The transportation industry is primed for uncertainty and well accustomed to chaos, but virtually every segment of the industry has experienced growing pains as consumer demand roared back to life in a new, recovering economy. Trucking capacity is tight and getting tighter. Multiple U.S. ports have experienced massive traffic jams in the first quarter of the year. With warehouses experiencing huge demand surges, companies are searching for immediate storage solutions near ports in order to keep their capacity moving.
Milestone’s mobile warehousing and storage solutions are well positioned to meet these needs, allowing companies to rent trailers to offset storage needs. The company’s short-term trailer rentals can be parked near ports, allowing companies to build out their networks and normalize their supply chains quickly.
“It is important to work with a company that has the appropriate geographic layout and equipment vintages to support your base and peak fleet needs,” said Chuck Cannata, Milestone executive vice president highway division. “We have 29 staffed branches strategically positioned across the country along primary freight routes and near port cities.”
The flexible nature of a short-term trailer rental allows companies to meet their current storage needs without having to worry about being locked into a contract if the market shifts several months down the line. This approach gives companies the freedom to expand and contract with the market, ensuring they are able to meet consumer demand in the present without running the risk of blowing out their budgets or being stuck with unneeded assets in the future.
“Our mobile warehousing and storage solutions are designed to provide companies with more flexibility than any other solution on the market,” said Sarah Johnson, Milestone’s executive vice president of mobile warehousing and storage. “Mobile warehousing and storage can also provide significant cost savings over traditional warehousing options.”
Milestone’s flexibility and widespread availability set it apart from more traditional trailer leasing companies. Flexibility can also be a company’s greatest asset in an industry characterized by chaos.
Consumer behavior has been unpredictable throughout much of the coronavirus pandemic. This time last year, widespread lockdowns and panic-buying sent the transportation markets on a monthslong roller-coaster ride. As consumers settled into their quarantine routines, spending ramped up in segments like durable goods and pharmaceuticals and simultaneously dropped across the travel and services segments. Over the past few months, however, hope and vaccinations have buoyed Americans’ spirits. Spending in COVID-benefiting sectors remains elevated. At the same time, spending has ticked up significantly in segments that previously took a hit.
This alone would be enough to create tightened capacity and warehousing constraints, but there is another, longer-term factor at play behind these staggering traffic jams as well: an e-commerce boom.
An accelerated shift away from brick-and-mortar shopping and toward e-commerce was perhaps one of the most pronounced economic impacts of the pandemic. This overall trend is here to stay, even as pandemic-related mandates and restrictions are lifted across the country.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, e-commerce sales soared to 16.1% of total retail sales during the second quarter of 2020, up from 10.8% during the second quarter of 2019. E-commerce sales came in at 9.8% and 9% during the same quarters of 2018 and 2017, respectively. This number dipped to 14.3% during the third quarter of 2020 — compared to 11.1% during the same time period in 2019 — due to loosening of coronavirus-related restrictions.
Even accounting for a small dip in e-commerce rates following mass reopenings, e-commerce growth over the past year has been much stronger than the sector has historically experienced, indicating that growth rates may continue to be accelerated even as consumers move away from pandemic buying practices.
If the U.S. enters a recession, this shift toward e-commerce will likely keep the transportation industry moving despite any drop in volumes. That means the U.S. could be in for many more traffic jams and a long-term warehouse squeeze as companies work to adapt their infrastructure to an increasingly online-first world. This could lead to increased reliance on innovative solutions like Milestone’s mobile warehousing and storage offering to meet growing consumer demand.