Small businesses that need delivery services often need help learning when to transport and when to ship their goods in the most effective ways. How your small business moves products now may evolve depending on the volume of goods you’re sending or where your customers are located. Therefore, finding the appropriate service providers may become an ongoing consideration in your planning and budgeting cycles. The method you choose for transporting goods, such as truck, rail, or air, is a variable that could change based on the urgency or destination of the package. If your packages vary at all in weight, dimensions, or volume, these factors, along with pricing, will also play a role in your choices.
Mailing, Transporting, and Shipping: Are there differences?
When it comes to knowing exactly what to say, or search, when you are researching the topic of sending your products to a customer, the terminology seems a little confusing and it can seem like all of the terms are used interchangeably. Generally, and for the purpose of this article:
- small parcels are mailed
- items sent via truck, rail, or air are considered freight and, are being “transported”
- items being sent over the waterways are being “shipped.”
When I Ship or Transport Goods, Are They Considered Parcels or Freight?
Small businesses may often mail smaller packages, which are considered parcels, through common carriers such as UPS, FedEx, and USPS. These lighter loads can be personally carried in, at your convenience, to a local drop-off point to be mailed within an envelope, or a box. Many carriers will also pick up on site. When you send smaller packages for your business, the costs are generally charged in the same way as personal mail delivery services and are calculated based on the dimensional weight and girth of the package, as well as the delivery location. UPS and FedEx require that your parcels be less than a pallet and max out at 150 pounds in weight, per shipment. USPS will not accept packages over 70 lbs.
Packages that exceed 150 lbs. or, that are longer than 108 inches, cannot be shipped as a parcel because anything beyond these dimensions will be considered freight.
If you think your package size or weight is close, then check with your local carrier to confirm.
Transportation Services for Small Business
Less Than a Truck Load (LTL) or Full Truck Load (FTL)
When you are sending packages that are larger than the dimensions of a parcel, you will want to look for a transportation company that handles freight. Some companies offer a courier rate for less than a truck load (LTL), in order to accommodate smaller freight deliveries that would not fill the entire bed of a truck. In order to still make the delivery efficient and profitable for the courier, the company will work to fill the truck to its capacity, by moving multiple loads, from different businesses, at the same time. LTL works when the packages being delivered have destinations along the same route and need to arrive within a similar time frame. LTL should be less expensive and could work well for small business owners who have fewer items to send. Transit time will depend on the number of pick up and drop off locations, however some freight companies can customize routes and minimize timeframes if requested.
Full truck loads (FTL), are just as it sounds. When your packaged goods require the space of an entire truck, then the transportation company will dedicate a full truck to manage the load you are transporting. Any time you are moving more than 10 pallets or more than 15,000 pounds, you will need a full truck. There are weight limitations, based on vehicle laws, and each standard FTL will range between 10,000 – 45,000 pounds. Full truck loads can either be dry flatbeds or refrigerated trailers. FTL can also be a good choice when a company is moving high-risk packages or when time is an issue.
Many small businesses who are transporting goods will use “rail freight” which is usually less costly and easily accessible in major cities. Typically used for larger and heavier loads, rail transportation offers faster loading and unloading times than road carriers, but the transit time is lengthier. If you don’t have time constraints, consider the railway system.
During the winter season, there is a higher likelihood for issues that impede travel on the railways, however, this is mainly an issue only during a harsh winter.
Transporting by air is the fastest mode of delivery. Air-transit can be a good resource for small businesses transporting goods when time is of the essence. Because of the time-saving convenience, there is a higher cost associated with air-transit. In addition, due to space limitations and weight restrictions on aircrafts, air-transport can be costly, so it is not always the best choice when the budget is tight. Weather can have an impact on transit as from time-to-time, especially in harsh winter storms, there are forced delays that are out of everyone’s control.
What About Shipping Packages Using the Waterways?
Mostly used for international shippers without pressing time constraints, this method is simple and can be the least costly. Drop shippers and other small businesses importing goods will rely on the waterways. Just like road services, there are options for partial, full, or larger than container services. Waterways can be affected by weather such as hurricanes or tropical storms, however those are not experienced that often.
Should I Self-Manage or Use “Freight Forwarding” Services to Deliver Goods for My Small Business?
With each of the transportation methods described, there are several factors to consider that can be compartmentalized and self-managed or, you can hire a middleman to provide “freight forwarding” services.
A freight forward company strives to make global shipping as easy as possible for you, the sender. Besides calculating all of the elements, arranging transportation, and storing your goods until they leave, and/or when they arrive, freight forward services are well informed about the various legalities and requirements which can be very helpful, in particular if you are working with international vendors and suppliers.
Your freight forward team should negotiate freight charges, track transportation, secure cargo insurance and file insurance claims. Their company doesn’t actually move the items, instead it manages all the logistics of moving on your behalf.
There are also several freight forward companies who offer specialized services such as: blanket wrapping for fragile items, oversize freight shipping, trade show shipping, and time critical or expedited shipping. There are even white-glove service providers that will take care of everything for you, including packing and unpacking your goods.
Develop Rapport and Plan for the Future
Developing a relationship with your transportation vendors from the start is key. Keep in mind that as your business scales you may be transporting or shipping more goods, so the method that originally was most cost effective, may or may not fit your needs over time. Be sure to consider the appropriate insurance policies available. Take time to compare pricing models, delivery times, tracking methods, and other pertinent policies when making your decisions.