3 Tips for Managing Freight During a Winter Pandemic
Winter has it out for freight management. The northern United States and Canada – home to major shipping hubs – can be severely impacted by snow, wind, and ice. Over-the-road and rail transport are the most vulnerable to extreme winter conditions. Weather-related freight claims associated with delays, shortages and breaks in the supply chain create costly headaches for shippers.Add wintery weather to a global pandemic, mix in a sharp increase in online shopping, sprinkle on a spike in consumer demand – that'll throw a punch that makes your grandma's eggnog recipe look like weak sauce.
The ice and snow may be unavoidable, but planning and preparation is just good business. We're sharing three of our best tips for successful freight brokering as we round out this remarkably offbeat year.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), more than 70 percent of the nation's roads are located in snowy regions, with nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population residing in these regions. By the way, if you're wondering which state has the worst winter – because who doesn't need bragging rights when you're freezing your face off? – check out this completely non-scientific but altogether fantastic list from Thrillist.
In a typical year, snow, ice, and sleet present their own set of challenges, but this is no ordinary year. At the urging of the state and federal government, citizens are encouraged to stay closer to home this season to avoid spreading COVID-19. So yes, that means fewer vehicles on the roadways but more demand on shippers and truckers to deliver goods to…basically, everywhere. And, let's not forget about the post-holiday rush, where consumers will inevitably ship bulky items – you know, the bookshelf that was missing that elf on the shelf?
A continuing driver shortage, exacerbated by new market forces, like children at home for remote learning, and the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse implementation, feed a capacity crunch in the United States. Be sure to check out our post about managing freight in tight capacity markets to learn more about how shippers and freight brokers can make adjustments for ongoing market volatility.
Unpredictability is the new norm (except for death and taxes – those stay the same), which means shippers, carriers, and brokers have their work cut out when it comes to staying in the snow know about everything from winter storms to market trends.
Reputable industry organizations offer repositories of breaking news and relevant market data. Visit one – or all – of the following and consider signing up for daily or weekly newsletter updates:
State and local agencies frequently initiate road closures to help keep roadways safe. Shippers, carriers, and brokers can check out state-by-state roadway weather conditions here, as listed by the FHWA.
Prioritize Strong Communication
Stephen R. Covey, the American educator, author, and businessman, said, "The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply." If only that resonated with back-talking 15-year-olds.
This season, it's inevitable that tensions will run high – maybe higher amid these pandemic times. However, top-performing, reputable brokers will recognize the value in extending customers the highest levels of service. Covey's words serve as a good reminder for freight agents to take pause (granted, not easily done in this line of work). Ensure you gather enough details to understand your customer's business issue or need and respond with valuable, actionable information.
Here are a few easy ways to add value for customers:
- Road Closure Updates for Weather and Permits
In addition to weather-related road closures that might impact driver safety, routes, and delivery times, keep in mind that many states implement permit restrictions during certain holidays. We posted about that here and got positive feedback from Armstrong agents who could use the information to give their customers and carriers a heads-up on route planning.
- Terminal Closure Updates
Terminals have the potential to be heavily impacted by inclement weather. Since they are staffed facilities, dangerous road conditions make it difficult for employees to get to work. For LTL shipments especially, consider how many terminals might be impacted by weather along a specific route.
Drivers who are navigating treacherous roads will appreciate updates about terminal closures. Brokers and agents can assist by having contact information for terminals readily available. Sign up with YRC Freight to receive terminal closure notifications.
- Considerations for Expedited Shipping
Shipping delays are enough to cause anyone a migraine. Fortunately, there are options when it comes to expedited transportation. Freight brokers typically have access to vast carrier networks – Armstrong, for example, has more than 60,000 carriers that we can tap for loads. We can connect customers with carriers who either employ or contract work to drivers uniquely dedicated to fast-track hauling for expedited shipping needs. Their knowledge of alternate routes and the ability to work around obstacles, like weather and road closures, is next-level.
But your best brokers – pretty sure Santa called and said Armstrong made the "nice" list – will also know when to discourage expedited shipping. Because sometimes Mother Nature will have her way and no amount of money can solve that problem.
- Tracking Updates for Real-Time Visibility into Loads
Kids love tracking Santa; shippers love tracking their loads. In fairness, when time, money, and service levels are at stake, it's less "love" and more "necessity." Nothing against you, Santa.
To add value for customers this season, Armstrong agents will encourage carriers to get Transflo-enabled for free access to faster pay (win for carriers) and load tracking (win for everyone). With real-time data, shippers, brokers, and carriers are better equipped to make changes on short notice or develop contingency plans.
For the other weather-related headaches that won't quit, ibuprofen makes a great stocking stuffer!
But sometimes, it's seasons like these that remind us how much easier life could be if we switched up our game. Armstrong is always looking to partner with experienced, service-centric agents who love running their businesses and leaving the rest – all the back-office support – to us.
Check out how other agents are sleighing slaying it at Armstrong today!
About Morgan Griffith
Morgan Griffith serves as Armstrong’s Director of Marketing. She’s responsible for developing the company’s strategic communications planning, positioning Armstrong for continued rapid expansion and growth. She is highly skilled in public relations, strategic communications, media relations, and corporate communications.