Just in time shipping and your family’s survival

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just in time shippingBack in the day when I clothed my kids in Gymboree from head to toe, the sales clerks could almost always manage to find the size I needed by, “checking in the back.”  Every store has a stockroom in the back where, presumably, massive quantities of extra products are shelved.  Well, a couple of years ago I was surprised to find out that this isn’t true, Gymboree notwithstanding.

In fact, most stores operate on a system known as, “just in time shipping”  or “just in time management.” In other words, products arrive just in time to be put on the shelves to replace whatever has been purchased.  That’s why, when a store has a particularly good sale on an item, once it’s sold out, it might be out of stock for days or weeks.  There are no extras hidden in the back room.  Retailers keep their inventories to a bare minimum in order to save money and to not end up with a stockpile of a product that isn’t selling.

One impressive feature of this system is that it is run by computers and can actually forecast which products will be needed where and when.  For example, when the weather in a certain area takes a turn toward higher temperatures, the system will automatically begin shipping items such as sun block and beach toys.  An oncoming hurricane will trigger the shipment of bottled water, baby formula and ice.  You can read more about this impressive system here.

Now, what does this information have to do with your family’s survival and preparedness?  Imagine there’s a major crisis in our country that slows the shipping business down to a crawl.  It could be a natural disaster affecting the busy ports along the west coast.  Excessively high diesel prices could drive some trucking companies out of business and reduce the amount of goods being shipped via our highways.

The fact that our nation is so very dependent on technology is exactly what makes us so vulnerable, ironically. Just in time shipping has been serving manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers very well, but it’s also a fragile system. It depends on our nation’s power grid and ready access to the internet. A massive power grid failure, cyber-terrorism, or just mischievous hacking could create a cascade failure of important goods reaching their destinations.

Whatever the event, the just in time shipping strategy may leave the average American family high and dry in the middle of a major crisis.

The American Trucking Association presents a sobering view of possible consequences to a partial or complete interruption to our nation’s trucking business.  You should take a few minutes and read the entire paper, but here is a brief summary of a possible timeline in the event of a truck stoppage.

Within 24 hours

  • Delivery of medical supplies to the area affected by a disaster will cease.
  • Service stations will begin to run out of fuel.
  • U.S. mail and other package delivery will cease.

Within one day

  • Food shortages will begin to develop.
  • Without manufacturing components and trucks for product delivery, assembly lines will shut down, putting thousands out of work.

Within two to three days

  • Food shortages will escalate, especially in the face of hoarding and consumer panic
  • ATMs will run out of cash, and banks will be unable to process transactions.
  • Garbage will start piling up in urban and suburban areas.

Within a week

  • Automobile travel will cease due to lack of fuel.  Without autos and busses, many people will not be able to get to work, shop for groceries, or access medical care.
  • Hospitals will begin to exhaust oxygen supplies.

Start keeping track of the goods you buy most often and the most important services your family uses. Virtually every one of them will be affected by a disruption in our just in time shipping system.

Preparedness now is the key.  Simple steps toward three months or more of food storage may make the difference between your family getting daily, nutritious meals and standing in line with hundreds of other hungry people, hoping to get a few groceries.  A home garden will produce fresh produce, and safely storing several gallons of fuel may help you and your family get through the worst of it.

Just in time shipping works well for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers but is vulnerable when calamity strikes.  Fortunately, preppers can take advantage of this knowledge by taking prudent steps to safeguard our families regardless of what is on a store’s shelf.

just in time shipping

This article was originally published on December 18, 2009, and has been updated.

20 thoughts on “Just in time shipping and your family’s survival”

  1. I'm a contractor in the St. Louis area. To bolster your argument I would point to something we have been running into. My subcontractors are beginning to have trouble getting special order materials in a timely fashion. The reason? The slowdown in economic activity has caused there to be fewer trucks running at any given time. What used to take a week to get now takes a month or in some cases longer. We have to wait until a truck is coming to our area.

    This is a foretaste of the future without local suppliers of almost everything. We've become far to dependent on people and places far, far away from where we live.

