How to Adapt Your U.S. Export Strategies when Faced with Disruptions

Transporting freight abroad can be challenging. Available ocean capacity, shifting port receiving windows and dray congestion are just a few common issues that arise. U.S. ports made headlines when an unprecedented number of ocean vessels stalled along the East and West coasts. This caused major delays for shippers with already disrupted supply chains.

Despite this list of ever-evolving challenges, there are several strategies you can use to overcome and avoid disruptions when exporting from the United States.

What causes supply chain disruption?

Around the world, shippers know the export market can be volatile based on the market conditions.

Tight ocean capacity

As an example, the U.S. export market faced tight ocean capacity when ocean carriers prioritised bringing empty containers back to Asia to meet the demands of their booming export growth rather than filling them with U.S. exports. This capacity challenge expanded globally as carriers also diverted ships from other markets to meet the growing demand in Asia.

Port congestion

Congestion at U.S. East coast and gulf ports is another issue that can make planning difficult for shippers. When vessels are left waiting for berths, expected sailing dates and earliest receiving dates (ERD) shift. These types of delays can quickly increase costs, including container pull and yard storage charges, daily chassis rental costs and detention fees. While detention fees can sometimes be waived depending on when the ERD changes, most fees will not be.

Rail shortages

Rail service disruptions are another major influencer on export schedule reliability. If there is a shortage of containers moving from ports to inland rail yards, then inland points will also face a shortage of empty containers. This, combined with potential chassis shortages, reduces inbound rail activity and limits outbound rail volume as round trip moves are preferred by most rail carriers.

How can exporters prepare for supply chain disruptions?

Finding right export strategies to address these challenges while still meeting existing delivery dates and budget expectations depends on your unique situation. Taking location, budget, distribution capabilities and other factors into consideration can help to ensure you find the right strategy for your current situation.

Transfer inventory locations

Reducing your reliance on a single mode of transportation can help control shifting ERD timelines and manage the availability of empty equipment. If your distribution system is primarily domestic, consider relocating cargo to warehouses that are closer to your port. This way, you can load containers and dray directly to the port, taking advantage of the normal influx of empty containers.

If you can’t move cargo closer to the port, truck and transload service can be an option—albeit it is often an expensive one. As warehouses are filled, the risk for potential damage to cargo increases with the necessary rehandling between different modes. So, consider carefully before choosing this strategy.

Choose long-haul drayage

Markets like Dallas, Atlanta or even Cleveland are all within a day’s drive to a port and allow for long-haul drayage. This makes it possible to transport freight to the port without relying on rail. While it can be more expensive than a rail-truck solution, it can help to avoid potential disruptions in rail service.

To combat chassis shortages, some truckers are investing in chassis ownership. Relying on a network that includes chassis owned by carriers can help to stabilise truck-to-port solutions. Keep in mind that even though this is a very positive trend in the market, there are not enough companies making this investment to meet the full market demand.

Use alternate rail ramps

If dray service to a port is not feasible, you can always use a different rail ramp entirely.

Like other modes, individual ramps face an assortment of issues, from chassis shortages to insufficient empty containers or even reduced outbound rail traffic. But the issues faced by one may not be a problem at another location.

Prepare for a potential rise trucking costs with this strategy based on the distance to a secondary rail ramp. It’s important to determine what is more important for your delivery: lower delivery costs or on time deliveries.

Plan and forecast for disruptions

Disruptions may shift, but they will never disappear altogether. Chassis shortages and port congestion may ease, but it’s important to be prepared for other potential factors affecting your business such as vessel capacity constraints, schedule reliability and equipment availability, which continue to cause delays and impact supply chains.

Attempt to plan deliveries at least three to four weeks out—potentially longer for some markets. Combined with the right export strategy for your budget and objectives, proper planning can help you to keep cargo moving—no matter what you’re up against.

Need additional U.S. export guidance? Connect with an export specialist today.