From 3PL to PPE: That health care gear needed during pandemic? Logistics business moved it — and had to adapt to new circumstances

In New Jersey, logistics can be a lifesaver.

In light of all the companies handling medical equipment before it’s loaded onto big rigs en route to strained hospitals, it’s worth highlighting that this industry was another of the many unsung heroes during the region’s deadly COVID-19 caseload.

And Pilot Freight Services, an international provider of transportation and logistics services, was one of the companies delivering those critical supplies. It handled a portion of the regional supply chain for surgical masks, ventilators and other necessities for health care providers during the recent heights of the pandemic.

John Hill is president and chief commercial officer of the company, which maintains a headquarters in the greater Philadelphia region, but has situated its largest logistics-dedicated facility and its first FDA-regulated warehouse in Piscataway.

“New Jersey, especially right off of (Interstate) 287, is a great place to be,” Hill said. “You can hit a lot of places quickly from that marketplace. So, we’ve got a 55,000-square-foot facility that serves as a backup to our traditional freight operation in Newark, which mainly services local customers in that market for pickup and delivery.”

Within a short time period, the local logistics base of the company was transformed into a forward station for single-day turnarounds of tools needed by health care workers in neighboring New York.

“The Piscataway space served us particularly well during COVID-19, because a major health care company we do business with was having emergency deliveries in Manhattan,” he said. “We were allowing their field engineers to come into our facility to do testing of equipment. We gave them room to do that testing prior to it going to the hospital.”

The logistics company created what it called clean rooms within its facility. Medical engineers and technicians used them for inspections and everything else needed to ensure equipment would be ready for immediate use in patient populations in medical centers and even field hospitals.

In the process, the company’s logistics personnel had to learn how to comply with safety protocols, including how delivery drivers could stay at a distance from areas designated for frontline health care workers.

Even outside of its deliveries of medical products, Hill said the company has had to adjust to less contact with the recipients of bulky consumer products. First in New York, but also in New Jersey and Seattle, the company had to change how it was delivering direct-to-consumer items to comply with social distancing mandates.

“For example, we won’t go in the home if someone doesn’t want us to,” Hill said. “Our drivers are wearing masks, but, if someone’s still not comfortable, we don’t go in.”

Even with less of a high-alert situation today, Hill expects some of these changes to stick around.

E-commerce customers have kept the logistics company busy nationwide with orders of exercise equipment such as elliptical bikes and treadmills and home office equipment for remote work, in a sales surge that Hill said resembles the busier shopping months of November and December.

Hill said these shoppers are looking for a more basic level of service today when it comes to deliveries — as in, just dropping that new desk in the garage or outside the house is good enough.

As yet another long-term effect of the pandemic, Hill said this COVID-19-inspired trend in logistics could lessen the price of e-commerce items in the future.

“If you’re an e-commerce retailer, maybe you had a price point of $750 or higher,” he said. “That might drop to something like $550 when the cost of the transportation goes down. Because, even if it seems like the customer isn’t paying for the cost of transportation, they are. It’s built into the cost of the goods.”