With summer just around the corner in the northern hemisphere, it’s time to shake off those winter blues and start thinking about how you’re going to gear up for 2017’s peak shipping season. Kicking off in the mid-summer months and then extending right through the holiday season, this time of year presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for shippers that need their goods moved around the globe in a quick, safe, and efficient manner.
Here are three things you need to know now to prepare ahead for the summer shipping season:
- Good demand forecasting can pay off big time once peak season hits. If your customers are selling lawn chairs, beach towels, and umbrellas to their own end users, then it’s probably already too late to start forecasting for the summer season. That’s because demand forecasting has to happen well in advance of the seasons where your company does its highest volumes of business. Defined as the process of predicting the future demand for the firm’s product, demand forecasting is comprised of a series of steps that involves the anticipation of demand for a product in the future under both controllable and non-controllable factors. Predicting the future demand for a product helps you plan and schedule the production (and acquire the necessary raw materials accordingly), finance the mission, create pricing and marketing strategies, and develop a viable logistics plan. “Planning is one of the core functions of supply chain management, and yet by its very nature the concept of an ‘accurate forecast’ is an oxymoron,” writes IndustryWeek’s Dave Blanchard. “All forecasts end up being wrong; the key is being able to minimize the errors.” Thanks to advancements in technology over the last few years, demand forecasting has become less of a guessing game and more of a science—yet it’s still not an easy target to hit, so be sure to think ahead. This is also the time of year when we start to see capacity tightening up within the major global trade lanes, so you’ll want to plan your bookings well in advance, protect your own financial investments by always using cargo insurance, and factor in potential shipments delays (due to higher freight volumes and lower capacity).
- Putting off hiring seasonal employees until the last minute could backfire this year. It’s time to start making proactive decisions about seasonal labor, namely because workers are getting harder to come by in the current labor market. So don’t wait until June to start thinking about staffing up your logistics and supply chain—start now. According to Monster, anyone whose livelihood depends substantially on fair weather will generally start hiring during the spring. In the construction industry, for example, hiring in April, May, and June proceeds at double the pace of December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Tourism and hospitality hiring is also very strong in the spring. And businesses looking to hire professional workers before fall often do so now, before key decision makers start rotating out for summer vacation. “To recruit the best, employers have to make recruiting a 24/7 activity,” Mel Kleiman writes in Monster’s Recruiting Ideas: How to Find Good Hourly Employees. “If you only recruit when you have openings, you can’t get the best, because the pressure to hire someone immediately causes you to be less selective and often results in a bad hiring decision.”
- The summer heat can be pretty cruel to cold and perishable cargo. Once you kiss goodbye to the cooler winter and spring months, you’ll want to start thinking about how to keep the sun’s harmful rays and/or heat from affecting your cargo. Knowing that the summer heat doesn’t discriminate by cargo type, items like chocolate, produce, or chemicals can quickly be rendered useless when Mother Nature gets her hands on them. Focus on keeping temperature-controlled products fresh and cool to maximize shelf life; maintaining accurate temperature controls for refrigerated and frozen items; and always using labels to indicate the need for temperature control. Other good strategies for avoiding heat damage include choosing the best day to ship (wait until the end of the week and your cargo could wind up sitting idle over the weekend), using temperature-controlled containers for long hauls, and utilizing expedited shipping services when it’s warranted. Finally, check out some of the newer logistics facilities that accommodate perishable shipments. Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, for example, is currently adding a new cold chain storage facility that cargo handlers will be able to use to ship perishable items. “This new facility will increase our handling capabilities and open new doors for all our cargo and logistics partners,” an airport spokesman told the Star-Telegram, “to ship high-value, temperature, and time sensitive products through DFW.”
Other effective ways to navigate the summer shipping season—and the holiday season that will be hot on its heels—include always booking freight as far in advance as possible; testing out any and all new logistics strategies before the surge happens; and preparing ahead for ocean and air rate increases that may surface as capacity decreases.