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Dublin, Ireland

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Dublin 8

Tel: +353 (01) 5312821

Fax: +353 (01) 5394794

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European Chilled Distribution

 Choosing a Freight Forwarder

What is a "freight forwarder" ?

A freight forwarder is an individual or company that dispatches shipments via airlines, hauliers, shipping lines or rail companies and books or otherwise arranges space for those shipments.

Freight forwarders typically arrange cargo movement to an international destination. In these cases the `forwarding' company takes on prime responsibility for the entire transport operation, specified in each contract, for a charge or fee which covers the total transport operation and, in turn, pays the actual carriers for the transport services rendered to it. Also referred to as international freight forwarders, they have the expertise that allows them to prepare and process the documentation and perform related activities pertaining to international shipments. Some of the typical information reviewed by a freight forwarder is the commercial invoice, shipper's export declaration, and other documents required by the carrier or country of export, import, or trans-shipment. Much of this information is now processed in a paperless environment.

As an analogy, freight forwarders have been called ‘travel agents’ for freight.

1) Friendly service

People work with people they like. Freight forwarding is a service industry and as such the freight forwarder you chose should be pleasant to deal with, knowledgeable and a good communicator. Depending on the complexity of the regulations in the country you are trading, with you will be relying on your freight forwarder for a lot of information. So choosing someone who is easy to speak to will make the experience a lot more pleasurable.

2) Worldwide network of overseas partners.

A good freight forwarder will have a carefully chosen network of similarly minded freight forwarders they work with as a partner or on an agency basis. This allows your freight forwarder the expertise and the best local knowledge to help you through the maze of customs formalities in foreign countries. You or your overseas customer may be able to obtain relief from import duties if the correct forms are completed and submitted to the local customs office and a good freight forwarder will know this.

3) Value for money

Like most things in life with a freight forwarder you get what you pay for - cheapest isn't necessarily best! (or worst for that matter). With sea and airfreight shipping there are a lot of elements that make up the final quote. A good forwarder will advise you of ALL costs. You should question any quotation you might receive that is substantially cheaper as there may be limited availability or elements of the costs may have been omitted. With most shipments, the price normally indicates the speed of service, the quicker you require the goods the more expensive the freight cost will be.

4) Responsiveness

There isn't much point in a freight forwarder being friendly and having the potential to give good quotes if they take ages to reply or worse still don't reply at all. Often shipments are urgent or quick decisions are needed to avoid waiting time and / or demurrage so the freight forwarder you chose should have a positive "can do" attitude and an appreciation for urgency. Too much emphasis is put on email communication nowadays, unfortunately emails can get lost, deleted and misinterpreted. A good freight forwarder will use the telephone as much as email and will be able to recognize their customers by the sound of their voice as opposed to them being just a name on a screen.

5) Status

A good guide to the status of a freight forwarder is whether they are a Limited company. There are other things that could give away rogue traders such as operating from a PO Box address, having no website and operating from free email addresses such as Gmail or Yahoo. A committed professional freight forwarder will be working from a business address and be happy to visit you or have you visit them at their offices. A professional freight forwarder will also be a member of certain accredited organisations representing professionalism in the industry.

6) Direct control

You shouldn't expect a freight forwarder to use their own ships or airplanes and the majority of Irish haulage shipments will be sub-contracted too. Sometimes shipments can be sub-contracted 3-5 times before you reach the person in control of the delivery or vehicle. Check that your freight forwarder is in direct control of your shipments, this avoids lengthy lines of communication if there is a problem or a query on a shipment.

7) Experience

There is no substitute for experience. A good freight forwarder will have at least five years experience in the industry. This experience will help the customer avoid any potential pitfalls with regards to customs clearance and documentation. A good freight forwarder will have a general knowledge of all forms of transport and will be able to draw from personal experience as opposed to just relaying information.

8) Recommendations

A good freight forwarder will obviously have a portfolio of happy regular clients who would provide testimonials. Ask your freight forwarder to supply you with the names and telephone numbers of some customers who use their services and give them a call. There is nothing more powerful than a positive recommendation.

9) Size of company

As a general rule small to medium sized freight companies give a good all round service. They have lower overheads and therefore require lower profit margins. Smaller companies are also more flexible and don't suffer from big company politics. At larger companies the staff can be less motivated and you may have to talk to a multitude of people regarding one shipment.

10) Professionalism

There any many factors that can effect all types of shipping like weather, Government bodies such as customs, human error, language and technical problems. A good freight forwarder will have systems in place to track shipments and will inform the customer of any delays or problems. It is an impossibility to guarantee all transit times but the difference between a good freight forwarder and a bad one can make an existing problem much worse. We can all take bad news  as long as we are informed of the situation and offered a next best solution. A good freight forwarder will keep their customers informed at all times including weekends and evenings. If handled correctly the way a freight forwarder deals with a potentially disastrous situation can cement the forwarder / client relationship.