April 2000 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

Specialty Products: Don't Get Boxed In

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Thinking outside the box is good advice to follow—both figuratively and literally—when it comes to shipping odd-sized, high-value products such as structural components, store fixtures, trade show exhibits, display cases, office furnishings, computers, and related merchandise. Indeed the box or crate, with its attendant cost and downtime delays of packing and handling, can critically limit you on the performance front. Ultimately, they increase your product cost in the marketplace.

One simple solution is called "Blanket Pack." As in household goods movements, the entire van serves as the box in which the shipment is carefully placed and snugly padded in thick security blankets for optimum safety and protection. And with the lack of costly space-stealing dunnage, there's more room for cargo, and ultimately greater cost efficiency per load. Further, there's greater speed in loading, off-loading, and product placement at the end of the line.

Blanket Pack shipping is only one of many outside-the-box solutions you might consider when establishing your specialty product transportation program. Another important aspect of your program is selecting the right carrier. When looking for a specialty product transportation provider, you should consider the following:

1. In-depth experience in your product category. When your shipment consists of specialty items, such as peculiarly shaped assemblies or customized fabrications for corporate environments or display venues, it makes sense to deal with a carrier that is comfortable in that category. Whatever your unique product category, it's smart to deliver it via an experienced specialist in that field.

2. Operational infrastructure and human resources. In assessing the capabilities of your specialty transportation candidate, don't just settle for a sales rep's promise. Obtain a full understanding of the carrier's equipment, capacity, system capabilities, and use of technology.

Are the fixed base facilities and rolling stock up to date and well maintained? Is the ancillary equipment fully functional and compatible with the entire cargo handling process? Ask for a list of your carrier candidate's agents and spot check a number of them for their feedback on the company. Are they enthusiastic about the association? Do they project a feeling of pride and mutual reward from the relationship?

3. The carrier/driver relationship. This sounds like an internal matter, right? So what does it have to do with the well-being of your shipment? Well, everything. When drivers have a stake in the carrier's business, they have a greater incentive for their own success.

This translates into superior performance; greater safety consciousness; stronger commitment to scheduling; greater diligence for on-time delivery; better personal appearance; and courtesy at all points of customer contact.

4. Technological capabilities. In today's digital operational arena, being merely wired for basic electronic communications is as archaic as yesterday's manual typewriter. Given the blinding speed of daily technological advancements, staying ahead of the high-tech curve is the very essence of staying ahead of the competition.

In assessing such carrier capabilities, ask about the level of technological sophistication of its home base and agency support facilities; and the speed and accessibility of its digital data as related to pickup and delivery schedules, cargo tracking, over-the-road routing, and scores of other factors.

5. Strength for the long haul. Because strong, long-term business relationships build greater synergies of value, it is important to pick a carrier that you can stay with, and grow with. Switching from one firm to another is counterproductive—it creates needless downtime delays, operational inefficiencies, wasteful new startups, and learning curves. Look for fiscal stability and growth orientation in shopping for a permanent transportation partner.

This outside-the-box thinking, as it relates to your unique or unusual shipping needs, should go far in creating a greater comfort level with your carrier, and a higher level of customer satisfaction. By measuring your carrier's capabilities by the yardsticks of specialization, operational philosophy, experience, attitude, and technological support, your shipping program will escape getting boxed in—now and in the future.

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