‘Bring the business right here’
Kingston Wharves targets nearshoring for growth
Jeffrey Hall, chairman of Kingston Wharves, has urged businesses overseas to utilitise the inventory management operations of the terminal and logistics company.

KINGSTON Wharves Limited (KWL) has sent out the charm offensive, wooing entities in the United States whose business has been impacted by the global supply chain woes, to use its inventory management facilities to cauterise the fallout.

“At the height of this supply chain issue globally, there was a big conversation in which the US stakeholders — government interests, shipping interests — were speaking about their major terminals, extending their work day to 24 hours and the constraints to them with that and the impact on consumer prices and the availability of produce, etc. We just want to say to the world, Kingston Wharves is open 24 hours, everyday of the week. You can bring the business right here. Drop the cargo here and whenever you are ready for it and your ports are open, come and get it. That’s the core business that we are in and we are committed to it,” Jeffrey Hall, chairman of Kingston Wharves, outlined at the company’s annual general meeting held late last week.

Hall, however, said while he believes “this is the moment” for such a business line to expand in Jamaica, Government policies may stymie the effort. “When that cargo comes here and is left in Jamaica, it cannot be overtaxed and overregulated,” he added without expanding further.

The company, which operates two divisions — terminal operations and logistics operations, has been operating an inventory management system in recent times, holding inventory for companies which can monitor it in real time using a smartphone or tablet, and can identify inventory needed for delivery, request it and have it sent to where it is needed. KWL said it wants to build out that operation and is targeting nearshoring opportunities.

“As it relates to our logistics services, we are into third-party logistics. We are into inventory management, order picking and packing, warehousing, return goods, etc. The full gamut of logistics,” Mark Williams, chief executive officer of KWL, told shareholders.

“Kingston Wharves has connection to every continent on the planet. We do business with over 45 destinations. We’ve connections to countries as far away as Australia [and] New Zealand for our motor unit business. And we believe that it is just a matter of time before we continue to expand. Certainly, in 2021, we provided safe harbour for manufacturers, for distributors, for personal shippers and other movers of cargo beyond challenges of the wider supply chain,” added Williams.

Critical to its expansion into inventory management is a new warehouse to be built on Ashenheim Road in St Andrew, three kilometres from the wharf, as part of a US$60-million infrastructure plan announced last year.

The company said it is ready to go to the next phase of that project “in a matter of weeks.” Williams said ground has been broken for the project and all the drawings for the design of the premises are with the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation awaiting approval.

“We believe that the opportunities for nearshoring are real. We have a solid track record in logistics and we believe that we can add value to the business and those opportunities that will come.”

“Basically what we are doing is looking at different types of third-party logistics activities with manufacturers and distributors,” William said as he gave better details on the types of nearshoring opportunities to be pursued. “What we envision is something like ‘kitting’. That is where you have different types of equipment and you put them together in a kit and ship them.” He, however, said the company “hasn’t signed the contracts yet” on its nearshoring business.

KWL logistics business, which accounts for 31 per cent of its business last year, earning $2.7 billion in revenues, has grown by 81 per cent over the last five years. It grew by 23 per cent last year alone. By comparison, the terminal business, which is still its core business, accounting for 69 per cent of KWL business, grew 21 per cent last year with revenues of $6 billion and 71 per cent of the profit at $2.7 billion. Logistics earned $1.1 billion of Kingston Wharves profit last year, accounting for 29 per cent of the amount.

“The terminal division that was most affected by the impact of COVID over the past two years has recovered well and is now on a solid path for continued growth,” Williams said.

Through its terminal, KWL moves four types of cargo: standard containers, motor units, break bulk like steel and cement, and bulk cargo such as edible oils and grains. During 2021, KWL handled 160,000 motor units an increase of 42 per cent over the number of units handled in 2020. During 2021, the company also handled 182,000 tonnes of breakbulk cargo (up 102 per cent), largely steel and lumber. As for the bulk cargo, the volumes flowing through KWL in 2021 was 142,000 tonnes, up 28 per cent while containers numbered 190,000 20 foot equivalent (TEU), up five per cent.

“We remain the gateway to the Americas. Certainly large customers and stakeholders like Seaboard continue to assist us in moving cargo to ports in North America, Caribbean and Latin America,” Williams said. Other clients like Hoegh Autoliners, which moves heavy-duty motor equipment produced by Caterpillar at its plant in Houston, Texas, uses Kingston Wharves as the transshipment point for the motor units going to countries such as Australia.

Williams told the Jamaica Observer that the company is now “days away from signing a contract for a new cargo type” to add to the four different types it now process each day, but would not be drawn on disclosing the nature of the new business the company is seeking.

He, however, disclosed, “We are looking to expand our business. We are looking to acquire similar businesses, businesses that complement what we do and also to diversify our cargo type.” Pressed for more details on the acquisitions which seemed imminent, Williams explained to the Business Observer, “We are doing more than one...but as per the rules of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, we can’t disclose at this moment.” But he added: “It’s an international company with a local branch.”

He, however, said the berth seven expansion project, which is part of the planned US$60-million project, has been awarded to an international contractor. “They have started the preliminary works. All the preliminary works have been done, the design has been done and has been submitted to the local authority and is now awaiting approval. We have ordered the steel. I want you to know that we are mindful of the global supply chain issues and price escalation, certainly for steel, and we have gotten ahead of that and we have booked the steel and we should be ready in another few months with the physical work on the ground,” Williams added. The work is expected to take 12 months.

In addition to those projects, the company said it “will continue to expand its web-based, contactless cargo clearance service, that allows our customers to pay online and schedule curbside pickup. We believe that this is a change in the local environment for this type of activity.”

“Other key components of our digital transformation will involve improvement in our terminal operating system, to maximise our ability to seamlessly communicate and manage vessel operations. We have a learning management system that will allow our team members to have greater access to online training and certification. We are very focused on building a world-class workforce. We believe training, international certification, local certification, is important in that focus.”

“Digital technology will also drive our security operations. In 2020, I shared with you that in partnership with the Port Authority of Jamaica, we spent in excess of US$2 million to safeguard our terminal, to ensure it’s best in class, to ensure that our international partners are comfortable with the security infrastructure, the security eco-system of Jamaica. And I am very pleased to say that we believe we have achieved that, we have had several international security audits since then and I’m very pleased to say we have passed all of those.”

After returning record revenue of $8.67 billion during 2021, up 22 per cent, the company continued its strong performance, posting revenues of $2.2 billion in the January to March quarter of this year, up 21 per cent while profits jumped 19 per cent to $769 million over the same three month period.

“I am very pleased to say that we have done this with minimal increase in rates to our business partners. It was just about three per cent,” he said.

“I believe that we are securing our future. These developments are positioning Kingston Wharves to build a secured future. KWL is strengthening the business, expanding our operations and diversifying the cargo type that we handle. As we roll out our capital investment initiatives, we will maximise the use of our special economic zone and ditigal transformation to offer value-add services to manufacturers and distributors.”

Dashan Hendricks

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