How a 3PL Can Help You Dodge Food Distribution Challenges

May 26, 2021 at 10:06 AMJen Deming
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Every industry has its own unique shipping challenges, and these issues aren’t always avoidable. We work with many food and beverage manufacturers and retailers, and constantly see a pattern of reoccurring obstacles within the industry. Working with food distribution centers can help gain brand exposure and increase reach of your product, but there are very specific transportation issues associated with these locations. Familiarizing yourself with what you can expect of distribution centers and how a 3PL like PartnerShip can help ease the process can help to lessen headaches and ensure your transportation goes smoothly.

If you’ve been in business for a while, names like UNFI, KEHE, Sysco, are probably all familiar to you as common food commodity distributors. Working with big name companies like these can help manage your supply chain efficiently, fulfill customer orders, and expand your product to a multitude of retail locations quickly. No matter the type of distribution center, all run a very tight ship that doesn’t allow much room for error. What you need to know is that while these places are convenient for exposure and expansion, they pose serious operational complications if you aren’t aware of challenges beforehand. Let’s take a look at how a 3PL can help with the major challenges in working with food distribution centers.

3PLs help navigate restricted hours of delivery and pick-up

Because food distribution centers are working with an innumerable amount of deliveries from various businesses, managing incoming shipments from manufacturers is very complex and requires a lot of communication. Most food distributors require a very small window for deliveries, including early morning or late evening receiving hours. This helps to manage congestion and traffic at receiving docks and expedites the process so trucks can unload and be on their way. If you’ve ever shipped to a tradeshow and experienced strict timelines for arrival, it works much in the same way with distribution centers. If your truck arrives at a distribution center outside the window of delivery, it is likely to be refused and will acquire detention or redelivery/late fees. 

Because there is so much involved in communicating with the distribution center, knowing appropriate delivery hours, and tracking your shipment, working with a 3PL can help alleviate some of that responsibility. Freight experts at a quality 3PL know what to look out for, and can help verify hours and help coordinate with your carrier.

A 3PL can help sort out carrier preferences

Shipping food and beverage commodities is innately more challenging than other products because regulations, certifications, and other considerations are major factors influencing the process. Food-grade carriers undergo a rigorous vetting process with the FDA, and need to meet certain safety and security requirements in order to ship their product. Because of this, some food distribution centers require or prefer specific carriers for inbound and outbound shipments that they know meet these standards.

Because these carrier preferences can change within a distributor’s network, and aren’t always disclosed prior to arranging a shipment, doing research beforehand is of utmost importance. Making sure the distribution center you are shipping to has a preferred carrier whose services align with your business needs is an important part of the supply chain relationship. Keeping track of this can be challenging, and working with a 3PL who is both familiar with the unique needs of your business and requirements of top distribution centers can help ease the process.

3PLs will set up any appointment requirements

Another major caveat to watch out for in working with big-name food distributors and warehouses is appointment requirements for delivery or pick-up. In addition to restricted operating hours, these locations will often require an appointment to be scheduled for the arrival of the freight carrier. This needs to be arranged prior to scheduling the pick-up from your shipper location, and the responsibility falls on the carrier or vendor. 

Often, these locations manage appointment scheduling via online portals, and require important information like a PO number, delivery location address, carrier name and number, and shipment descriptions like weight, size, and commodity. Having all of this information and documentation on-hand can help make the process much easier. If you’re managing several shipments at once, it can get complicated, and working with a 3PL can help make sure you have all the information you need, and ensure it’s accurate. Working with a final delivery location or customer is important as well, and communicating with all parties during the shipment process is crucial to avoid hang-ups, delays, or other issues. Juggling all these variables can be overwhelming, especially when managing other parts of your business. Collaborating with freight experts is a smart way to delegate some of that responsibility.

Quality 3PLs will keep an eye out for sort and seg fees 

In addition to the aforementioned challenges that come with shipping to and from a food distribution center, there’s an important accessorial fee associated with these locations. Sort and segregation fees are charges applied when the consignee, the food distributor, needs the driver to break down the pallets and divide up the product. The shipment is often separated based on SKU, commodity, weight break, delivery destination, or a variety of other factors. Because standard freight services do not include driver assist with loading or unloading deliveries, this extra step will result in higher charges on your invoice because it is labor-intensive and may result in delays for the driver. 

