Outsourcing your logistics can be a challenging task to complete. There are a wealth of 3rd party logistics (or 3PL) providers out there, but how do you determine which providers will work best for you? Choosing between them can seem tricky, so knowing what factors to consider can be vital in making the right decision.
Many people ask relevant contacts or colleagues to recommend a freight forwarder / 3PL that they use or have used in the past, but this isn’t always possible. Even if it is, the answer still may not provide the right fit for your business requirements. In which case, you’ll likely be scouring google for freight forwarders / 3PL’s and other related search terms for rich pickings.
Whether you have recommendations or not, you should still consider some key factors in order to inform your important first step in the process of finding a 3PL for you. In this article, we’ll look at 7 different areas to help you make this process as foolproof as possible.
1. Credibility & Experience
As logistics is a key pillar of many businesses, it’s crucial that you find a credible and reliable freight forwarder / 3PL. It’s no good entrusting your valuable cargo to a logistics partner who isn’t fit for your purpose.
Here are some questions to ask to help you narrow down the list of available providers:
- How long have they been established for?
- What accreditations and assurances do they hold?
- What specific services do they offer and are they predominant in any of them?
- Are they experienced in the specific trade lanes that you operate in?
- Do they offer customer testimonials and case studies on their website?
There are some key assurances you can look for when choosing a 3PL. A 3PL holding the below examples will help to give you confidence that they are competent.
- British International Freight Association (BIFA)
- The Road Haulage Association (RHA)
- ISO 9001
- Authorised Economic Operator (AEO)
- International Air Transport Association (IATA) Cargo Agent
2. Ability to Scale
It is sensible to suggest that the majority of companies have growth plans as a part of their business strategy. When you’re planning which freight forwarding / 3PL provider to partner with, the ability for them to support your planned scalability could be key. If this is essential for your business, ensure that you make this element a crucial part of your selection process.
To help discover which 3PL’s may have the ability to scale up with you, ask for some credible customer examples that demonstrate how they have already done this for other relevant customers.
Ideally you should look to work with a 3PL provider that invests in technology and innovation and provides live tracking / track & trace as part of standard service. Depending upon your needs as a business, you may also require PO Management, which is a more advanced technology and requires the input of your suppliers to update a shared platform.
Make sure you ask about which Warehouse Management System (WMS) they use, and what level of reporting they can provide you with. Automated reports, like weekly stock reports in CSV format that can be easily imported into your in house (ERP / stock management system).
You’ll be looking to drive efficiencies, so finding a freight forwarder / 3PL partner that puts value on continual improvement and the ability to adapt to new technologies is vital. It’s also important that their technologies can be integrated with your existing systems.
4. Bespoke Solutions
The best freight forwarders / 3PLs don’t tend to offer generic off the shelf services in favour of working closely with their customers specific needs. Every business is different and comes with unique logistics requirements, so a freight forwarder / 3PL partner that recognises and accommodates this can become an extension of your business, almost your logistics department and supporting your strategy for efficient growth.
Look for case studies as these can be an insightful way to determine how the freight forwarder works in partnership with its current customers. Don’t be afraid to ask for current client recommendations too.
5. Strong Communication
Strong communication from your freight forwarder, warehouse and/or 3PL is crucial. With long distances and transit times for your cargo to travel through, not to mention multiple transport modes, there is potential for delays and challenges along the way. In most instances your freight forwarder may not have control over these eventualities but making sure that you are aware of them is key.
A combination of communication mediums is best. For instance, having one point of contact at their company to manage your shipment and system integration whilst also receiving auto alerts into your inbox from their track and trace system. Having these types of services reliably in place can leave you feeling reassured that your valuable cargo is in good hands.
6. Service & Value Offer
If you’re looking for an end to end solution from your logistics partner then consider the following list of solutions / services as standard requirements for your needs:
- Sea Freight
- Air Freight
- Road Freight
- Warehousing fulfilment, ecommerce
- System Integration
- On-line tracking
- PO Management
- Export Packing
- Well established global network
- Key accreditations (as listed above)
If a 3PL provider doesn’t provide any of the above, consider whether it is something you need within your business. If you don’t need it right now, will you need it in future as you grow? This will help you find a partner that not only meets your needs now but can continue to meet your needs moving forward.
7. Strategically Located
A top quality freight forwarder / 3PL will have a long-established and extensive network of partners, ensuring best service and well coordinated global logistics.
If your logistics partner is physically handling your cargo via warehousing fulfilment services and/or export packing services for example, then their location could be a key consideration.
The major UK sea ports are located mainly in the south of the country (aside from Liverpool). However, as an importer, the cost of national distribution / haulage from sea ports to your distribution centre and from your distribution centre to your nationally based customers is a key component in maximising your efficiencies. Taking a more central location like the Midlands can help balance your service and costing options, in turn helping you to manage your costs and keep your customers happy.
You’ll also want to consider locations near major airports. East Midlands Airport is the UK’s busiest pure cargo airport and second only to Heathrow, handling over 320,000 tonnes of flown cargo every year.
In our opinion and for many reasons, the Midlands is a well placed location for a UK logistics partner. The Midlands today is incredibly well connected, sitting at the heart of the country’s transport network. With relatively equidistant locality to all parts of the UK via major motorways and main road networks, the Midlands is the obvious location that makes the most sense from a road freight perspective, positively managing your time and cost efficiencies.
As a freight forwarder in Leicestershire, Pinnacle are well placed to manage your sea freight and air freight imports, exports, export packing and warehousing fulfilment and road freight distribution for your B2B and B2C customers.
Contact Pinnacle today and speak to one of our Leicestershire based team of global logistics experts for information, pricing and advice for your unique requirements.
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