When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, global supply chains slowed. Some shipping and transit companies shut down altogether, anticipating an extreme dearth of consumer retail.
Fifteen months later, businesses of all sizes and in all locations are being jolted by extreme shipping prices and a lack of available shippers fueled by a complex web of circumstances since the slowdown, including a surge in home-goods purchases and the blockage of the Suez Canal.
"We have been working as a society through this backlog for now almost a year. It's getting worse and worse and worse. All the carriers are just sold out," Ryan Petersen, the chief executive of Flexport, the logistics-technology company he founded in 2013, tells Inc.'s What I Know podcast.
The price of moving one container used to be $1,400, he says. Now, he's seen prices increase to as high as $20,000. "And that's if you can get a container," says Petersen, whose company helped 200,000 containers of products move around the world last year, generating $1.3 billion in revenue.
Petersen's company usually is pleased to have what he calls a "backstage window" to the global economy, booking and tracking container ships around the globe. This year, customer service has become defensive: "We're in a tough position. We can't help people as much as we normally can," he says.
Small businesses especially are struggling, because of the extreme costs associated with shipping their goods in a timely fashion. "There are a lot of businesses that don't have that much margin on a container and can't stay in business," Petersen says.
Even with his unique perspective on the industry, Petersen says he can't predict when--or whether--the crunch will end. For more on the issue, and insight into leading a fast-growing startup in an antiquated industry, listen to the full episode in the player below, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get audio.