The other day I met a business owner and we begin to discuss the differences in LTL Carriers, 3PL’s and Freight Forwarders. I had asked him who he had better experiences with, and without hesitation he responded, “Freight Forwarders have been much easier for me to work with, although I use all three at my company.” He listed 7 reasons as to why Freight Forwarders have been better of a fit in his supply chain:
Flexibility- Freight Forwarder’s provide a service typically using an Agent network. Many cringe when the word “agent” is thrown around in terms of Logistics, because of the bad reputation that they have received throughout the years. Many customers think that if you are using an Agent network it increases the chances of product being loss, damaged, or stolen- not true. What many don’t understand is that the Agent concept has been around for quite awhile. All carriers have some type of relationship with agents, even the larger carriers such as UPS and Fedex have an agent network in place in some parts of the country. What truly separates companies are their bonds and communication with their agent alliance. When you examine the “good” forwarders they have sound, strong bonds with their agents, and ironically sometimes even better than if they were dealing internally within their own company. To understand this fully you have to realize that these agents survive by looking to provide exceptional service to their carrier partners. The better job they do the more business they will receive. So they want to impress, they want to be accurate in their pickup and deliveries, but it’s the carrier’s job to make sure their(agents) are kept on their toes in terms of performance, accountability, and reliability.
Manageability- Typically when working with a LTL carrier or a 3PL their sometimes tends to be a “loss” of control for customers. If a shipment happens to go astray it often times takes an act of congress to recover and redeliver it to the proper address. A good Forwarder has the ability to use their network to retrieve, recon sign and redeliver to the correct address often times without missing a beat. Many clients strictly use F.F. simply because of this added benefit. The ability to “Quarterback” your shipments the whole way through lies with a Freight Forwarder. LTL companies have too many hubs and processes to deal with which doesn’t allow the flexibility and manageability that a Forwarder can demonstrate on a single shipment, and often times customers find this out the hard way.
Versatility- Options! Options! Options! During today’s economic times customers are finding that having a company that can provide them with viable options allows them the ability to maintain control, reduce costs, and increase efficiencies in their supply chain. When you are looking for your Forwarder examine the services that they can offer and relate them to your business needs. A good forwarder can take the primary shipping role or be used as a supplemental asset when the need arises. Allowing your business to adapt quicker and be more responsive to customer needs as they develop.
Versatility- Often times many companies will state that they are in fact a One Stop Shop, but if you ask enough questions you can determine if this in fact is true. Do they have the real time tracking and tracing capabilities? International? Warehousing and Distribution capabilities? Reporting capabilities? As your business grows these could be things that could help make the difference in your business progress. These help add to being able to allow a customer to grow their business with the least amount of financial output.
Vested Interest in Your Business- When a carrier can become an extension of your business, when they think about ways that you can improve your supply chain more than you do, that’s what a great carrier is made of. So often in business companies spend 90% of their time looking for the company with the cheapest cost whether then the company that can add immediate and consistent value to their supply chain.
All carriers strive for this, but not all reach this point. Reason being is that it takes the WILL to want to be the best carrier, and to want to help your customer beyond single shipments given to you on an Ad Hoc basis, a good freight forwarder weeds through the “stuff that doesn’t matter” to get to the core of the clients goals. How can they make your business run smoother is their main concern. And please understand that this doesn’t always mean being the CHEAPEST carrier in the door, but what it often refers to is being able to look at a company’s Logistic setup and determining can they add efficiency, and reduce cost as a whole.
Cost Savings- As I mentioned in the previous paragraph a good freight forwarder will make it one of it’ main goals to save their customer money, but interestingly enough many times the savings doesn’t come from just giving the customer dirt cheap rates. As a matter of fact if you speak to a top forwarder they will often times tell you that their pricing is fair to moderate? Reason being is that many times being able to provide a solution to an issue might take employing more resources and increasing cost on the front end to achieve for example expedited transit, better customer satisfaction and more efficiency. For example a company shipping from California, who is trying to beat their competition to the punch on the east coast might need to implore the use of a warehouse and distribution facility let’s say in Chicago. Adding this resource will give more control, shorter transit, and a more competitive drive for the Cali Company, and of course as I mentioned earlier increasing customer loyalty.
Quick Thinking- One freight forwarder I spoke with presented an example of how he added value to a new customer by just being inquisitive. The customer had been using UPS ground shipping out product weighing somewhere in the area of 50 lbs. for 10 boxes going to one location, cumulative weight of 500 lbs. Many companies who might have run across something like this would have run away because of the name recognition and reputation of the boys in brown. But not this owner, he realized that he would be able to put together a very strong program for the client based on the cumulative rate of 500 lbs. versus UPS rating the shipment on a per box basis. The bottom line was that he was able to save the customer 30% on his shipments with a much faster transit time.
I always preach that in this day and age the most important thing for a business to understand is their own “business needs…” If they understand the time sensitivity of their product, marketplace, and the needs of their industry they will be able to pick the right company for their logistical needs.