Several specialized furniture carriers are suspending less-than-truckload service to retailers as COVID-19 continues to spread.
While slow retail and manufacturing shutdowns have affected the demand for services, carriers cited employee safety and compliance with efforts to contain the virus’ spread as the main reasons for their moves. Some that also carry supplies and goods deemed essential during the pandemic, however, are maintaining truckload service for those items.
So far, Furniture Today has verified that Brooks-DeHart Furniture Xpress, Mississippi Furniture Xpress, Shelba Johnson Trucking and Wiseway Transportation Services have suspended LTL deliveries.
Shelba Johnson notified customers that it halted operations Monday for 30 days after the state of North Carolina implemented a “Stay at Home” order requiring all non-essential businesses to shut down for April.
“The most important thing to us at this unfortunate time is the health and safety of our employee’s and of our partners,” read the letter to retailers, noting Shelba’s service territory, largely in the Northeast, encompasses major U.S. hotspots for the virus.
Shelba will continue pickup operations through Friday and is hopeful its trucks can return to normal operations after April 13.
“The single biggest thing is trying our best to ensure the safety of our employees. We feel as a company that continuing to send our drivers into the epicenters of the virus and possibly having them infected and returning to our community is dangerous and highly irresponsible,” said Shelba Johnson National Sales Manager Richard Tucker, who also serves as chairman of the Specialized Furniture Carriers division of the American Home Furnishings Alliance. “We believe that anyone continuing to operate across state lines during this dangerous time is not in our communities’ best interest.”
Greg Skoog, president of Mississippi Furniture Xpress, which has suspended pickups and deliveries until April 24, echoed Tucker’s sentiments in a statement to Furniture Today.
“The health and well-being of our drivers and staff is our greatest consideration in formulating this plan,” Skoog said. “Forcing drivers to deliver into ‘hot spots’ and back to our state is not ethical in light of the recommendations from the CDC and the mandate from our governor. The growing number of retail stay-at-home orders and plant closures leave us with no other choice but to temporarily suspend pick-up and outbound service until April 24.”
At that time, MFX will assess the situation and hopes to resume normal operations, “thereby delivering all furniture currently in our two terminals, already loaded on outbound trailers or which is still on trailers waiting to be unloaded,” Skoog said.
MFX will staff its North Carolina office with a skeleton crew to answer customer questions that may arise during the service suspension.
“We wish to thank in advance our retail customers and shippers for their patience as together we fight the spread of COVID-19 and in turn help to initiate the resurgence of our economy,” Skoog concluded.
Safety also was the driver behind Brooks-DeHart Furniture Xpress’ decision to put a hold on deliveries to the retailers it serves in Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi and Utah.
“Sending drivers into these hot zones and the possibility of them bringing the virus back to their families is not too smart right now,” said owner Anthony Brooks. “We’re doing some pickups but not doing deliveries to retailers,” adding that with so many manufacturers suspending production, there’s not as much furniture to pick up on the vendor end.
“Even with stores that are open, it’s hard to make deliveries with stores so far apart, and it’s impossible to know everyone’s schedule,” Brooks said, adding deliveries will be suspended as long as stay-at-home orders are in effect in the states it serves.
“The problem is that instead of a uniform shutdown across the country, (states) are doing their own thing,” Brooks said. “We’d have preferred to see something that’s consistent everywhere.”
Wiseway also told customers it was suspending less-than-truckload furniture operations for two to four weeks, and that the suspension is subject to change pending further developments.
The company will continue pickups through the end of business on Friday “and will try to get as many deliveries as we can out next week from Hudson, Wis., but after next week, deliveries will mostly come to a halt,” Vice President of Sales and Marketing Marcus Cary said. “As an essential carrier, handling food products, we will continue our truckload operations during this period. There will be a very limited staff maintained as well during this time period, and we are asking that customers not track orders during the suspension period.”
He added that while Wiseway has always handled food products, it also will carry other essential items during the outbreak but will limit those to truckload service only.
Vendors already were feeling the effect of COVID-19 on LTL service, according to Stone & Leigh COO Steve Wolfe.
“We have had truckers show up that won’t get out of their trucks. We load and then take the paperwork to them,” Wolfe said, noting “lots of variations” in service right now. “We have 30 rough days ahead of us all, and it appears this is changing daily.” He added that he’s received more notices of retailers closing down from 15 to 60 days based on the state.
Wolfe also is president of Furniture Shippers Assn., an organization of logistics and transportation executives on the vendor side of the industry.
“FSA has been pushing all carriers and the AHFA for guidance” on service, he said, and he believes service suspensions are “a by-product of that.”