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Convoy helps appliance distributor handle high demand amid inventory, labor constraints

TMS and flexible drop solution allow workers to easily find and manage capacity so they can focus on running the business

The past 18 months conjured a perfect storm for the largest independent distributor of appliances in the United States. While appliance retailers remained open as an essential business, inventory was scarce due to international supply chain issues. 

Headquartered in Philadelphia, Almo Corp. historically relied on less-than-truckload freight for the appliances arm of its business, servicing smaller independent retailers. Almo operates distribution centers across the country as well as an e-commerce fulfillment business to service over 2,000 dealers and retailers with premium appliances, consumer electronics, professional audio/video equipment, furniture and housewares.

But due to the COVID-19-spurred supply chain issues, those appliance retailers had lots of inventory on back order. 

“It’s been a nightmare. We do a percentage of our inbound from ocean shipping,” said Ben Kramer, director of transportation and logistics for Almo Corp. “Most of it moves on a prepaid basis from the manufacturers. When it’s constrained, it’s the manufacturer’s issue but then becomes our issue. We were at a point where we had an all-time low inventory level and all-time high orders. Now inventory is starting to return to normal. We’ve been having some record months because we have back orders that didn’t go away.”

However, because of the high demand environment, Almo’s typical LTL-sized shipments of six appliances soon grew to 14 or more appliances, creating a need for full truckload freight capacity. For years, Almo located capacity through the same brokers using a very manual process: emailing their brokers for prices and choosing the best one. 

“Our challenges in transportation are like everybody’s,” said Kramer. “I’ve got five truckloads to go out the door. The broker can find two trucks, but we can’t find a driver to fill a certain lane. We had another lane filled and canceled out multiple times. That’s our current frustration with the supply chain.” 

Keith Granstrom, director of transportation support at Almo, added, “We were spending a lot of time and energy trying to figure out the best truckload path. We initially discovered Uber Freight’s online platform, but it was just for that one broker. Then in March, we were introduced to Convoy, and what we really liked about its platform was that it kept everything in one place and was user friendly and intuitive. It also allowed us to keep using our current brokers, and we wanted to make sure that we kept them with us.”

Convoy also helped Almo transition its distribution center operation from LTL to truckload through its flexible drop-and-hook service, Convoy Go. This allowed warehouse managers to keep trailers in the yard to load at their leisure. Otherwise, with the truckload environment increasing for Almo, freight would be sitting on the floor, increasing the chance of misloading or misplacing. Currently Almo is using Convoy Go at its Ohio facility but has imminent plans to expand to its Wisconsin warehouse. 

“Convoy Go was something that we had been looking for and didn’t know it existed,” said Granstrom. “One of the challenges is staging freight on an LTL-sized cross dock, and then going through the processes to book truck loads, a lot of freight would sit on the floor. But Convoy Go has been a godsend. It’s helped those guys keep the dock flowing.”

“About a year ago, we were in the midst of a new WMS implementation coupled with an ERP rollout, so because IT resources were tied up, getting a TMS was put on the back burner,” continued Granstrom. “What the Convoy relationship gave us was access to that TMS platform with the data, basically out of the box. It’s a free solution that really helped us immediately without waiting for IT resources to become available.”

In addition to inventory and transportation challenges, Almo also struggled to hire and retain employees, making finding new ways of operating that create efficiency in their workflow more  important than ever. Like many companies, their team is asked to do more and more, despite the current labor shortage. Warehouse supervisors are already working long hours every week. With Convoy’s TMS, operators can do the bid process in two minutes and then move on to do other things. There’s no more sending 35 emails, then searching through people’s in-boxes to see who responded and who didn’t.

Another benefit Almo has gleaned from the Convoy partnership is back-end reporting through the TMS, allowing managers to see how brokers and carriers were performing, the rate at which they are winning bids, as well as response times and other data. Training operators on the platform only required 10 minutes, and it allowed warehouse managers to find and assign truckloads in a much easier fashion than the usual email method ⁠— removing stress from a warehouse already taxed with lack of room. 

“It’s all right there for us on the platform,” said Granstrom. “You pick the one that you like and you award it to them. The rest is done in the background. We’re not bogged down with managing that process. We’re out on the floor, running our business, which is what’s really important for us.”

This article is published jointly with our partners at Convoy. To view more Future of Freight content, click here.

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.