We have several house rules at Coastal Climate Control. There are the typical ones such as the sign in the warehouse toilet saying “Gentlemen please lower seat when finished”, and then there are unwritten words of wisdom like; ”If you have it, flaunt it”. Personally I’m a bit lacking in flauntable assets, but Coastal sells some of the best specialized marine equipment available, and we flaunt it whenever possible. In fact, next week we will be in very flaunty mood at the Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show April 20 thru 22, so if you’re in town come on by and see what’s new.
Another unwritten house rule is: “If we don’t have it, we can’t sell it”. It seems obvious I know, but keeping adequate stock of popular items is becoming a bit of a problem these days, especially for products that we import. We strive to be good girls and boys and pay our bills on time and plan way ahead in order to anticipate shipping delays, but we still often get caught out, and increasingly so these days. There are three main areas that we have no control over:
- Product Availability - Just because something is the best thing since sliced bread doesn’t guarantee that the manufacturer can produce it in quantities sufficient to satisfy demand, and at the rate required to keep up with orders. In fact, it’s likely quite the opposite, so we find ourselves planning further and further into the future to anticipate both demand and supply, but still find ourselves looking at empty shelves far too often for comfort.
- Transportation 1 - OK, so the manufacturer overseas has readied the goods we ordered and now we have to get them from over there to over here. Orders of just one or two pallets typically come via air freight, but we’re seeing increasing numbers of delays caused by the lack of available cargo hold space on airplanes. One shipment recently got jogged around a few European airports on a scenic tour, and then sat a while in Reagan National airport before finally being delivered to us in a very shabby state indeed, fortunately without damage to the goods.
- Transportation 2 - After delays waiting around in airports (just like we humans endure), our pallets now have to be delivered to our loading docks by truck. But there is a shortage of truckers to drive the trucks, we are told, and so we wait. And we wait and wait, and finally our order arrives at our door, hopefully none the worse for wear after such an arduous journey.
The main reason for the dearth of truckers and lack of cargo space on airlines is being attributed to the changing habits of shoppers. Where bricks and mortar stores are seen to be struggling and closing, on-line shopping has exploded and this has added greatly to the amount of goods requiring transportation by airplanes and trucks.
The demand for trucking is currently so high that capacity utilization is reportedly running at 100% compared to 85% at the start of the decade. The hardware (trucks) are available, but the software (truckers are such big softies) are in high demand. Naturally, truckers’ wages have risen and operators are offering large bonuses to entice new recruits. Who pays for those incentives? Well, we the consumer do, as higher transportation costs end up as higher retail prices of the products being trucked.
Topping up the trucker’s labor pool will not be easy, and may only be accomplished with the advent of robotic drivers. Indeed, the very fact that self-driving trucks are just around the off ramp makes truck driving a decidedly unattractive proposition for a youngster these days. After forking out up to $10,000 for the required training and certification, they would then have a pretty lonely life on the road, especially at truck stops if he/she doesn’t speak code. If truck stops still exist then, that is.
There are so many well-paid job openings in construction, oil and gas, and some manufacturing industries these days that it’s hard to see that the situation will ease any time soon. In fact it will probably get worse before it gets better, and then only with the advent of autonomous deliveries by robotic drivers.
And when that day comes maybe we can dispense with that sign in the warehouse toilet that the human truckers currently use.