How Nimble Are You?

Demand and supply are the most powerful forces in most of our lives. Demand for our products drives up our need to supply them to customers. But as we try to flow more products through the supply chain, what happens when the existing infrastructure can’t keep up with the growing demand?

A Shipment Stuck at Port

This conundrum struck me recently as I watched an ocean shipment spend as much time at a port as it did on the water. I’m not normally in the habit of moving things I don’t need and I prefer to move them as inexpensively as possible. But watching this LCL shipment languish in a port — which was already fully cleared by customs and still needed to travel a few days by rail and truck to reach at my distribution center — was too much to ask. Like others in my shoes, I assume, I did the only thing I could do: watch for updates on my freight forwarder’s website and hound my contacts at the forwarder for updates almost daily.

Ultimately, the shipment left the port, the goods moved through my network, and they were sent to happy customers very quickly afterwards. I, however, had to meet with my planners and production teams to discuss this massive failure in transportation. Not wanting to relive that experience, I asked for alternatives from my freight forwarder. I needed another solution to move my LCL shipments. Fortunately, my company is based near another large port that is trying to move up in the world of container shipping and has no fewer than three steamship lines making weekly deliveries. I asked my forwarder if it was possible to move our shipments through this port.

After several weeks of discussions, internal meetings with higher ups, and calls with me to understand what exactly I was trying to accomplish, I was given the final answer: what I was asking for was impossible. The forwarder assured me, however, that they were going to improve, that the problems I experienced with the last shipment were because of historical issues at the port, that I could expect much better time in transit on future shipments. Except, of course, that I’ve got several more containers at that port and each one is impacted by the same issue. Also, this port is known for its continued problems that affect everything downstream, even multinational freight forwarders.

How Nimble Are You?

Which brings me to my point: how nimble are you? I’m small, I don’t move as many goods as other shippers, but I’m willing to make changes to improve my customer’s experience. A freight forwarder is big, they move a lot of stuff through their networks, and they generally do it well. But if they can’t make moves to better support their customers, then what am I paying them for?

I can’t be the only one fed up with the current problems; maybe I’m just the only one asking for a solution. If that’s the case, freight forwarder brethren, steal my idea and shop it around to your other customers. I know how the game works: you add my stuff to other people’s stuff and you charge us all a premium. It’s in your best interest to funnel us all into one port, but could it also be in your best interest to support your customers’ experience? I’m small, but one day I could be large and I want a partner who is as innovative and nimble as I am.

Julio Bolger is the Transportation Manager for a mid-sized retailer responsible for all product moving internationally and domestically.