Even if you’re planning on exporting to some far-flung market overseas, just about every export shipment is going to start out on a truck. The type of shipment and its destination—as well as your levels of experience and comfort procuring transportation services—will dictate who you should call first.
You may be exporting a full container of goods or less than a container. In each case a different kind of trucker is going to make an appearance. Or, you might be exporting to Canada or Mexico, in which case the shipment’s entire export journey may take place on a truck.
“Timing is more crucial than ever when exporting freight across borders,” says Steve Mulloy, director of the Estes Solutions Center, “so your domestic trucking solution has to be able to reach the shipping port or airport safely and reliably.”
If you’re exporting a full container, you will need to contract with a specialized truckload carrier called a drayage company to haul the container to the port or the rail head. Drayage companies range in size and are often small, local companies.
The dray company may be carrying a load a short distance, but their reliability and qualifications are vital. Drivers entering port areas must carry a federal security credential called a TWIC, notes Craig Stoffel, vice president for Global Logistics at Werner Enterprises, Inc. “Drivers need to be vetted and undergo a background check,” he says.
Another factor to consider when evaluating drayage companies is whether they have access to chassis to carry containers. “A local dray company can add a lot of value if [it has its] own fleet of chassis,” says Stoffel.
Many companies new to exporting will already have a relationship with a less-then-truckload (LTL) carrier. “If you’re comfortable with that company, they might be the first ones to call,” suggests Wayne Bersch, vice president of Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.
“For a first-time shipper, an LTL company provides a real opportunity for cost savings over what they would pay with a freight forwarder or third-party logistics provider,” says Mulloy. “The primary reason is that an LTL carrier will leverage its asset-based network whenever possible and minimize the use of higher cost transportation. This includes consolidating and deconsolidating freight at the port, and using an outside customs brokerage firm to assist with documentation.”
Most third-party logistics providers are able to offer assistance with cross-border documentation, secure warehousing of your freight, and provide optimal transportation routes and pricing, notes Mulloy. “However, it would be most beneficial for a new shipper to engage an LTL company that offers global services,” he adds.
“It never hurts to reach out to your existing suppliers,” agrees Mike Kukiela, vice president for Supply-Chain Management at Schneider Logistics Inc. “For a new exporter, my advice would be to find an expert—whether it’s a carrier in your existing network or a supply-chain consultant or a logistics provider—who can bring expertise and technology to bear to minimize costs and optimize operations.”
Managed transportation providers such as Echo Global Logistics are able to hook shippers up with the best truck transportation alternatives. “We are a one-stop shop for transportation across multiple modes,” says Dave Menzel, the company’s president and COO. Most of Echo’s business comes from the truckload market. The company’s network includes 30,000 carriers, most of them small to midsize companies.
“We can help reduce costs by finding the right modes of transportation and we help carriers find backhauls which also reduce costs,” Menzel adds. “There is also a lot of room to negotiate rates because of the current imbalance in the marketplace.”
Companies exporting to Mexico must keep in mind that there are only a handful of carriers that can execute crossborder moves seamlessly. Carriers not authorized to operate on both sides of the border have to hand off their freight at least once, and more likely twice, to another carrier for the ultimate delivery south of the border. Such a scenario guarantees delivery delays and increases the risk of damage to the goods for the uninitiated.
“Only a small subset of U.S. carriers can execute crossborder moves well,” says Bryan Foe, vice president at C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. “You will want to identify up front who has what responsibility in the transaction. The needs of the foreign receivers will have an impact on the mode and route selected and ultimately on transit times. Collaboration and communication help avoid delays at the border.”
As a transportation intermediary, C.H. Robinson makes carrier selections for crossborder moves by making sure the chosen carrier has staff on both sides of the border to facilitate the physical movement of goods as well as the movement of information. “We develop the collaborative relationships that are important in successfully providing multimodal services between the United States and Canada and Mexico,” says Foe. “We qualify a provider based on its past history in the given trade lane, the ease and flexibility of their communications, and its capabilities to provide visibility to the status of shipments.”
Shippers new to exporting will quickly discover that no two shipments are ever the same. Different countries require different documentation. The U.S. requires shippers to execute a power of attorney if they are using a freight forwarder to book transportation. Australia requires a Wood Packing Declaration for a shipment to Sydney.
“Some countries require specific compliances,” says Mulloy. “Others operate under stricter regulations.”
Companies looking to ship internationally should always be keenly aware of any and all documentation updates, regulation changes, and new laws before sending freight overseas. “They should also ensure that whichever transportation provider they choose can offer customs brokerage, either through their own service or through a third party,” says Mulloy.
A company new to international shipping should also develop a strategy for the size and frequency of their shipments. A growing trend has shippers choosing to send lighter volume shipments on a more frequent basis, alleviating inventory and warehousing costs.
“This lower-volume shipping practice requires shippers to take even greater care in the scheduling and monitoring of their freight,” says Mulloy, “to ensure that all of the necessary documents and logistics are in place before handing it over to a transportation provider.”