Who Moved My Grapes?
This blog post is inspired by a talk that we had at the 2022 TWGGA conference. Les and I were honored to speak at the conference regarding two separate topics: supply chain challenges and the ins and outs of logistics for the Texas wine industry. Our partner in crime when we talk about logistics is always our Dreamsicle. That is the name for our truck and refrigerated trailer that we use to carry the valuable goods needed by the Texas wine industry.
Les introduced the Dreamsicle with these words:
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the “starship” Dreamsicle.
Its eternal mission: to deliver the equipment, to deliver the grapes and to deliver the cased goods for the success of Texas Wine!!
Space is the one word that dominates any discussion about planning. You have heard it before, but before you break ground, decisions must be made as to what your vision will be not only today, next year and five years from now. With that said, what kind of trucks will you encounter once operations commence?
Construction deliveries will arrive on flatbeds. Vineyard supplies will arrive on flatbeds. Flatbeds can range from 36’ to 53’ in length. Other supplies, especially once a winery is receiving supplies, will arrive on dry or refrigerated trailers. Grapes will ship on refrigerated trailers. Wine will arrive on vans, refrigerated or dry depending on the weather. Vans can range in length from 26 to 53’. Think worst case scenario, which means a full 53’ trailer with a tractor that has a sleeper cab included. The overall length could be 80’ or better. What exactly does that mean for your entrance, exit, driveways, loading, unloading, and docking areas?
Planning your entrance
Your entrance should be wide enough with a tapered entrance for a tractor with trailer to pull in safely from the road. The gate, if there is one, should easily open wide enough to allow for trucks to pass easily.
What type of aggregate will you use for your driveways? If paving your driveways is not in the budget, make sure your contractor lays the correct aggregates for your parking lots, driveways, and staging areas. Nothing is worse than an inferior aggregate used for the driveways of your property, which cause a tractor trailer to sink when the ground is wet. The size of the tractor trailer is not the only consideration, but the weight of any loads on your property is incremental too. Most tractor trailers will weight close to 80,000 pounds when full of fuel and product. We'll talk about heavier loads further in this post.
Planning your loading, unloading, docking, and staging areas
Your loading, unloading, docking, and staging areas should allow for plenty of turning radius for the tractor trailers that arrive at your property. Is your staging area ground level? Have an area that descends so that the when the tractor trailer backs into the staging area, it will then be level to the loading/unloading area.
Aggregates again become an important item for this area, too. Kuhlman Cellars has a loading dock with thick rock the size of a man’s fist, which allows for ample traction when backing in or pulling out. This aggregate also allows for easy drainage when it is raining, and the tractor trailer won’t get bogged down.
Some items to have for receiving or shipping items from your facility are not limited to but should include the following:
Packaging and securement
When shipping your items make sure that they are in the proper type of packaging that will sustain the journey you plan. Will you need ½ or 1.5-ton bins for harvest? Will you need lids? Equipment crating may be necessary and shouldn’t be done in an inexpensive manner. Crating is to protect what is being shipped. What type of tote will you use for bulk purchases? Be sure you are aware of an item’s benefit and curse when making a purchase. Not all totes are equal.
Loading and unloading
A loading dock isn’t necessary. A staging area or crushing pad will work for small facilities.
Deliveries and shipments are made any time during the day and night and in all kinds of weather. Even without building a loading dock but using a staging area for deliveries, you must have ample lighting. Entrances need to have clearly defined areas for nighttime shipments. A flashing beacon is best and can be used only when necessary. Solar lights are not for entrances and are only fashion accessories. When creating lighted signage or applicable lights for entrances, ensure that they are seen when approaching the entrance from the roadway and not flush with your entrance.
Hye Meadow Winery – Notice the dock plate.
Nighttime Delivery – Lighting is imperative.
Lighting – Flashing beacon light
Options for fixing entrance constraints
If existing structures exist, there may be ways to improve the areas that you have. The biggest one is the width of an entrance. The width may be a prohibitive factor but moving the structures that at an entrance can be an area that can be improved. Flowerbeds, ornamental items, fences, and other items may be attractive, but once they are damaged by a tractor trailer, there’s no going back. Don’t forget how gates and other structures with archways can impact traffic in and out of your entry. Be mindful when designing entrances and never lose sight of delivery or shipping needs.
Optimizing your delivery
No matter the carrier, there are shipping basics that every carrier will need to know for quotation purposes and for the quality of delivery once an item is collected. The weight provided can be per piece or as an overall weight. However, if there are multiple items of varying sizes being shipped, the weight provided should be per piece and not an overall weight.
The dimensions are expressed in length, width, and height. The unit of measure should be provided, such as inches, feet, centimeters, or meters. If multiple pieces of varying sizes are being shipped, the measurement for each item should be provided.
The need for refrigeration is an important factor as is the pickup and delivery windows. For quotation purposes the ship from and to zip codes are adequate, but once the item is booked for shipping, more detailed information is necessary.
The business shipper and receiver name, address, contact name, phone and email address are all necessary as is the shipping and receiving hours. We like to know if a forklift is available. Finally, any additional information that is useful, such as the gate code or entrance directions.
Freight costs have escalated over the last two years. Limited capacity, which means the number of available empty trailers to ship your product, has become an issue far more than ever. Within the last two years, fewer trucks are on the road due to illness, death, business closure, and mechanical constraints due to an even more prevalent problem. Manufacturers are having issues providing replacement part due to raw material constraints, staff reductions, longer lead times and shipping backlogs.
Freight costs have increased because trucking companies are mandating higher prices to create a bidding war between potential customers. Loads that previously cost $5,500 can now cost $12,000. The carrier claims higher fuel prices as the reason for the increased pricing. However, that isn’t the case. Yes, there are higher fuel prices. However, they don’t justify load prices doubling in a matter of months.
What can you do to curb the costs? Most of our customers cannot afford to pay for a full truckload as they are small business owners. Coordinate purchases and shipments with others that are looking for the types of products. Give your carrier ample time to work with other customers to combine loads so that the freight costs are shared among multiple parties. Be mindful that truck drivers are in general a lazy lot. They like simple, which means one pick up and one drop off. Load combining would entail multiple pick-ups and drop offs. This also means that it will cost more to convince a carrier to take the load, but it's not impossible.
Choosing the right carrier for you
Cost is not the only consideration when deciding on the carrier for you. Quality, reliability, lead time and safety are important considerations. Whatever your reasons are for choosing the carrier for your shipping needs, be sure that you check with two to three options. By only evaluating on source, you are limiting your options to see what others can do for you. You are also limiting yourself to know if the one supplier you use as a default is meeting your needs.