By Keith Norbury

Moving more than a million items, in a short period of time, to dozens of venues sounds like a job for a freight forwarder. Ensuring those items — such as kayaks, basketballs, and trampolines, — get to where they need to be in time to be paddled, bounced, and bounced upon at Canada’s largest ever international multi-sport event, now that’s a dream job for a logistics professional.

In charge of ensuring that the dream doesn’t become a nightmare at next summer’s Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto is Heather Richards, Manager of Fairs and Exhibitions for DBSchenkerSportsEvents, a division of DB Schenker. Working out of the Toronto office of Schenker of Canada Limited, Ms. Richards is the point person for the German-based logistics giant’s role as an official Games’ supplier. “As the official supplier for the logistics, we’re working with the logistics department within the Pan Am Games, which is a large organization in itself with lots of different functional areas,” Ms. Richards explained in a recent interview, just over a year before the Games begin next July 10.

Those functional areas include warehousing, ground freight, customs clearance, and freight forwarding. Schenker staff and contractors will also handle onsite labour as well as material-handling equipment such as forklifts and pallet jacks.

Schenker already has four team members working full time on the Games. However, Ms. Richards expects that number to double as the event draws nearer. “That’s just within my team,” she said. Schenker will also provide additional labour to support other functional areas, such as air freight and ocean freight. “They’ll just link back in with my team so everybody’s aware of all the components,” she said. “So my team does the overall tracking but we work with all our products to be able to make it functional.”

A major component will be warehousing of all that equipment until it is needed at the venues. After the events are over, the equipment will have to be packed up and taken back to the warehouse to distribute it to its next destination, which could be another Games venue or for some other use entirely.

Her team is already working on an overall warehousing plan in order to meet the challenge of delivering to so many venues “in Toronto traffic in a very short window,” Ms. Richards said. More than 10,000 athletes and officials are expected at the Games, according to Teddy Katz, chief spokesperson for TO2015, the organizing committee for the Games. Competition will take place at 30 venues in 16 municipalities in the Toronto region. Another 21 venues are training facilities and celebration sites. Held every four years for athletes from across the Americas, the Pan American Games are the world’s third largest sporting event after the Olympic Summer Games and the Asian Games.

Trucking executive questions process

When TO2015 announced Schenker of Canada as the official logistics supplier back in December, the Games’ then CEO, Ian Troop, applauded the company’s “expertise and experience.” Not everybody was celebrating, however.

Within a month, the Vice-President of a local trucking firm complained to the Toronto Star about the lack of a public tendering process for the logistics contract that he said froze Ontario companies out of the competition. John Flynn, Vice-President of Seneca Transportation & Logistics Ltd. was chagrined that the contract was awarded to a state-owned multinational headquartered in Germany, and didn’t think it was fair that a company had to pony up at least $1 million in services before it would even be considered as a sponsor. “That is another million dollar question,” Mr. Flynn said. “What is a million in kind? I don’t know if it represents warehousing space or what it represents.”

Organizers looked for “best value”

Mr. Katz confirmed that $1 million figure but he declined to say how many other companies TO2015 invited to apply as the official logistics sponsor. The Toronto Star reported that eight other firms had been approached. “TO2015 canvassed local, national and international companies who were deemed capable of doing the work due to experience, expertise and products in events and event management,” Mr. Katz said in an email. “After extensive research around needs and capabilities, we met with right companies to determine their interest in sponsoring the Games. We looked for the best value for the taxpayer, demonstrated experience and proven ability to handle the complicated logistics involved in a multi-sport Games.” Mr. Katz said Schenker of Canada will provide the Games with warehouse space and operation, including staff and equipment; freight transportation and distribution operations; venue and athletes’ village logistics operations: and customs clearance and freight forwarding. He declined to reveal the financial terms of the deal, though. DB Schenker did not reveal them either. “Like other international multi-sport Games including the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, details of specific sponsorship arrangements are not released for confidentiality and competitive business reasons,” Mr. Katz said.

Also like many other recent international events — from the Vancouver Games to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil — TO2015 is no stranger to controversy or criticism about spending large amounts of money on a sporting spectacle. The Toronto Star pegged the cost of the Games as $2.5 billion. However, Mr. Katz said the Games’ budget is $1.4 billion. “The Toronto Star article has included a new residential community that is being built and paid for by the Ontario government and will be used temporarily by the Games as the CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Athletes’ Village,” Mr. Katz said.

Schenker called “an incredible partner”

DB Schenker is the world’s second largest provider of transportation and logistics services, with business activities in 130 countries. In Canada, Schenker has 1,400 employees at 40 offices. It has a 75,000-square-foot warehouse for the Games and will supply the necessary warehouse labour. The company doesn’t have its own trucks, but will link up with other firms to supply the vehicles and drivers, who will work on behalf of Schenker, Ms. Richards said. “Not only is Schenker gaining this business, quite a few ground transport companies are also benefiting from this business,” she said.

