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b2ap3_thumbnail_dreamstime_l_19275327.jpgFurther to the last blog, a well written motor carrier agreement can be a powerful tool in promoting partnerships between shippers and freight companies. Listed below are some of the major components of a comprehensive contract.

1. Parties to the Agreement

The document must clearly identify the parties to the agreement, including the use of any third parties or sub-contractors. This is very important since it is critical that all transport companies that perform services for the shipper have the same licenses, insurance and service levels as the primary party to the agreement. In other words, they must be a replica of the primary party or any differences must be so stated. The agreement must also make clear that the parties to the agreement are independent contractors. Neither Shipper nor Carrier shall have the right to enter into contracts or pledge the credit of or incur expenses or liabilities on behalf of the other party.

2. Services

a) Types of services

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Best in Class shippers have high quality, granular, historical freight data. They capture clean, accurate, complete data on all of their inbound, outbound and inter-branch transfers, across all modes. The most fundamental building blocks are the individual boxes, parcels, envelopes, cartons, drums or pallets.

Capturing this data correctly and completely allows a shipper to address such fundamental issues as the type of container to be used, space occupied, loading plan etc. This data is also critical when conducting an RFP as a means of selecting the appropriate modes and carriers. The data that each shipper maintains must contain certain data elements in order to be useful for analysis and planning purposes. The following data fields are essential.

 Shipment number

 Pick up date

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In order to conduct a freight RFP exercise, shippers need to secure historical data on their traffic volumes by type of service (e.g. small parcel, LTL, over the road truckload, intermodal etc.) and freight costs by lane (e.g. origin – destination pair). The data serves two purposes. First, by capturing and sharing shipment activity data, it guides the carriers in creating their bids by helping them understand how the freight will impact their business. Second, the freight cost data serves as a benchmark against which to compare the rates and other carrier data (e.g. transit times) that are received.

To create an accurate data base, the following key elements are required:

a) For small parcel shipments, origin and destination postal codes are essential.

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In an RFP, the carriers are being asked to bid on specific types of freight moving on specific traffic lanes. The rates they quote are based on the freight descriptions that you provide. It is essential that all aspects of the freight be documented in sufficient detail so as to ensure the quotes received are an exact match for the freight being shipped. These are some of the areas that require their input.

a) What do typical shipments look like (e.g. pallets, pieces, a combo, drums, totes etc.)?

b) What are the precise dimensions and weights of the freight?

c) How is the freight loaded and unloaded (e.g. crane, fork lift, lumper service, side loading, apartment deliveries etc.)?

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Over the past eleven years, my colleagues and I have worked on a variety of successful freight RFP or freight bid projects. During that time, we have observed a number of factors that are the keys to success. This is the first in a series of blogs that will provide tips on how to run a successful freight bid.

1. Obtain Buy-in and Participation from the Operating Divisions

In some multi-plant or multi-division companies, the RFP project is approved by the head office CFO or President. While the divisions may pay the carrier freight invoices, their participation in the RFP may be limited to reviewing the proposed carrier list or bid documents or simply being made aware that the project will be undertaken. This is not adequate.

Since the division managers are directly involved with shipping and receiving goods on a daily basis, they often have information that head office personnel don’t have. It is essential that these people be engaged at the beginning, at key milestones throughout the project and at the end to ensure a successful project. The division freight personnel should be asked to not just read status requests or respond to written requests for information; rather they should also be engaged in conference calls on specific topics (e.g. freight loading and unloading requirements, documentation of local cartage runs, pick-up and delivery requirements in specific branches etc.) so the bid documents completely and accurately reflect the shipping characteristics of your firm.

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For many years, industry experts have been predicting a consolidation in the Canadian freight industry. During and after the Great Recession, the decibel level of these warnings increased as most trucking companies faced the challenges of reduced freight volumes, sinking rates and the difficulty of managing a business during recessionary times. In fact, the industry did shrink by an estimated fifteen percent during the downturn, not through acquisition, but through companies closing their doors or parking equipment.

As one looks back over the past five years, the Canadian economy has been recovering, albeit painfully slowly. There has been some growth in GDP and in jobs, largely in the west. During this same period, the Canadian freight industry has been consolidating and continues to consolidate. This has been driven by a host of factors.

There were and still are willing sellers. Many trucking company owners, particularly those in the baby boomer generation, without a succession plan, or with poor prospects for survival, saw the sale of their business as the most logical business option. For some, the challenge of hanging on during the Great Recession, took some of the appeal out of the business. That coupled with the option of creating a retirement fund was a desirable route to follow.

The post-recession business climate brought a host of challenges. Just as trucking company owners are getting older, so are truck drivers. Young men and women are not interested in becoming long haul truck drivers, dealing with crossing the Canada – US border, spending weeks away from their families, for $40,000 to $50,000 per year. The driver shortage, coupled with rising costs of fuel and equipment, low margins, increasing technological sophistication and regulatory changes, have made life much more difficult, particularly for small fleets with limited access to capital.

In addition, there were and still are willing buyers. Some of the larger trucking companies and conglomerates have been active buyers. Take a look at the websites of the large truckers to see the list of companies that have been acquired. The larger fleets have seized the opportunity to increase market share, to enter new markets, and/or to acquire new drivers, equipment and management talent. With TransForce’s acquisition of Contrans, we are now seeing a very large conglomerate devour a large conglomerate. What does this all mean for the Canadian freight industry?

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Freight costs often represent a significant percent of a manufacturer or retailer’s expenses.   While many companies have highly qualified CFOs and VPs of Logistics or Transportation, the management of freight costs is often sub-optimized.  This appears to be a result of a lack of collaboration between these executives with each having a different set of metrics and perspectives.  Here is my take on why this is happening.

 Business Strategy versus Transportation Strategy

CFOs are focused on the strategic direction of the business, on earnings, cash flow and return on invested capital.  They are under pressure to reduce the amount of inventory tied up in supply chains. To a CFO, lean inventory means “reduction in working capital tied up in inventory.” 

VPs of Logistics and Transportation are preoccupied with efficient supply chains.  Leaner inventories mean smaller production lots and faster transportation, which can command premium rates since they preclude the use of cheaper, longer-transit modes, and may even require paying a premium for expedited freight. On the inbound side, this can cause plant or production line shut-downs due to lack of raw material or parts. On the outbound side, it can lead to empty shelves or the loss of a customer and its associated revenue stream.

Inventory is a component of working capital. Investors look at the levels of capital tied up in the supply chain – the lower the better. However, if you take your inventory, and therefore working capital, too low, your profit margin may suffer.

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