The Impact Of Weather On The Supply Chain And How You Can Help Mitigate The Cost

With yet another fierce winter storm hitting the Northeast it’s important to have a plan to deal with the vagaries of winter weather and the affect it can have on your supply chain.

We saw this last year with one of the worst winters on record and how it caught many in the supply chain off guard. Trucks got stuck on congested, unplowed highways. Railroads couldn’t clear snow from the tracks fast enough for trains to get through. Snow and ice made it impossible for planes to safely land and take off. As one delay piled on top of the next we saw the supply chain disrupted across North America.

Previously negotiated rates could no longer guarantee availability and it quickly became a sellers’ market, with the few companies that had capacity on any given day controlling prices and creating a spot market that was much higher than most purchasers had budgeted for.

Like in sports the best defence is a good offence. Develop a plan and be ready when (not if) the bad weather strikes again. Here are some tips to help you create your defence.

  1. Build a strong relationship with your 3PL throughout the year. Build a true partnership with your 3PL, loyalty during tough times does count for a lot. We get many calls from potential clients during seasonal fluctuations offering us the “opportunity” to quote their business.       We don’t bite. We are loyal to the clients that are loyal to us and long term this pays off for both sides.
  2. Understand market fluctuations. Market changes affect availability of capacity. Freight capacity, like the economy, is cyclical. While there are no foolproof ways to absolutely identify when a capacity shortage will occur, understanding the market and the factors the impact it will help you plan for these short term issues. Talk to your Account Executive, we understand these factors and have watched the trends for years. Take advantage of our experience to help you plan
  3. Communicate. Communication is the key in any situation where your supply chain is impacted by factors beyond your control. Communicate with your vendors and clients to help them understand why even though it’s sunny and 14 in Vancouver their product will not arrive on time as the roads are closed elsewhere. This might seem obvious but it a busy world it’s important to make sure you’re all on the same page.
  4. Communicate.  Educate your company, especially your Customer Service and Sales teams about how weather affects capacity. They are your frontline and the key to keeping costs down and avoiding service failures and unmet expectations.
  5. Communicate. Talk to your 3PL about options and deadlines. If you are going to be penalized for missing a deadline then tell them that. They might have options that will help you accomplish your needs but that they might not normally propose due to cost / or risk issues.
  6. Be Flexible.       Be ready to think outside the box, if product is needed for production, how much is needed? Is splitting the shipment over multiple modes a viable option? Can the vendor / client open early / stay late?  Can you ship early or stage freight at a mid-point to reduce the risk.
  7. Be Agile. Appointments can help keep your supply chain on track and reduce confusion and workload, however they do not allow for the most efficient transit time and use of a driver’s time. Sometimes, the driver will be held up a day because a receiver has a small dock and too small a window for unloading. Work with your stakeholder’s to remind them that short term issues call for agility and that once the situation normalizes so can their procedures.

Lastly don’t forget to talk to upper management. Being brought into the loop while the issue is happening will give them insight into why any additional costs or changes were necessary.