Eleven Questions a Logistics Specialist Will Ask

Preparation is critical for the success of your import/export movement

Ready to transport goods from one country to another? It’s that moment of truth where preparation is critical to the success of your import/export movement. Before you reach out to a transportation specialist, sharpen your pencil and get ready to have all the answers to the following questions. Much of this information – and more -- can be found in my five-star book, “Exporting:  The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably.”

1. What is your commodity? Is it perishable or non-perishable?  There's a big difference between shipping bananas (as shown) versus screwdrivers.  A transportation company must know exactly what you are shipping, from where, and to what point.  

2. What is your product's commodity number? You can look this up in the appropriate directory at your local international small business association office. A commodity number, generally known as an "HS/Schedule B product description," allows for easy classification by customs officials. It's important to be as specific as possible in determining your product classification because transportation rates vary widely, even among products you would expect to fall under the same category. If you are unable to determine the appropriate number, the logistics specialist, or years ago better known as a freight forwarder, will calculate an accurate shipping quote based on your product description.

If your product is already a standard export but you are sending it to a new market, a logistics specialist will take your commodity number and assign an appropriate tariff number. That number will then be filed as the industry standard for all subsequent exports of that commodity to that location. Every time you export that product to that country, you must use the assigned tariff number to insure the same rate.

The same holds true when you reverse the transaction and import.

3. Are you shipping by air or by ocean?

4. How many cartons do you plan to ship?

5. What size cartons? This will need to be figured both in linear dimensions (height, length, width) and in cubic meters.

6. What are the net and gross weights of the cartons in kilograms? (The net weight is the weight of the product alone; the gross weight is the weight of the product in cartons.)

7. Do you plan to stack the cartons on pallets? If so, how many will be loaded on each pallet? Your freight forwarder should be able to guesstimate how much weight and cubic space each pallet will take up, and calculate the total weight and volume of the shipment accordingly.

8. Do you have enough product to fill a container? Full loads of cargo are generally known as "containers" and average 20 to 48 cubic feet. Once you have your total number of cases and total weight calculated, your freight forwarder should be able to tell you if you have enough product to fill a container. If you do, it's an advantage. Your product will be loaded into the container all by itself, rather than being consolidated with other companies' products to fill the container, and a seal will be put on the door.

This means that nobody else will have access to those goods when they arrive at the port of destination, except your customer or their designated agent. This safety measure guards against potential theft, pilferage and product tampering.

9. From what location will the product be moved? Usually, this will be the manufacturer's (supplier's) factory door.

10. To what port do you or your customer want the goods delivered?

11. Will your shipment require an import/export license? To avoid shipping delays, it's best to make this determination as soon as you know what kind of product you'll be selling!

Having given them all this information, you can expect a bit of a wait for their response! Generally, an efficient transportation specialist can get back to you with a quote within a few hours. They should give you a very detailed analysis as to how they arrived at their rates.

If there is anything you don't understand, ask about it. Also, ask for a rate confirmation number so that when you call them back, whether in a week or several months, they will have their quote on record. And don't forget to ask how long the rates are valid! After you've called a few transportation specialists, sit down and compare quotes because you want the best rate for your customer or from your supplier!

Photo Credit: chrisinplymouth