How to Best Manage Your Supply Chain During Extreme Winter Weather

We are all still reeling from the aftermath of the winter of 2015, which brought record snowfall to a number of major cities across the country. The city of Boston alone saw 9 feet of snow, with 64.8 inches falling just in February. Boston plows removed 35,000 truckloads of snow, and many of the massive piles didn't melt until July.

This extreme winter weather caused problems not just for commuters and snowplow operators, but also for road and rail infrastructure. The 193,256 potholes created in New York City will cost an estimated $15 million to repair. Plus delayed commuter and freight train schedules meant that goods did not arrive on time, causing a serious blow to the economy. As bad as last winter was, it reminded supply chain professionals of the need to prepare for inclement weather to ensure goods are delivered in a timely fashion. Read on for tips on how supply chain technology can help you make it through winter 2016 and beyond.

Leverage drop shipping solutions

The negative impact of extreme weather starts in the order fulfillment stage; bad weather often means the product takes longer to get to the customer. To remedy this, a drop shipping approach removes a key step in the supply chain: getting the order fulfilled and shipped from the retailer's warehouse. Instead the order is sent to the manufacturer or the retailer's supplier, who ships the product directly to the customer.

This streamlines the typical buyer/seller process and removes the possibility of a breakdown in the supply chain due to tricky weather conditions. Drop shipping is also cost-efficient because it minimizes the need for expensive warehouse space and combats the problem of excess stock. It also allows businesses to be more agile with unpredictable weather. For example, if cold winter weather never comes, you don't want a bunch of heavy winter jackets taking up space in your warehouse. With a drop ship approach to fulfillment, if temperatures do drop as expected, then the cold weather clothing can simply be sent directly to the customer from the manufacturer.  

Increase visibility to remain agile

Adequate visibility into all aspects of the supply chain is the best way to prepare for extreme weather. A transportation management system (TMS) allows supply chain managers to access every touch point in the supply chain, plan accordingly, optimize transportation and, if need be, correct course. Having a TMS in place is especially helpful during periods of inclement weather, because it empowers the right people to have insight into the status of transportation and shipping. For example, a TMS gives supply chain managers insight into the type of vehicle in which goods are packed and what route will be taken.

If there is a storm on the way, the mangers are able to quickly adapt and get the goods onto a freight train or plane, which will be better equipped to handle the weather. This ensures little to no slowdown in the shipping process and makes it possible for customers to receive goods in a reasonable amount of time, which is especially important when shipping perishable or time-sensitive items.

Take advantage of a strong carrier network

In addition to alternative shipping methods and increased supply chain visibility, having access to a broad carrier network is crucial to making it through extreme weather. A strong carrier network gives shippers excellent visibility into the carrier marketplace and provides great flexibility. So if one trucking company is unable to make a delivery due to unsafe driving conditions or other issues, the shipper is easily able to get its goods onto a truck from another carrier in the network. That eliminates the time that's wasted scrambling to find alternative transportation options.

Plan for the worst

Commuters plan for train delays and slow driving when the weather is bad and often give themselves extra time to get to work. The supply chain should be no different – time for extreme weather must be built into your planning and overall operations. Continuously communicating with internal team members, suppliers, distributors, shippers and customers is half the battle when dealing with extreme weather. All stakeholders should be aware of the status of transportation and any potential slowdowns in order to maintain excellent service and, ultimately, customer satisfaction.

While supply chain managers can't control the weather, they can control how they react to it in order to keep goods on the move. Visibility into the overall supply chain, aided by a TMS solution and broad carrier network, arms supply chain managers with the ability to ensure deliveries arrive in a timely fashion, even if the weather outside is frightful. 

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