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Trailers in a yard.
February 8, 2024
The key to smooth shipping? Starting off on the right foot in your yard
Yards at distribution centers and warehouses are critical links in the supply chain and require a well-orchestrated dance of equipment and labor to keep everything running. Even small delays can disrupt the flow of goods.

Bobby Bailey, a transportation consultant at Amazon Freight, knows these yards well. Throughout his career, he has worked in logistics for organizations big and small, learning the ins and outs of what makes a successful yard tick. Today, in his role at Amazon Freight, he works closely with his customers (Amazon Sellers shipping inbound) and regularly visits their sites to help uncover inefficiencies.

“There are a lot of moving parts in a yard, and I’ve seen everything from trailers left in employee parking lots to pallets piling up at dock doors,” he says. “Sometimes it is the seemingly insignificant changes that can drive the biggest improvements.”

He shared some best practices drawn from his first-hand experiences to help reduce delays and increase productivity.

#1 Don’t confuse drivers
You may know the nuances of your yard but an incoming driver likely doesn’t. When drivers are unsure of where to go, they may drop trailers at the wrong dock door or random areas of the yard. Clear signage is important (especially in shared yards) so trailers aren’t left in the way or at a neighbor’s site where they could get towed.

“Directional signage really smooths operations,” Bailey says, adding that if locations have guard shacks, they should be clearly marked so drivers know where to check in. It’s simple, but placing large, visible numbers on dock doors can make a driver’s day.

Bailey says the best running yards he sees typically employ a “yard jockey.” Yard jockeys can move trailers around the yard and play a vital role in organizing and prioritizing loads. Consider dedicating a company day cab and driver to yard movements or hire a driver to come in and provide the service. “The key is, at the very least, to have someone with their commercial driver’s license at the ready to move things around when it’s busy,” Bailey says.

#2 Every trailer has a place
You should be striving for consistency and predictability in your yard, says Bailey. That starts by assigning each dock door to a certain driver, organization, or load type. “The moment a driver gets on property, you want them to reflexively know where to go.” By dedicating one spot to one organization, you create repetition which leads to less disruptions.

For example, on site visits, Bailey helps his customers identify the “Amazon door.” All Amazon trailers come to this door and drivers can build the habit. To get even more organized, Bailey recommends color-coding pallets by location.

Technology is also your friend here. Add your dock door specifications when sharing load information. In the Amazon Freight portal, shippers can list the exact dock door to use, and the info is provided through the Relay app to the driver. "They can also add a contingency—if door 3 is full, deliver to door 4," Bailey says.

#3 Extra trailers = extra space
Optimizing every square foot at your facility is critical for any shipper. Trailer pools are an effective way to optimize equipment and space and reduce dwell time. With such pools, shippers have trailers at their disposal and can pre-load them so drivers can drop one load and immediately hook up to another that is ready to go.

A repository of trailers also keeps the inside of your facility clear and flowing more freely. “I’ve seen distribution centers where they’re positioning pallets on the inbound dock and waiting for trailers," Bailey says. "Since they are loading trailers and moving them away from the doors, they free up a lot of space."

#4 It’s always the little things
“The devil is in the details,” Bailey says. “But there is also opportunity.”

With all the packaging coming and going, waste can accumulate quickly and get in the way. Having recycling bins and trash containers makes pathways easier to navigate and increases safety for employees. Weather can throw an unexpected kink in operations, so knowing who can clear snow or repair a leaking roof are essential.

Being proactive and regularly servicing dock doors, forklifts, and conveyers mitigates potential downstream delays. If equipment does have an issue, employees need to know who can get it back up and running. “You have to be able to pivot quickly when something goes wrong,” Bailey said. “Don’t be the company that gets crippled when someone can’t find the contact info for your door repair company.”

And one of Bailey’s top tips for keeping things moving? Be flexible. When scheduling appointments, look at options for a live load versus a drop load or different days of the week, including weekends. “If you’re not seeing windows that work for you, try different approaches.”

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