Saturday, July 23, 2011

Back to the Basics: Air Shipping

In the spirit of the last “Back to the Basics” article on sea shipping, here is the air-shipping counterpart. 

As always, any manufacturing-specific post primarily focuses on promotional products and the ad specialty industry. 

Large portions of orders in the promotional product biz are sent from China to destination by air.  One would think is this very costly and you would be correct in your thinking. 

Some basic discussion points on air shipping:

Packing:  Inform your supplier from the beginning that you are bringing this in by air.  The main reason to spotlight this to your supplier is the purpose of using air efficient packing. 

This is packing that allows the greatest number of pieces per carton at the least amount of cartons, without damaging the goods or the cartons. 

Does the supplier not normally use the most efficient packing?  No, they will not.  It will be their standard packing that is typically for sea shipping.   If your product is customized then any packing they’ve already provided is more times than not ESTIMATED packing and subject it will change.  This will also lead to cost confusion when you’re working to obtain your airfreight quote.    

If you are dealing directly with a Chinese supplier, they will hem and haw to skirt around the issue.  They are accustomed to doing packing at the last minute and they will only think you are troublesome by bringing it up. 

You need to get on the ball and get on the supplier, the factory, whoever and make sure you get efficient packing or else you will have needless cost and will pay for empty space. 

Wear and Tear:  Airfreight can be tougher on your cartons than sea freight.  Especially if it’s going by express instead of airfreight, the handling is rougher

(Quickie note:  Airfreight is normally airport to airport.  You may have to book some other line or party to clear customs, collect at airport and then ship inland.  Express is express courier (DHL, FedEX, UPS) and is to-door – for the purpose of this post, I’m using the general term airfreight or air shipping)

Make sure the factory uses good quality cartons.  Here’s the double-sword; since this is going by air, it’s probably a smaller order and since it’s a smaller order, it’s not worth the factory purchasing brand new, nice quality cartons.  They will tape up and use old cartons.  Either insist on new cartons or insist on seeing visuals of cartons before factory departure. 

Payment:  Keep in mind since this is going by air, your supplier will most likely require payment before departure.  From my weathered point of view this is standard and should be acceptable.  Unlike sea shipping the airway bill does not stay in their hands as “keys”; so as soon as that bad boy is en route, it’s no longer controllable or in the hands of the supplier.  If you know you are sending by air and delivery is urgent, be as just as prompt with you payment as you want the supplier to be with the delivery. 

Be Proactive:  And you may even have to be annoying…Annoying to who?  Either the freight forwarder or the express company.  If your delivery time is urgent, it’s not smart to rest on your laurels waiting for the goods to ring your doorbell.  You need to phone, email, tweet, fax, the air company in advance, as advance as possible.  Have in hand a packing list and copy of the commercial invoice.  Let them know you are expecting a shipment.  Let them know it’s urgent and tell them you are ready, willing and able to do what you can in advance to quickly expedite the goods.

If not, your goods will sit in customs, waiting for YOU to do something but there will be some inefficient gremlin that causes wires to cross.  Be on top of your business; don’t rely on the overseas folks to do this.  This is on your turf, you handle it.

There is the seldom, not-too-rare-case where airfreight will make more sense than sea shipping, be sure to check that.  For example if you are doing a low quantity of light-weight goods (ie lanyards), then to-door air express makes more sense; not only from timing perspective but also because after you add up all sea shipping charges, loading, unloading, inland freight, the direct, to-door shipment for a light-weight order makes more sense. 

Importers (suppliers and distributors) resort to air because of the urgency of the campaign.  And in the promo business the end-user needs their goods yesterday.  Could the distributor do a better job on staying on top of the end-user and mapping out scheduling and working timelines?  Probably.  But the root cause of poor planning seems to permeate the entire industry when dealing offshore and although folks may have a “head knowledge” on what it takes as far as timing to successfully manufacture an order offshore, they don’t have the “heart knowledge”…it hasn’t rooted deep inside of ‘em

Another solution to this is to purposefully establish concrete relationships with our offshore supplier.  Having them as someone “to watch your back” on scheduling; reminding you of what happens if you order this week or what the landscape will look like if you delay until next week, someone on the ground to hold space in the factories’ production schedule, etc…

But perhaps that’s a different post….

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