    1. That's an interesting comment because my husband is experiencing the same thing in the construction business here in the Phoenix area. Warehouses used to stock what he needed and special orders were a rarity. Now, he's finding that it takes more time to get what he needs, and, of course, contruction has slowed down overall. Thanks for visiting my blog!

      1. Same is going on in Mich. When I remodled my bathroom 5 years ago the choice of tile was mind bogoling. When I did my fathers last summer the same store had about 1/2 dozen types in stock and every thing else was ordered as needed with delivery time of 10 days to 6 weeks. When I went to locale warehouses less than 1/2 the floorspace was in use, and ther was no price shopping because no 2 warehouses had the same items in stock.

  2. Drew from Oztralya

    The "Just In Time" supply system also has massive implications for manufacture; take the auto manufacturing industry. If even one component runs out- that means a larger assembly cannot be completed, nor shipped, creating a roll on effect.
    The old adage rings true now more than ever.

    For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
    For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
    For want of a horse the rider was lost.
    For want of a rider the battle was lost.
    For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
    And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

    1. That's an excellent observation, Drew. It seems surreal to be discussing a time in the future where even the most basic supplies we now take for granted could be in short supply. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  3. I just read a survival article in Newsweek; Preppers are the new survivalists. Really fascinating. In my house, happiness is a well stocked freezer, and I've just started my first veggie garden. But I now realize that these steps are not enough. I love all the info on your blog…and my planning begins today. Thanks and see you soon! k

    1. I'm checking out her blog right now. She has some interesting observations about our economy and the coming years, doesn't she? Thanks for the tip off!

  4. SurvivalInVirginia

    Survival Mom, you have a great site. One comment to Katzien, do not put much of your foodstuffs in freezers, if you were to lose power and not have a backup, all is lost. I too have freezer full, but thank the Lord and my parents. Both were children of the Great Depression, they taught us many skills such an gardening, canning, hunting and how topreserve meat. Presently in our smokehouse I have several hams hanging along with slabs of bacon galore. There are many informative books out there available, the ones that I would recommend are the Foxfire series. I do not think they are in print anymore but you can normally pick them up at used bookstores.

    I think we as Americans are coming to a major crossroad. With the losses of our manufacturing base, health care, crime and unemployment, things are going to get nasty.

    God be with us all

    1. I've heard great things about the Foxfire books and have seen them on eBay at very reasonable prices. Thanks for the info and sharing your experiences with us. Every step toward self-sufficiency is one that makes our families stronger and less vulnerable.

  5. You can’t stress this enough. I saw this firsthand when I worked as a shift manager at a local store. Every day, someone would ask “Can’t you go in the back…”, and no one understood (in spite of the small size of our building) that there IS no “back.” What you see is all there is. If a product sells out, the shelves are empty until the next truck comes in. If an order gets lost, that time period can extend to a week or more. Many of the products couldn’t even be ordered by us — we got whatever the supplier wanted to give us. Bread would sell out within 3 days but not be replaced until day 5. It wasn’t unusual to get a single case of a favorite soft drink. Run out? Too bad. It taught me a lot about being dependent on stores. They serve their purpose, but you can’t depend on them having what you need the moment you want it.

  6. Hey Survival Mom, would like your opinion…

    I am in debt,,,$20,000.00 maybe more … business debt Home Improvements..Business trials….been thru it b4 .but still see the need to prep and stock pile …i just put a few more bux on the card,,,but feel I can’t wait to get out of debt….figurin …if the SHTF gotta be prepared…debt won’t matter then anyways…and either way I’ll use the stuff,,,
    got about a month supply of bottled water ..some 25 year food last about a month and canned food and a bunch of other stuff,,,learnin stuff too….what do you think about the debt?? and still usin the credit card

    1. Pay down your existing debt. And store water, which is either free or pretty darn close to it. And don’t forget to pay down your debt.

  7. Betty Guy Elliott

    My husband has been waiting for four months for a transmission for his car. Fortunately, we have a car that I usually drive and we have a 1983 Nisson truck. Otherwise, we would not be able to go everywhere we need to go.

  8. This article was a bit prophetic, wasn’t it?
    The pandemic has been a WAKE-UP!! call for many people. Preppers aren’t such a joke, now, are they [we]?

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