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Lessons Learned During the Pandemic: Household Goods Shipping 09.24.2020 | Susan Pineau

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To assess the ways our world has changed since the pandemic, I spent the last month chatting with experts from around the mobility industry about the things they’ve learned about work, family and even themselves during this odd and uncertain time. The results have inspired a series of blog posts.

For the second installment, we sought the insights of the leaders of Weichert’s integrated household goods move management solutions group, Kyriako (Rocko) Bouris, CMC, Vice President, Global Transportation Solutions; Tom Grohman, Vice President, Movers International and Andy Neall, Vice President, Global Moving Services Supply Chain Management.

As you might have expected, each had some interesting anecdotes about the shipping and storage of household goods during a pandemic. And they learned some valuable lessons along the way. For example:

Communication is key: As global freight forwarders, Movers International, under Tom’s direction, had to keep track of regulations and practices in dozens of countries throughout the world. Although utterly critical, keeping the information updated was a full-time job and that data often became outdated within hours of being captured in the log. To ensure everyone was working from the most recent version, they compiled data in MS Teams to provide a central repository for stakeholders which would automatically advise them of updates.

Flexibility is critical: Under normal circumstances, Rocko’s staff of Move Coordinators work closely with both relocating employees and our carriers’ staffs to ensure that our comprehensive Legendary Service protocols are followed to ensure a great service experience. What we discovered during COVID-19, however, was that because of changing circumstances and variances in regional guidelines, the best approach was for us to step back and let our carriers’ coordinators work directly with the transferee or assignee to achieve the optimal outcome in the most efficient manner.

Sometimes you have to get creative: Anyone who has helped a friend move can attest that it would be pretty hard to social distance when carrying a 200-pound power recliner up a narrow stairwell. Although considered essential, the moving industry also had to adhere to COVID-19 prevention protocols like reduced crew sizes and limited contact with transferees and family members.

While those were inconvenient, mandatory personal protective equipment (PPE) created a dangerous situation for some move crews. Moving furniture wearing a mask is not so bad when it’s 40 degrees outside, but when it’s 110 in the shade, that’s a different story (and yelling, “Pivot!” under a mask may not have the same effect). Also, rubber gloves make for sweaty hands regardless of the temp, a hazardous condition when trying to keep your grip on heavy household items.

In order to ensure everyone’s safety and minimize damage losses, crews sometimes had to ditch the PPE and implement creative solutions like sanitizing surfaces and driver hands multiple times during each move, rotating crew members between indoor and outdoor tasks, increasing the frequency of rest/water breaks and providing on-site crew cooling methods.

Both Tom and Rocko report instances where there was an at-risk person in the home, or the transferee had left the residence permanently before their household goods were inventoried. In these situations, many crews had to video call the transferee and “take them” room by room and item by item to verify what should go and what should stay.

Supply chain health is critical and the onset of a pandemic is not the time to start thinking about it. Weichert’s standard approach is to limit risk for ourselves and our clients by ensuring the financial health and sustainability of our supply chain through continuous and thorough review. This approach becomes even more critical at a time when move activity is being throttled globally. In the moving industry, profit margins are small, so fewer summer moves (or even no moves at all) means trouble for some suppliers. For Weichert, this means even more vigilance in our supply chain risk management activities.

According to Rocko and Andy, our typically exceptional partner network has really gone above and beyond for us in addressing pandemic-related challenges. Andy adds that as much as we love meeting with them in person, our strong relationships allowed us to work together seamlessly via video conferencing.

You can never stock too much PPE!: Tom confirms that in the normal course of business, Movers International keeps an inventory of masks and gloves on hand but, much like highly coveted toilet paper at the outset of the pandemic, they were soon in short supply. This caused some delays in pickup and delivery and we found ourselves having to resort to alternate channels to restock. We will now be adjusting what we consider to be our “normal” back stock levels so as to avoid future disruptions in service.

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Written by Susan Pineau

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Susan is a Research Analyst in our Advisory Services group. She has over 25 years of experience in workforce mobility, encompassing roles in Client Services, Equity, Client Accounting, Expense Management, Implementation and Proposal Writing.

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