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West Coast and California Logistics Blog

How 3PLs can keep your supply chain operations moving during COVID-19

Tue, Mar 31, 2020 @ 07:30 AM / by Bob Lilja

When a disaster strikes such as the current COVID-19 outbreak, it’s a time when your business will truly need the support of its supply chain partners. Many 3PLs are showing that they will go to great lengths to ensure the continuity of customers’ operations. In this article, we’ll look at some of the ways your 3PL can keep your products flowing during this crisis – and what you can do to help.

How your 3PL can keep your supply chain moving

supply chain operationsIn order to safeguard your supply chain operations and keep your products moving during a crisis, your 3PL must first ensure that it can continue to operate. This is no small feat in light of the global pandemic that is hitting the U.S. hard. The following are some of the ways that 3PLs are working to continue operating at full strength – or as close to it as possible.

Following government protocols. As COVID-19 continues to spread, the protocols of federal, state, and local officials continue to change, sometimes rapidly. Such protocols can affect a wide range of activities (e.g., stay at home orders for non-essential workers, keeping essential businesses running while ordering non-essential ones to close). 3PLs must keep track of these protocols and ensure they remain in compliance.

Proving (if necessary) that operations are “essential.” The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has identified industries that are deemed to be part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Businesses that can show that they meet the criteria of an essential business – and those that support essential businesses – should have no problem operating as normal. Non-essential businesses, however, can be shut down temporarily (state regulations vary).   

It is important, then, that your 3PL can show that it is part of this critical infrastructure in order to continue operations. By nature of the logistics industry, most 3PLs are.

It is also important that your 3PL’s truck drivers and employees carry documentation from the company which states that they work for an essential business. For instance, if an employee is stopped by a local authority on his or her way to/from work, this documentation can inform the authority of the nature of the employee’s travels.

Implementing its own protocols to mitigate the virus. Being an essential business, however, isn’t going to be enough to keep your 3PL’s operation up and running. It is paramount that your 3PL implements thorough internal measures to keep its workforce safe, its facilities clean, and supply chain operations moving. Such measures may include formalized processes like the following:

  • Social distancing measures to ensure that employees remain a safe distance apart from one another
  • Hygiene guides for employees to prevent possible virus spread
  • Strict cleaning protocols to disinfect facility and truck surfaces
  • Protocols for visitors (e.g., keeping visitors away from the warehouse workforce; having visiting drivers use portable facilities)
  • Avoidance of business and leisure travel
  • Allowance for employees to work from home when possible
  • Replenishment of the workforce with temporary labor as necessary
  • Creation of contingency plans to ensure business continuity in the event of disruption
  • Leadership training on all established internal protocols

How you can help your 3PL keep products moving

While your 3PL is doing all that it can to keep product flowing, there are things that you can do to help. These include:

  • Communicate as efficiently as possible. For example, avoid placing orders with an emailed spreadsheet. Many 3PLs will charge you for doing this, so eliminate the extra cost on your end and the extra time and effort required to deal with such orders on your 3PL’s end.
  • Make sure your customers can receive orders before you place them. For example, Amazon is currently only accepting shipments of goods it deems essential (household items and medical supplies) into its warehouses. You can avoid unnecessary costs (charges for order cancellation, de-picking and put away) and save your 3PL’s staff from unnecessary efforts by ensuring that your orders can be received.
  • Avoid rush orders. Warehouses and distribution centers are already in ‘all-hands-on-deck’ mode, and rush orders can add more stress (and, again, cost) to the equation.
  • Carefully control inventory levels. ‘Just in time’ may not always be the best approach in this current environment. Do your part to make sure your inventory levels can support your needs in the short- and not-so-short term.

Work with your 3PL to maintain supply chain operations

Remember that you and your 3PL are in this thing together. You have the same goals and can work as a team to see them through. Chances are you have the same questions as many other 3PL customers at the moment (e.g., Are you open? How long will stay open? What are your protocols?). Your 3PL should be proactive in communicating operational updates to you while making itself available to answer questions and make adjustments to meet your needs where possible.

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Topics: Third Party Logistics, 3PL

Written by Bob Lilja

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