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Issues with International Freight

As an unprecedented year ended, few in the portable restroom industry thought it would be clear sailing in 2021. However, many had hoped the long delays, shortages, and higher costs would dissolve sooner than later.

Instead, the world watched the saga of a container ship stuck in the Suez Canal. Now, ports are bracing for the ripple effects of the backlog. The ongoing situation at global ports leaves many portable restroom operators uncertain about the supply chain and lead times. Will the problem improve in 2021? Or, are high costs and delays here to stay?

Global Supply Chains and Bottlenecks 

For years, companies enjoyed low costs and a predictable supply chain thanks to reliable and efficient air and cargo solutions. When issues in 2020 first surfaced, many PROs began planning months in advance to ensure on-time delivery of restrooms and supplies.

Yet, material and freight costs continue to rise, and so far, the long delays haven’t been alleviated. The recent bottlenecks are a result of several things, including:

  • COVID-19 restrictions and outbreaks
  • Shipping container shortages
  • Surges in imports
  • Trucking and equipment shortages
  • Warehouse capacity congestion
  • Illnesses among dockworkers

These elements certainly aren’t helped by the unexpected Suez Canal incident or poor weather experienced in parts of the world in February.

Ripple Effects on International Ports

As ports wait on a deluge of ships, companies like FourKites help shippers stay on top of port action or inaction. Its live congestion map shows container vessels waiting at port or berth and how the current wait time compares to averages.

For instance, the Dublin Port has vessels with wait times that are 288% over average, while India’s Mundra Port has ships with wait times 500% above average. In response to delays, the container shipper Hapag-Lloyd announced an increase in its congestion surcharge from North America to United Kingdom ports.

However, there are signs of relief coming. John Fossey, Senior Analyst on Container Equipment at Drewry, said in a webinar that they expect “some kind of normality” near the end of the second quarter of 2021. But, that doesn’t mean portable restroom operators can expect the fast shipping times of pre-COVID days.

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PROs Take a Proactive Approach

The manufacturing delays stemming from the pandemic are easing, increased vaccination rates may help with the labor shortage, and container production is estimated to ramp up by 40%. Although these factors may improve the situation by mid-2021, experts encourage PROs to stay proactive about ordering and diversify their supply lines where possible.

You may experience longer shipping times and higher costs throughout 2021. Moreover, uncertainty leads to high ordering volumes which may affect production. To avoid encountering problems on your end, it’s essential to:

  • Talk with supplier sales reps and industry experts to understand what products or equipment are affected.
  • Review your costs and consider adjusting your client pricing structure to ensure profitability throughout 2021.
  • Try to predict which products you might need further in the future and place your order sooner rather than later in case lead teams continue to get longer.

Looking Ahead: Slow but Steady Improvements

International freight issues won’t disappear overnight. But the public attention and huge financial losses may speed up the innovation and collaboration needed to build supply chains and port automation back better than before.

Looking to Take Your Portable Restroom Business to the NEXT LEVEL? Download our FREE Guide: “Your Guide to Operating A Portable Restroom Business.”

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