Distribution sector staffs up at holidays

Amazon.com's addition of several thousand temporary positions to its fulfillment center in Fernley provides a significant boost to employment in northern Nevada and Amazon isn't the only logistics provider hiring holiday help.

Other regional logistics companies and retailer centers plan on adding a significant number of workers this holiday season, and employment levels are expected to be slightly higher than last year.

OHL Logistics in Sparks says it will add 60 to 100 temporary positions for four to 10 weeks at its 1.3-million-square-foot facility in eastern Sparks, and ITS Logistics of Sparks added 10 to 12 additional drivers for its peak season.

John Peddie, senior vice president of operations for OHL, says a ramp up in staff for the holidays is old hat for the third-party logistics provider OHL, which employs about 500, has its own staffing agency inside its Sparks facility.

"We go through this every year," Peddie says. "We have about 50 customers that we handle business for out of our Sparks campus. Quite a few of them are cyclical, and the majority of that cyclical business does affect the holidays."

Peddie says holiday hiring levels are predicated on customer forecasts. OHL works with its customer base in advance of the holidays to determine inventory levels and business activity before putting out the call for additional employees. New hires typically are brought in for several weeks of training before the holiday rush of business.

The ebb and flow of workforce is all part of being a large third-party logistics provider, Peddie says. OHL, formerly ODC Logistics, has operated in the region for more than three decades.

"The 3PL business model is to be flexible for customers, and part of that flexibility is to offer a campus environment where you can train employees for multiple accounts," Peddie says. "You take the business knowing you have to accommodate their seasonal ups and downs.

"The holiday season certainly is part of the reason customers look to the outside. We bring to bear the flexibility of a lot of square footage, as well as the ability to increase our labor force on pretty short notice to meet an increase in their demands."

Jeff Lynch, president of ITS Logistics, says a 10 to 20 percent rise in season employment is normal for the company, and inventory levels usually begin spiking in July and August. The high unemployment rate in the Reno-Sparks area 13.6 percent in September allows companies such as ITS and OHL to hire qualified help on short notice, Lynch says.

ITS Logistics has not had to hire any fulfillment positions, Lynch says, because as some customers have spikes in winter, others decline, allowing workers to accommodate those cyclical swings.

Peddie says the biggest obstacle for logistics providers to overcome is to ensure they can meet customer demands during the hectic holiday season.

"From a revenue standpoint, it drops a lot of money into their companies," Peddie says. "If our customers commit to their customers that something is going to happen, the biggest challenge for us is to make it happen. A lot of our customers go 50 to 100 percent higher on inventory, and when we commit to our customers, we have got to make it happen."

Bryan Wachter, director of government affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada, says Nevada retailers also are expecting more robust employment numbers than in 2009, when soft consumer spending kept many companies from ramping up holiday staff.

"There will be more hiring this year than last, but no one should expect hiring levels of 2007 and 2006," Wachter says. "We are seeing consumers spending more on gifts and things than last year, when they weren't buying, and that has given retailers the opportunity to hire more people."

Retail employment in the Reno-Sparks area from July through September held steady at 21,200 jobs, the Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation reports. Carson City retail employment held steady from January through August at 2,900 jobs, but the sector shed 100 jobs in September, DETR reports.

Alexia Bratiotis, marketing manager for The Summit, says most of the center's 70 stores and 10 eateries already have hired seasonal staff and begun workplace training. The Summit had its Christmas tree lighting this past weekend to kick off the holiday shopping season.

"Retailers at Summit pride themselves on the increase in traffic during the holiday season, and it is important to have those extra bodies in the stores to provide great customer service," Bratiotis says. "People are getting into holiday spirit already and are starting to think about their shopping."

The National Retail Federation expects a 3 percent increase in hiring during the holiday shopping season. Last year, retailers hired an additional 453,600 seasonal workers, a substantial increase from the 231,000 they hired in 2008. Retail sales also rose in 2009, the NRF reports, rising 0.4 percent to $437 billion, again a significant improvement from the 3.9 percent dip in 2008 the only decline since NRF started tracking sales figures in 1992.

Retail sales are expected to rise 2.3 percent in 2010, the NRF says.


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