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Shipping companies redouble efforts amid coronavirus

Christine Whitman believes it is better to be overcautious than underprepared as her firm navigates the business landscape amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Christine Whitman

Christine Whitman

“We’ve taken this very seriously right from the beginning and have been planning for it,” says Whitman, chairman and CEO of Complemar.

The global spread of COVID-19 has put massive pressure on the distribution and transportation industries, as they work to find ways to get orders fulfilled and shipped to customers in need.

Complemar provides fulfillment, packaging and kitting, warehousing and logistics and returns management to over 1,000 customers. The business has 400,000 square feet of warehouse space at five locations and handles more than 680 items a year, shipping to more than 30 countries.

It is considered an essential service, since many of Complemar’s customers are in the healthcare and technology sectors and are in need of the products the company ships.

In fact, the products are so in demand that Complemar is looking for additional workers, which is in contrast to other companies which have temporarily shuttered operations amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Adam Snow, Complemar’s chief operating officer, says communication is key during this time.

The firm’s management team sends out a daily email to employees on the current situation and has relaxed its attendance policy as some workers are faced with caring for a sick relative or caring for children who are now at home since schools have temporarily shut down.

“We keep operating, but understand this is a unique situation,” Snow says.

Complemar has also expanded its shift hours for employees in packing and receiving and have allowed changes in the workweek, such as offering the option of working four days and having three days off.

In an effort to limit the risk of cross-contamination, employees are physically divided into groups, Snow adds.

For example, employees working on healthcare items are grouped together, as are members of the fulfillment team. Each group uses different bathrooms and cafeterias. Complemar has also increased its cleaning efforts.

Administrative staff is working from home and internal meetings have been changed to Web-based versus face-to-face communications.

The firm has also isolated some managers and supervisors so in case one site goes down they can move to another to keep products going out the door.

“We did not underestimate what could happen, and, instead, erred on the side of caution,” Snow says.

Whitman says the business has been able to take advantage of newer technology – such as transportation, warehousing and order management systems –  to stay on track.

Both company leaders say the plans are working and praised the employees, as well as the transportation professionals Complemar uses to get products on the road.

“The truck drivers and parcel carriers are some of the true heroes in this economy,” Snow says.

Mike Young

Mike Young

Mike Young, president and chief operating officer for Klein Steel Services is also working to stay on top of a business environment during an evolving crisis.

“We are trying to do the right thing,” Young says.

Klein – which has been a fixture in the Rochester area for more than 40 years – is working to meet the needs of its customers, suppliers and employees, Young says.

There are contingency plans in place at the business, and they are constantly being reviewed and revised to meet the needs that seem to be changing almost hourly, he adds.

As of March 20, Klein had implemented state rules that require nonessential businesses to reduce their on-site workforce, with a number of administrative staffers working from home.

Since some customers provide essential services, Klein is able to keep some of its operations at near capacity. For example, one customer is an equipment supplier to distribution centers which work with large national retailers, such as Amazon and Walmart.

Young believes it is critical for every business in the supply chain to work together.

People have been pulling together nicely, he says. The exception, however, is the overriding fear that comes with a situation that is constantly changing.

“One minute things can be going well and the next minute, everything changes,” Young says.

Wegmans Food Markets Inc., like other area grocers, has taken steps to offer as many products as possible to customers, despite challenges in keeping up with the demand.

The company’s website states that because the pandemic is impacting the retail industry around the world, supply is limited and there are a number of pressures on the supply chain to keep up with demand.

That demand, coupled with the high-volume Wegmans is seeing across all departments, is affecting what is available on its shelves.

Despite the challenges, Wegmans continues to receive daily shipments, it notes on the website.

To help make sure customers are able to get what they need, the grocer has limited store hours so staff can re-stock shelves and clean the stores and has implemented a two-item purchase limit on certain products. The grocer is seeing an increase in its e-commerce business and expects that demand to continue to grow.

In a statement on the store’s website, Colleen Wegman, president and CEO, said, “I believe our food supply chain and healthcare system are among the best in the world and if we take care of each other, we will get through this together.”

Ben Pearson, founder of ENALAS LLC, says his firm has always had an intense focus on the supply chain and that is helping the firm during this time.

The firm, which started in 2012, assists companies in getting their products to mass scale markets. Among its customers is Amazon.

ENALAS’ understanding of the supply chain — all the way from raw goods to finished good – is allowing the firm to help customers by building redundancy where able, Pearson says.

Because its technology is dynamic and modular, the firm is able to swap out components that do not scale up fast enough with more robust solutions to help meet the increased demand seen since the COVID-19 outbreak, he adds.

“We are in tight communication with executives at Amazon to set priority on crucial supplies and controlling consumer volumes in order to not implode the supply chain,” Pearson says.

Andrea Deckert is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

One comment

  1. Shipping companies all over have a lot of pressure on them to keep things moving so that we may all have everything that we need during the COVID 19 outbreak. We count on these shipping companies in normal times, but now the pressure is on…a whole new level of pressure. To all of you from all of us, THANK YOU! http://www.Loadpower.com


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