Mr. Katz, however, said Schenker has been “an incredible partner” since the announcement in December. “Beyond its logistics obligations, Schenker is working with TO2015 to improve the Games’ sport legacy in the region,” Mr. Katz said, adding that details would be announced later. Schenker certainly has plenty of experience in hosting international sporting events, which includes the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, Melbourne in 2006, and later this summer in Glasgow.

As far as the latter is concerned, Ms. Richards has been working closely with her namesake counterpart, Heather Gray, to help Canadian entities with their shipments this summer to Scotland as well as other common interests. “Actually a lot of the components from Glasgow may end up coming to Toronto,” Ms. Richards said.

Logistics leader knows her games

Ms. Richards, who joined Schenker in January 2013 and helped put together the proposal for the Pan Am Games, has ample experience working on large sporting events, including the 2010 Olympics. For example, she was the associate producer with Patrick Roberge Productions Inc. for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games at Whistler and Vancouver. She also worked on Canada Games in Regina, Whitehorse, and Halifax, as well for the Manitoba Games, and the Western Canada Games. “Sometimes I worked for the host society or sometimes I worked for a different contracting company, similar to the way Schenker is now working with the Pan Am Games,” said Ms. Richards.

Logistics for Vancouver 2010 were handled in-house, she pointed out. However, Schenker did provide logistics support for the German Olympic team. The company has also “worked with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, Cross Country Canada, and the Canadian Cycling Association to ensure their equipment gets to events across the country and around the world,” said an email message from Fabiana Varela, Schenker of Canada’s Manager of Marketing and Communications.

Ms. Richards agreed that her own involvement with the Vancouver Olympics, as well as about a dozen other sporting events, helped land her the job with Schenker. But her experience with corporate conferences as well as arts and cultural events also prepared her for her current duties, which also include fairs and exhibitions. “What my department specifically does within Canada is we support those unique shipments that are going to trade shows, fairs, and exhibitions as well as global sports,” said Ms. Richards, who is not a freight forwarder herself but has worked closely with freight forwarders over the years.

Her department offers a “unique door-to-door service,” she said. That service might include helping someone ship a sailboat from one competition to another across multiple borders, for example. “Maybe you’re going to a competition in Miami and then over in Spain and then coming back to Canada,” Ms. Richards said. Her department can work with those jurisdictions to avoid having to pay additional duties and taxes at each of those borders.

Toronto 2015 bigger than Vancouver 2010

According to Schenker, the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games will require twice as many products as were used in Vancouver 2010. Those goods are expected to travel “80,000 to 100,000 distribution kilometres” to the TO2015 games venues, which stretch from Minden to Welland, and from Caledon to Oshawa. “Our team is committed to providing logistics support and services at all times, ensuring athletes, officials and Games’ staff have everything they need to make these the best Pan Am/Parapan Am Games ever,” Eric Dewey, CEO of Schenker of Canada, said in the news release back in December.

Moving more than a million items will be fraught with challenges, Ms. Richards acknowledged. It’s not just keeping tabs on the 5,000 SKUs – it’s making sure those SKUs arrive on schedule.

It all requires planning as well as moving elements into place the month before the games begin, where access to venues permits. “Because it takes time to set it up,” Ms. Richards said. “For example, if you have scoring or timing equipment, you need to be able to bring that into the venue but also power it up and make sure the configuration is right, in time for the event.”

To assist teams from the various countries with the orderly importation of their equipment, Schenker has prepared freight forwarding guides and customs and tariffs guides, Ms. Richards said. “So they know how to bring goods into Canada for the event, either temporarily or permanently, and how to also get them back out.”

Security is also of extreme importance at modern international events. To bolster security, TO2015 has a master delivery schedule, similar to one in place at Vancouver 2010, that identifies what vehicles are carrying which goods to what venues at which times, she said. That schedule even identifies the drivers.

While Ms. Richards is hoping to get a chance to catch some of the action once the competition begins at the Games, she will still be very busy at work. Some venues host more than one sport during the Games, which requires a rapid transformation. For example, while judo and wrestling are both scheduled for the Mississauga Sports Centre, and both sports use mats, the mats are quite different. “Whenever judo is on, they need their mats set up. Then when wrestling is on, you need to remove all the judo mats, pack them up, re-store them, and then set up the other mats,” Ms. Richards said. “So there’s constant movement throughout the entire Games.”

Above all, Ms. Richards is excited to be involved with the Pan Am Games, which she said will be great for Canada. Because Toronto is such a multicultural city, she expects its many ethnic enclaves will make the delegates from the 40 visiting countries and territories feel like they are performing in front of a home audience.

“We’re well coordinated, well organized, and Canada is just such a friendly nation,” she said. “I just think we host well.”