Navigating Replenishment Challenges in a Time of Crisis

DeAnna Swinton
Published on April 3, 2020

By Jeff Tucker, CEO, Tucker Company Worldwide

By now, we’ve all gotten used to seeing stockouts at our local grocery store, or placing an online grocery order only to have the bulk of your items be canceled or replaced. As CEO of a freight brokerage, I’m not just a consumer that’s inconvenienced by this recent phenomenon — it's part of my responsibility to understand what’s going on behind the scenes, and to have my staff at the ready to help with the inevitable transportation challenges that come during a crisis.

When emergency strikes, my business is (and has been, for almost 60 years) on the frontlines of the supply chain, helping to deliver essential items like food, medicine, and emergency supplies. Replenishing stockouts during a crisis like COVID-19 seems easy enough in concept, but there are a lot of factors combining right now to make this particular crisis even more complex.

First, businesses around the country are operating with a significant portion (if not all) of their teams working remotely. Naturally, when your business is built on a foundation of in-person collaboration — as many transportation departments are — it can be challenging to maintain the same level of productivity. Our customers are being forced to adapt while also taking on additional work, in the form of replenishing essential items and expanding their network of carriers and transportation providers … to say nothing about finding the additional supply or ramping up production. (Read more about how the just-in-time economy contributed to shortages of goods here.)

Second, everyone has been scrambling to keep up with regulations that are changing by the minute and understand the patchwork of “shelter in place” orders and laws that states have been issuing one by one. We’ve always provided our market expertise to our shippers, but recently we’ve been called on to dissect each state’s laws and advise our customers on the potential implications for their business. We've fielded questions from large national shippers about whether dog food falls under the “essential” category, for example (it doesn’t), and whether they can move their specific type of freight in states that have declared shelter in place orders for businesses. Trade associations have come to the rescue to synthesize essential information, lifting that burden off of businesses.

Third, our stalwart carriers and their drivers are continually faced with both literal and figurative roadblocks. Today, there are about 3 million for-hire truck drivers — very few of whom have parked their trucks to sit this virus out. Each of these drivers is facing their own set of challenges. Ensuring the locations they're serving are open is a big one. Making sure they have the right paperwork to show that they’re hauling essential goods is another. And, of course, let’s not forget about planning their routes around rest stops that are actually open. Plus, items that have never been considered valuable in the past suddenly require an increased level of vigilance (hand sanitizer, for example). It’s never been more important for us to do our due diligence to make sure our carriers and drivers have the information they need to safely, securely, and efficiently move their loads. Across the globe, we’re all reminded of how important truck drivers and warehouse workers are to sustaining us. Despite all of the risks, drivers keep driving. They wrap themselves in the flag, and carry on willing to serve. We’re grateful for their work, and we need to support them as they do their jobs.

It’s safe to say that just about every industry is reeling from this unexpected turn of events, and the ocean liner metaphor rings especially true: the bigger the ship — the more difficult it is to turn. As we look toward the future, we can’t help but do so with a bit of anxiety.

In the short term, truckers are hanging in there, but if this crisis continues much longer, we’re fearful that owner-operators and small fleets without a customer base may be under-capitalized and might not survive the downturn. We're hopeful that the economy will come roaring back once the virus threat is under control — but getting goods to market may be extremely challenging if large amounts of capacity have been wiped out.

Our company is no stranger to crisis response, and we’re lucky to have a myriad of experiences to pull from as we’ve helped our shippers and carriers navigate uncertainties over these past few weeks. In 1979, our company supported nuclear containment at Three Mile Island. We were at ground zero on September 11, 2001. We have supported the military and federal government, including FEMA, for countless national emergencies. Today, we’re putting our expertise to work moving medicine, relief supplies, and other essential goods to support the COVID-19 response in areas around the country. We realize how frustrating stockouts and slow deliveries can be, but from our unique vantage point arranging transportation, both carriers and shippers are ramping up their efforts and doing their best to navigate all the new challenges thrown at them the past few weeks — and we think everyone involved in moving what’s moving is doing an outstanding job.

Tucker Company Worldwide has navigated capacity crises for over 60 years. If you have any questions, please contact us today!

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