During the height of COVID-19 panic-buying, some warehouses were seeing lines of 50 trucks or more, with extended wait times and a warehouse labor force unsure how to prioritize loads.
Although the SONAR Outbound Tender Volume Index (OTVI) is showing a stark decline in volumes due to shelter-in-place orders for both consumers and small businesses, some warehouses are experiencing a much higher volume than normal. COVID-19 was an unpredictable event, but it’s not uncommon for warehouses to experience a high variance in volume throughout the year, month and even the week. The unique challenges to the supply chain caused by the pandemic shine a bright light on how many warehouses are not well prepared for increases in volume.
These fluctuations in supply and demand create inefficiencies in warehouses. For example, if warehouse staff don’t know what the incoming volume will be or when trucks will arrive, warehouse managers have to keep their operation staffed for the maximum need and often end up having to pay overtime.
But it’s not only warehouse staff who are impacted by this.
When warehouses cannot accurately predict and plan for loads — both during black swan events like COVID-19 and during anticipated spikes — it can create extended wait times for trucks, resulting in very frustrated drivers.
“When you see long lines of trucks, you have a lot of angry drivers. Not only are they worried about their income, but using basic facilities at the warehouse becomes a major hassle,” said Jeff Booth, product manager at Opendock, a dock scheduling platform based in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They’re coming in, they’re needing to eat, they need to use the restrooms. If there are shower facilities, they want to use them. But if you’re competing against a hundred other drivers for access, it can be a miserable experience.”
It’s not only the drivers who are irked by long wait times. Carriers, brokers and shippers are all negatively impacted. All parties lose money, and sometimes credibility, when trucks have to wait.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Web-based dock scheduling systems like Opendock are designed to solve this problem of excessive truck wait times. They do this by requiring every truck to have a specific appointment time. And by allowing carriers and brokers to book dock appointments themselves, it saves a significant amount of time for internal warehouse staff.
These online systems also allow warehouses to more effectively and efficiently prepare for loads, while also improving load leveling. Mondays no longer have to be so chaotic because loads can now be evenly spread throughout the week.
“With appointment scheduling, you have clear visibility into which trucks are coming and at what time,” said Bob La Loggia, chief executive officer at Opendock. “You know exactly what staffing is needed and how to optimize their work, therefore cutting down on overtime pay. You can flatten out the Monday and Friday congestion and start to get even usage throughout the week, which reduces wait times and all the accompanying stress.”
Lawrence Dillworth, inbound supervisor at Owens & Minor, a Virginia-based major medical supplier to U.S. hospitals and clinics, has used Opendock for over a year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Owens & Minor has been able to assign a dock door specifically for hot emergency freight like masks, gloves and gowns so a truck carrying or picking up these goods never has to wait and the warehouse staff always knows what to prioritize.
“Without Opendock during the COVID-19 volume surge, it would have been a catastrophic failure. Without everybody knowing what freight is specifically coming, there would only be somebody answering the phone or replying to an email, and if so-and-so is on vacation and nobody gets the email until next week, it would be bad, especially if the warehouse is unaware that a certain shipment is emergency freight.”
Opendock not only allows Dillworth to customize schedules and prioritize certain shipments, but it has revolutionized how he communicates with inbound trucks. Now, he can remind all inbound drivers through Opendock about the five items that must be included on every bill of lading — a common failure that costs companies millions of dollars. Dillworth also plans to notify all drivers to wear a mask and gloves when they enter the facility.
“Using Opendock frees your leaders up to be on the floor because they’re going to spend less time trying to manage what’s coming and going,” Dillworth said. “You can be saving four or five hours a day just in the time it’s taken you to manage the schedule. You can even search for a supplier and you can check the status of the shipment before it even gets there, so if there is an issue — because sometimes there’s an issue with the advance shipping notice (ASN) if they don’t transmit correctly — you can preemptively resolve the issue before it ever becomes an issue.”
To avoid disputes surrounding damaged shipments, warehouse managers can also quickly upload photos into Opendock, which are helpful when assessing the track records of different carriers. For companies big or small, Dillworth said, having access to every inbound shipment through a highly customizable software system is vitally important.
So while the rollercoaster fluctuations in volume caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are a unique occurrence, it’s not uncommon for warehouses to experience some degree of volume variance under normal circumstances. A dock scheduling platform helps warehouses better manage this expected variability. But having a scalable, highly configurable system like Opendock ensures that even in the most challenging of times, you’ll be able to keep operations running smoothly and efficiently.