Getting products to their end destination as fast as possible has always been a top goal of shippers. Over the past five years especially, businesses have had a greater incentive to hasten speed to market. While e-commerce sales ballooned during the pandemic in 2020 due to consumers staying home and buying online, it continues to flourish now. In 2022, e-commerce sales surpassed $1 trillion in the U.S.
Ed Smith, VP of distribution and fulfillment at Averitt, sat down with FreightWaves’ Michael Baudendistel and Grace Sharkey to share some of the trends he’s noticing when it comes to micro-fulfillment and nearshoring, inventory levels and consumer spending, as well as how Averitt is staying agile for its customers through technology and continued growth.
Micro-fulfillment and nearshoring
Micro-fulfillment centers are key in accommodating growing volumes and expectations of quicker service. These facilities are strategically located close to end consumers to expedite services and reduce transportation costs.
With over 50 years in the business, Averitt is deeply versed in freight transportation and supply chain management. Recognizing its customers’ increasing need for faster deliveries, around five years ago Averitt stepped in to begin expanding its distribution and fulfillment network as a natural maturation of its less-than-truckload capabilities, which includes micro-fulfillment.
In addition to its main facilities in Dallas; Houston; Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston, North Carolina, Averitt’s Distribution and Fulfillment Centers extend across the Gulf and East coasts to get products into the hands of consumers as quickly as possible. Paired with Averitt’s other main verticals — LTL, truckload, dedicated, integrated and global solutions — the transportation and logistics provider offers a wide scope of services.
“We’ve got the infrastructure in place to grab [your] goods off the port, bring them into the warehouse/distribution model and send them wherever you need to,” Smith said.
Like micro-fulfillment, nearshoring has become an increasingly attractive strategy for shippers to provide a tighter grip on overall transportation and logistics, as well as control costs, Smith noted.
Averitt is well positioned to be a shipper’s single provider for cross-border logistics capabilities and a gamut of services including port-to-distribution center transport, distribution and fulfillment services, truckload, LTL, and final-mile transport.
“From an international scope, Averitt, having all the facilities we have, strategically placed through that Southeast, gives [customers] an option to bring these goods in and for us to be able to handle it from A to Z, everything they could possibly need,” Smith added.
Inventory levels and consumer spending
While consumer spending has changed post-COVID, with discretionary items tending to sit more, Smith noted that necessity and small parcel inventory levels continue to flow.
“The one thing everyone’s looking at right now, and what we hear from the ports and cargo owners and retailers is everyone had a mini-peak season from an ocean standpoint, where they bumped up a little bit but they’re not over-ordering and over-allocating inventories just in case,” Smith said.
Looking ahead to peak season, it’s still unclear how consumers will react. Retailers want to see what consumer spend looks like from now until Black Friday, and what it looks like from Black Friday to Christmas, Smith said. This will provide a better gauge of what the market will look like post-Chinese New Year.
Technology and growth ahead
Data powers the decisions necessary to adapt to changing markets. This is why Averitt is focused on its key performance metrics and labor analytics, and business intelligence using AI to drive efficiencies and provide a better customer experience.
“Artificial intelligence is going to get bigger and bigger from a business standpoint. … From a business aspect, the more data we can capture on our platform that actually helps us understand where our costs lie, where our savings lie, what our customers are looking for, all of that turns to just an easier way to quote, understand and react to the ever-changing and quickly changing markets,” Smith explained.
As for growth, Averitt continues to expand its geographical locations based on customer needs and invest in those markets, especially in pockets of the Southeast.
“We are heavily looking at what looks like the best trend for us, and that’s based on years and years of experience, not just the 53 years in the LTL and transportation world, but also in the dedicated, integrated, international and now in the distribution platform,” Smith said.