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Prologis, the distribution-focused real estate firm, recently conducted 23 interviews at ten major North American ports to investigate whether import-driven warehouse exhibit systemic differences from their domestic counterparts. Import-driven warehouses are those that specialize in handling imports. While the majority are located near coastal ports, many also are found at "inland ports" such as Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas. Import-driven warehousesare either dedicated strictly to transloading operations or to a combination of transloading and customer fulfillment operations.
Two key features distinguish import-driven warehouses from the rest of the pack: (a) the extreme volatility of their daily workloads and (b) the spottiness of accurate, timely information about ship arrival times and container deliveries.
Other distinguishing characteristics of import-driven warehouse facilities uncovered in the survey include:
1. They are typically long and narrow, with multiple dock doors and abundant trailer parking lots and drop yards for container storage.
2. Import-warehouse efficiency and productivity depend not just on how well warehouse operators execute their own functions, but also on how well the other players in the import process (e.g., customs brokers and forwarders, longshoremen, drayage operators, steamship lines, and stevedore companies) execute theirs.
3. Import warehouses face "lumpy demand," largely because the inbound containers are being transported by huge vessels that make scheduled but infrequent stops.
4. An import-warehouse's backlog can surge from zero to fifty containers (or more) in a single day depending on the pace of unloading, customs clearance, drayage, and the warehouse operator's own efficiency.
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