Industries all over the world are feeling the effects of COVID-19. Unfortunately, hardwood flooring distribution is not exempt.
The primary problem facing the wood flooring industry is the delay of prefinished flooring shipments from overseas. Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Asia, there have been major logistical issues worldwide.
To help you understand the problems facing flooring distribution, we will walk you through a hypothetical journey of prefinished flooring in the days of COVID-19.
Step 1: The Manufacturer
The journey of our flooring begins at the manufacturer in Asia. To adhere to COVID-19 regulations, most manufacturers have fewer workers on the job. This reduced labor will extend lead times for production significantly.
After the manufacturer finishes our flooring, they acquire a shipping container for distribution. However, increased production in Asia has skyrocketed container prices. Higher container prices are also due to factory shutdowns and labor shortages at ports which stall containers mid-journey. This further delays empty containers returning to the overseas port for new product.
For example, the average price for a container is around $2,000, but prices have now doubled and even tripled in some cases.
Step 2-3: The Overseas Port & Shipping Vessel
Along with higher container prices there is also a shortage of containers. This container shortage causes bidding wars between companies to acquire a container. Once a container is purchased, the manufacturer hires a trucking company to distribute the flooring from their facility to the port. However, driver shortages cause delays here as well.
Once the truck reaches the port, port workers load the container with the flooring shipment. The container now waits in the port yard for further distribution until a ship is ready.
The available container imbalance, however, has resulted in less cargo for ships to carry. In response, shipping companies have downsized their fleets to avoid profit loss.
In addition, reduced labor at the port significantly lengthens the process of unloading and reloading ships. It takes longer than usual, but eventually port workers load our container onto the ship and it sets sail for the Port of Los Angeles. This trip usually takes about 30 days if the weather is good.
Step 4: The Los Angeles Port
After four to six weeks of ocean travel, the flooring has made it to the Port of Los Angeles. However, the port is overflowing with ships.
A trifecta of complications have arisen here:
- COVID-19 regulations – Less dockworkers are on the job because of COVID-19 outbursts and infections.
- Reduced Labor – Ships take longer than usual to unload because of less dockworkers being available.
- Delayed Return of Trucks – Trucks and containers experiencing delayed returns from inland, so our flooring sits waiting for further distribution.
Instead of being unloaded our ship anchors at a designated spot near the port along with several others.
To put things into perspective, Freight Waves, a shipping blog, reported on January 13th, 2021 that the port had 32 ships anchored outside the docks with 19 more arriving by Saturday, January 17th. Given this backlog, our flooring will undoubtedly be waiting for some time before the ship docked and unloaded.
Step 5: The Truck
The ship finally docks at the port! Once docked, port workers remove the container and place it in the port yard.
Unfortunately, shortages continue. Truck driver and container chassis shortages keep the container in the yard until a truck is available. Eventually, workers load the container onto a chassis.
The truck then drives across the country, making stops along the way, and delivers our flooring to one of our locations.
Once the truck arrives, our warehouse crew unload the product, receive it into our system, and our salesperson notifies the customer of its successful delivery.
From labor shortages, to regulations, to congested ports, the effects of COVID-19 clearly play a major role in the flooring distribution.
Regardless, we are dedicated to serving our customers through this global pandemic, and hope this article helps clear up why there are so many stock outs in the wood flooring industry.