession in 2019 and 2020. 

“The risks of a mild recession have increased,” Costello told the audience of freight officials and executives at a recent NAFC conference. “It’s not my forecast. All I am saying is, the risks have increased.  The theme is slowing but growing.”

With the increase in pay to help keep experienced drivers and attract new ones combined with the lower spot rates for hauls, it could prove to be a deadly combination for smaller carriers.

Fleets stand to lose the most during the economic uncertainty, especially smaller carriers who are at the mercy of the spot markets which has been getting hit with rate drops over the past few months. With the increase in pay to help keep experienced drivers and attract new ones combined with the lower spot rates for hauls, it could prove to be a deadly combination for smaller carriers.

“Contract freight is doing better than the spot market,” Costello said. “The spot market has been hit hard … I think you are going to see more and more fleets going out of business.”

The situation could result in potential “carnage” with some fleets, as they seek bankruptcy protection or simply go out of business, he added.

A Muted Spring for Freight

Spring was undoubtedly a soft season for the freight industry this year, but we’re seeing the dam start to break, or at the very least crack. Truckload rates reported by DAT solutions out of Atlanta have risen by double digits in the last few weeks as more and more freight appears to be moving in land from U.S. West coast, always a good sign as it will mean that June statistics and rates were higher than May. 

This is very good news for owner-operators and independents that depend on the spot market more than their larger counterparts. However, that breathing room might not be long-lived if the current downward trend continues. 

“In the short term, Los Angeles, northern California, and Atlanta are much more robust in the last thirty days, both in load-to-truck ratios and, more recently, pricing,” says Mark Montague, an industry pricing analyst at DAT.

“While we are starting to see higher quantities of summer produce, USDA and DAT’s own internal data suggest it continues to be a sub-par year for produce shipments.  It could still turn around with a few weeks of favorable growing conditions, so this remains a wild card. This will also have a ripple effect across other segments of the supply chain,” Montague adds.  

A recession, while not a great thing, wouldn’t be totally devastating to contract carriers, but it might be damning for smaller companies.

What we’ve seen so far is that the future is decidedly unclear, much of it due to the current geopolitical standing and impending trade war as the global economy reshuffles its hand preparing for the next round. A recession, while not a great thing, wouldn’t be totally devastating to contract carriers, but it might be damning for smaller companies. As for shippers, now is the time to review your supply chains and develop your contingency plans for a multitude of events including the growing impact of e-commerce demand and rapid fulfillment expectations on freight flow and distribution locations. 

The industry is changing, and we will be seeing a radical shift in the topography of freight shipping, both the highs and the lows, not just in the United States but globally. BlueGrace is committed to helping our customers navigate through the constant changes the industry brings. No matter the situation, we are here to simplify your freight needs. If you have any questions about how a 3PL like BlueGrace can assist, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak with a representative today!