Agility and adaptation have been essential to 3PLs during the COVID pandemic. Realigning labor and capacity have required ingenuity and patience. The demand for quality labor is high. Trucking and warehousing capacities have been strained particularly in the major markets–Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta and New York/New Jersey. Major adjustments have been made in office staffs with up to 90% of work forces working from home. Echo Global is now hiring and training people who will work from home. Most 3PLs plan to have a significant portion of their workforces operate from home going forward.
Significant modifications have been made in shipper/3PL relationships as parties adapted. Food, consumer products, healthcare and technology have boomed while automotive, industrial and other verticals have slumped. Imports and exports to the Chinese market have slumped following a trend beginning with the passage of the Section 301 tariff regulations (administered by the International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce) and their 25% tax levied in 2018. There has been an exodus of operations to Vietnam and Southeast Asia where the 301 tariff tax does not apply. Section 301 taxes cover over 6,000 products.
Brexit is the next major challenge. Many companies are setting up European offices to make sure they can cope. Major adjustments to supply chains and duty adjustments will have significant impacts. Inability to travel for business will add to the complications.
Major acquisitions are at a standstill. Platform companies are hard to find. Sales of smaller, bolt-on companies continue to proceed at a rapid pace. Major domestic freight brokers like Echo and C.H. Robinson have been particularly aggressive.
In general, 3PLs will survive 2020 primarily in the black. The major Domestic Transportation Managers will have single digit gross revenue gains but will take a hit on operating/profit margins because of higher purchased transportation charges. Dedicated Contract Carriage 3PLs will have modest revenue gains. 2021 should be a good year for all 3PLs as the economy rebounds and COVID vaccines take effect.
2021 will see the expansion of 3PL automation capabilities in transportation management and warehousing. More shipments will be handled via digital load matching.
We are planning a return to an in-person 2021 3PL Value Creation Summit in downtown Chicago at the Embassy Suites Hotel on October 20 and 21, 2021.