Consulting with a 3PL on shipments going to and from food distribution centers and warehouses is the best way to gather information on delivery requirements before you ship. Because these fees can accumulate rapidly and end up costly, working with brokers who have strong relationships with their freight carriers may help in reducing costs through discounted accessorials and special freight rates. Knowing if the distribution center has these requirements can help you prepare for higher fees and you can work that into your budget before you get hit with a bill that’s higher than you expected.

PartnerShip can help

Shipping to a food distribution center can result in many obstacles an everyday freight shipper has never seen before. Working with a quality 3PL, like PartnerShip, you gain an entire fleet of experts that know what issues to look out for before they become problems for your food and beverage shipments. 

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Do I Need a Liftgate for My Freight?

May 13, 2021 at 10:04 AMJen Deming

Liftgate services are a leading request made by freight shippers. Depending on your shipping location and the loading equipment you have, a liftgate can literally make or break your freight loads. But, it's important to know that this top accessorial comes at a cost. Learning what this common service is and when it's going to be used can help you plan for additional costs and keep your budget in line.



6 Surefire Ways You Can Overcome Freight Capacity Challenges

May 4, 2021 at 9:08 AMJen Deming
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Sometimes, it’s just hard to find a truck. With a capacity crunch that’s been ongoing for as long as we can remember, the struggle to get your LTL loads covered is old news. But, it’s still relevant news. In fact, it seems like things are projected to get even tougher as more freight enters the network. So, while the capacity challenges continue, how can you get your loads covered without breaking the bank?

Why are there capacity challenges?

First, it’s important to understand why capacity is so tight in the first place. It all boils down to an oversaturated freight network – there’s simply not enough trucks on the road available to move every existing freight load. More money is being spent on goods than services, we’re looking at a 6% year over year growth in demand, and this shift in consumer spending is really tightening things up. While the trend has existed for years, the effects of COVID further propelled a push in consumer spending. Due to a diminished staff, freight is being held up within transit at distribution centers and terminals. All of these factors create the perfect storm that make it harder to find trucks for your freight

Why should you care?

While the effects of a capacity crunch can seem pretty obvious, there may be more challenges than you expect. The immediate issue is getting your freight shipment covered at all. LTL freight carriers are becoming more particular about the loads they want to move and locations they want to visit. Pick-ups may be infrequent, and if your shipment is particularly challenging, like oversized, for example, it may be refused. 

Transit times are becoming longer, with 87.9% of shippers reporting a delay in deliveries. Some carriers are also suspending or amending time-critical and guaranteed options. Base rates are higher than ever before, and LTL carriers are now charging detention fees in some cases when loading is delayed. This accessorial fee is typically just associated with truckload shipping, but with a driver’s time being a vital commodity, carriers are pushing back and using it for LTL shipments as well.

What Can You Do to Overcome Capacity Challenges?

  1. Expand your current network

    One of the first things you should do to increase the odds that your freight will get covered, is taking a hard look at your current carrier options to see where you can improve or expand. Conducting a freight audit can help determine if your business needs are truly being met. Look for reoccurring challenges like missed pick-ups or high accessorial fees. Some carriers may visit locations where demand isn’t as high only one or two times a week, which can create a big issue with your shipping schedule. Accessorials like limited access can vary by carrier and it’s possible the one you are currently using may be charging more than a competitor carrier would. Exploring alternative carriers to review service levels and pricing is a great place to start. If you are finding several carriers that may fit your needs, keep them on file so you can rate shop between them and choose accordingly as back-ups.

  2. Build in extra time for everything
  3. Time is the name of the game in shipping. One of the smartest things that you can do to combat freight capacity challenges is building in extra time at every step of the shipping process. When you get an idea of a project or order you will be working on, start quoting as soon as you know details. If you have reoccurring orders for an established customer, approach carriers with the opportunity to explore contract pricing and get commitments for the length of the project. Carriers are looking for reliable, predictable loads that are going to guarantee business while creating minimal headaches. If you can prove your business can meet these expectations, they are going to be even more willing to commit for the long-haul. An added bonus - they are likely to negotiate terms and better pricing for your business as well. Packing and staging your shipments early so that they are ready for pick-up and will be loaded smoothly is going to go a long way in the eyes of the arriving carrier.

