Selecting Forwarders and NVOCs

Receiving and shipping goods from overseas can be confusing. But receiving and sending the goods is only half the battle. It’s actually the selection of the right forwarder or NVOC (Non-Vessel-Operating Carrier) that is the most important task, but one that can cause you the most headache, especially if you make the wrong choice. To help with the selection process, consider these 10 tips from Al Redlhammer, president of Seariders Inc., on selecting the right NVOC.

1. Check for an FMC license number. If you do nothing else, make sure that the NVO or forwarder you’re considering is licensed by the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The license number should appear on the company’s letterhead, invoices, and business cards.

2. Experience is everything. While it is not unusual for a “new” NVOC to be able to provide good service, years in business usually is an indicator that the company has satisfied its customers on a continuing basis. Make sure the company you’re considering has done this before.

3. Does the NVOC know its way around? Geographic range of service is important. Make sure that the NVOC you choose has either its own office or an established agent at destination. This indicates a level of familiarity with the needs of that particular market. Some NVOs accept any cargo going anywhere, and will simply co-load cargo with another NVOC when they do not have direct service to that particular destination. This is not necessarily a negative, unless that NVO doesn’t have an agent at that destination.

4. Get a letter of instructions. Most NVOCs have a standardized form that you can fill out, which provides them with the basic information relating to the consignment. Remember, verbal instructions aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on. Get the instructions in writing.

5. Get rate quotations in writing. Even written quotations can be ignored if the rate has not been inserted in the NVOC’s tariff. A good habit to develop is to get a confirmation before the date of sailing that the rate quoted has been inserted in the NVO’s tariff.

6. Look for NVOCC insurance coverage. Make sure the carrier you choose has this type of coverage, which enables the NVOC to pay your claim if the goods suffer loss or damage.

7. Make sure the NVOC employees understand their role. Do the employees understand what an NVOC does and what is required for your shipment? This sounds silly, but some NVOCs have exhibited an extreme lack of knowledge about shipping. It could be said that, “All they know about shipping is that the pointy part goes first.” Talk to the NVOC’s employees. Ask questions about documentation requirements, transit times and underlying vessel operators. A good NVO is there to serve you and wants your next shipment. The other kind just wants this shipment.

8. Timely responses mean better service. Are you getting responses to your rate requests on a timely basis? Does your NVOC return your calls to your satisfaction? Check their service out. Make sure you get the kind of communication you need to satisfy your customers.

9. Ask for referrals from satisfied customers. It never hurts to ask for references. Try to contact other customers who are shipping to the same area of the world or are, at least, within your industry.

10. Check the company’s reputation, both in the industry and at the destination port. The NVOC’s reputation, especially with vessel operators, can go far in telling you what kind of operation they run.

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