The COVID pandemic put a strain on retail businesses this year and that was especially felt during the holiday season. “I don’t think any of our retail customers could’ve prepared for the massive changes brought on by the pandemic,” says Howard Hales, Lynden Logistics Domestic Services Manager in Seattle. “COVID turned the world upside down and retail was hit hard. At the beginning of the shutdown this spring, we were in daily communication with our retailers. They needed to know where their product was along the supply chain and either stop shipments or store products at our warehouses until stores re-opened.”
The pandemic has been an elusive opponent for retail companies. Not knowing when stores could safely re-open, store managers played a waiting game wondering when conditions would improve enough to bring shoppers back into stores. According to Hales, retail companies are typically more than a year out on planning for their sales seasons. A whole supply and sales cycle is set based on shipping season-specific merchandise, and having the stores filled with that particular product in time for back-to-school or Christmas shoppers.
“When COVID hit, retailers were forced to shutter their stores for two to three months, and it broke that sales cycle,” he explains. “By the time they were able to start opening stores, they had merchandise on their shelves that had moved beyond the planned season, and new product was on the way or in their warehouses waiting to be moved to the stores.”
For Lynden’s long-time customers Gap and Old Navy, this overstock was both a dilemma and an opportunity. Their elegant solution made national headlines. Recognizing that the COVID crisis has left many families struggling to buy basic necessities like clothing, Old Navy donated $30 million of new clothing to American families. National and local charities, such as Delivering Good, helped distribute the clothing to those who needed it most. Gap asked Lynden to help coordinate the shipments to its major markets of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
“That decision created a whole new logistics cycle,” Hales says. “Gap had to source and supply all of their stores with packaging material so the merchandise could be boxed up and moved. They then had to coordinate the pickups with their local delivery providers for final delivery to the local charities.” As Gap’s primary transportation provider for Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, Lynden coordinated store recoveries in the three markets and redelivered more than 400,000 units to local charities. Old Navy and Gap also donated 50,000 reusable masks to Boys & Girls Clubs of America as many have remained open and operational throughout the crisis as a safe place for kids and families in underserved communities.
Lynden performed similar work for other retail customers. “We had two COVID-related shutdowns for TJ Maxx,” says Stuart Nakayama, Director of Strategic Accounts and Hawaii Trade Services in Los Angeles. “Working with our ocean carrier Pasha, we came up with a solution to help them safely store their products through both shutdowns.” Lynden also helped ship personal protective equipment (PPE) to Hawaii and distributed it to the stores there, as well as all Hot Topic clothing stores in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico upon re-opening of their retail locations.
“The trick was not all stores were opened at the same time, and store hours and availability of store personnel varied,” Nakayama says, “so our Lynden employees had to hold product and get creative on delivery dates and times.”
In addition to apparel, Lynden works with “essential” retailers consisting of restaurants, health and beauty, and grocery stores in national markets. “Service to these customers was, and still is, impacted by airline capacity and delivery networks to some degree,” Nakayama says, “but it’s slowly improving. This year we have seen many changes in our retail markets and shopping patterns. While we can’t predict future change, Lynden can be the constant amid the change for our retail customers.”