  4. Review alternative services for applicable shipments
  5. While choosing alternative freight services for your loads won’t always work to combat freight capacity issues, it’s a valid option for certain shipments. If you have a large LTL shipment that could benefit from truckload services, this could be a great back up choice. Using a dedicated truck can increase security, minimize damage, and expedite your transit. 

    While truckload moves typically consist of 8-10 pallets or more, some truckload carriers will offer a partial option where your load will share space with another shipper’s freight. This can add some perks of truckload shipping like added security, while benefitting from a more competitive price than paying for the entire truck. It’s important to note, however, that in partial truckload shipping, it’s possible your shipment may encounter delays due to the other customer on board. Depending on the order of delivery, you may end up waiting on the first delivery location if they don’t have everything in order. Building in extra time is still a good tactic to take here, but knowing you have alternative freight service options for your larger shipments is good to know if you are in a crunch.

  6. Consolidate your shipments
  7. The less often you ship, the less you risk not finding a truck for your loads. By consolidating your freight shipments, you create an efficient way of both lowering costs and ensuring you have LTL truck coverage. It may take a bit of communication and working with your customers, but reworking replenishment schedules so that you’re shipping larger, less frequent loads can be a smart long-term strategy. Moving your shipping to off-peak periods, if possible, also takes extra stress off of a carrier network that is already stretched thin. This not only allows for increased truck availably, but it also helps you avoid seasonal closures that will affect your shipments.

    When receiving inbound orders, collaborative distribution is also an option. Collaborative distribution combines vendor orders from different shippers at one common distribution center and channels them into a single-truck delivery. This option is a type of consolidation, but happens much earlier in the supply chain. Finding the balance between identifying which shipments can be consolidated over a more flexible length of time while meeting delivery deadlines and customer expectations is key.

  8. Utilize regional carrier options
  9. Most shippers are familiar with the large, recognizable national freight carriers, but regional freight carriers can also be a great option for coverage. Regional carriers specialize in concentrated geographic areas, usually within state-lines or city locales. In addition to adding them as options within your existing freight network, there are important advantages to working with regional carriers. Regional carriers have in-depth knowledge and first-hand experience navigating these areas on a daily basis and can speak to potential challenges like traffic trends or limited access issues. While a national carrier may be unfamiliar with these hang-ups, a regional driver’s knowledge of the area means increased transparency with the shipper regarding these obstacles, so precautions can be taken. 

    Oftentimes, regional carriers charge less for the same services that national carriers do. Regional carriers don’t have delivery area surcharges and costs for liftgates and accessorial fees are lower. Because regional carriers travel shorter distances, expedited or guaranteed services are generally less expensive, as well. 

    Finally, because these are smaller companies, they tend to offer more personalized solutions that emphasize customer experience. Relationships with these carriers tend to be less transactional, and place importance on problem resolution and service. Adding a regional carrier to the pool is an underutilized and potentially game-changing way to ensure your LTL loads are getting covered.

  10. Become a shipper of choice

    Want to know a surefire way to combat freight capacity issues? Become a shipper of choice. This means to do everything possible to leverage your relationships with carriers to make your shipments as desirable as possible. The freight load itself, your location, and your business practices combined should create an easy, efficient, and positive experience for the carrier.

    A good way to start is making sure your shipping location is set up for easy navigation. Signs and directional assistance, communication, and a safe, clear dock location are all things drivers look out for. Flexible delivery times and plentiful parking options help eliminate some extra stress for the driver, as well. Above all else, doing what you can to eliminate potential detention time is critical. Staged shipments that are primed and waiting with a well-trained and ready-to-go loading team help ensure the truck will be loaded within the 2-hour limit. That way, the driver can get back on the road to the next location with minimal delay. Nurturing these carrier relationships by improving the experience for the driver is important, and it matters. When there’s lots of freight waiting to be picked up nationwide, be the one that the carrier wants most.

Final thoughts

Freight capacity is a challenge, and it’s not changing any time soon. The best thing that you can do is create a plan of action that tackles these challenges before you have freight waiting on the dock. Working with a 3PL like PartnerShip can help audit your current shipping procedures and identify areas of improvement that go beyond getting your loads covered. Contact our freight experts to help get your freight where it needs to go.

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