Hope for the holidays? Logistics experts say supply chain issues could be problematic this year despite sector’s best efforts

When a trucking company leader’s response is to “hope for the best” when asked how supply chain issues will overlay with a busy upcoming holiday season … you might know what to expect.

That is, the worst.

Craig McGraw. (Trans American Trucking & Warehouse)

So, if you’re asking Craig McGraw of Trans American Trucking & Warehouse when to order that holiday gift from your e-commerce retailer of choice, he’d order those items earlier this year — just to be on the safe side.

McGraw, vice president of sales and marketing for South Plainfield-based Trans American, said there are a couple of trends exacerbating supply chain bottlenecks that he doesn’t expect to come to a resolution by the time the holiday season rolls around.

The first of those is the truck driver shortage.

“That’s just getting worse for trucking companies,” he said. “There are truckers going toward companies like Amazon, where truckers just drive and don’t need to worry about tarping loads or the other work that goes into (working for a traditional trucking business).”

Another issue is congestion at ports, McGraw said, where all those potential stocking-stuffers end up coming in on containers, often from overseas markets.

“That congestion, which we’re hoping goes away, is hard for owner-operators in trucking, too,” he said. “Because, with gas prices being so high, you have people waiting hours to pick up containers.”

Even if Amazon skirts by a lot of the traditional supply chain process with its own container ships, independent sellers will likely see delays during the holidays due to that congestion. McGraw did add that local terminals have introduced an appointment system that he’s optimistic about.

Michelle Comerford. (Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co.)

Supply chain expert Michelle Comerford said the ports have been busy trying to improve issues to hopefully prevent disruption.

“But it remains to be seen what will happen in the holiday season,” she said. “People will be holding their breath this year as retailers start seeing a large amount of goods coming in through congested ports.”

Comerford is Industrial & Supply Chain Practice leader at site selection and advisory firm Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., or BLS & Co. Her firm has been busy on a long-term industry effort to overhaul the supply chain that would minimize the risk of future disruptions.

“We are currently in the midst of a great reset in manufacturing footprints,” she said. “Largely as a result of the supply chain disruptions from the COVID pandemic, we’re helping a lot of domestic and international manufacturers set up operations in the United States. Companies aren’t leaving Asia completely, but they’re diversifying and not just relying on one megaplant.”

It’s going to take years for the supply chain to start to demonstrate the effects of that overhaul. It’s not an overnight fix, Comerford said.

So, in other words, it’s not a reason to put off holiday gift-buying.

“But I think we’re seeing, very slowly, some improvement in the supply chain,” she said. “We’re hopeful.”