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The F- word

A friend of mine had been working in freight forwarding for a number of years and her parents thought that she checked in suitcases at Manchester airport.

So little is known about the role of a Freight Forwarder in logistics and the shipping industry that it’s difficult to know where to actually begin. We see it all around us, from the Maersk container you are stuck behind on the M6 to the discussions on the news talking about free trade agreements with Canada to that new designer bag you bought your wife for Christmas. (or the fake one you nearly did)

I will aim to put some thoughts down to help dis-entangle some of what we do. I’ve worked in freight forwarding for over 20 years and I always start the day wondering what I will learn that day. So constant is the ever-changing world, cargo, customers, conditions of weather and complete imbeciles that never a dull day passes.

The oldest profession in the world. (well nearly)

Directly after agriculture, banking & commerce and the sale of very personal services there is freight. In the beginning, Eve traded apples locally with Adam in the garden of Eden so there must have been some method of transport also?

The dry version is that we move cargo around the world for a competitive price and (usually) agreed transit time. But this doesn’t really take up my day or even begin to paint the picture. This is taken up by being nice to people by making sure that everyone has been taken care of with clear and concise instructions. By being flexible and understanding that it’s not always going to go to plan. So we don’t move cargo, we deal with people. Yes computers and automation are on their way, but they won’t be taking over anytime soon and they make a shocking cup of tea.

The world is always being traversed by container ships or by aircraft moving products from one country to another. Never stopping for Christmas day, Easter, factory shut down, or curry night. It just keeps on moving on relentlessly. Every country has different customs arrangements and a different set of cultural values. (there we are again talking about the human side of freight). A shipment that arises out of China has a different feel to it than a shipment from India or USA. Trying to get a shipment arranged on a Friday in August from Italy can be much more challenging than getting a collection from Guangzhou. (probably more expensive also)

The day starts with Australia and the Far East obviously checking their bookings or approving what we have sent to them. Then we master the art of multi-tasking whilst toasting crumpets for your daughter and simultaneously approving some documents for a new routing from South Korea. (It’s surprising what also can be done while also watching an episode of Paw Patrol) Then when we get into the office we deal with late deliveries, fog on the quay, customs holds and anything else the UK can throw at us before North America drags itself out of bed. Who then check and revert what you’ve sent to them overnight for the next few hours. They can also send all their quote requests through at 5pm meaning that laptop comes out again on the kitchen table to try and finish any outstanding shipments with a glass of something cold).

Then much later the Australians are back at you (again!) and so the days can turn into a Groundhog Day of sorts. But one that is never the same and doesn’t include Andie MacDowell.

“New ocean freight shipment from China to UK” – (roughly speaking)

Send off new supplier details / check / inform / wrong email address / check again /

Confirm “Terms of Trade” with origin agent / explain difference between Ex Works and FOB to consignee / re-quote consignee / pray

Cargo details – check / count / revert

Vessel or flight detail – check / revert / pray

Net rates of cargo – check / revert / pray / swear / revert

Insurance – check / show pictures of ship on fire / explain / revert

Wait for the arrival of the quickest 30 days you can imagine and watch the year go by.

Then revert the whole process on arrival to UK / check ETA

Request paperwork – explain what original bills are / check ETA

Submit to customs – ahead of vessel arrival / check ETA

Get vat & duty figures and pre-book delivery

Check ETA / pray / swear / arrange / sing hosanna !

So, we just do lots and lots of messing about, giving instructions, checking paperwork, passing information across to everyone and making sure everyone is happy. We keep the plates spinning and the cargo moving. It’s a process job, but not done in the right order as every shipment different. Mitigating risk for the clients and using our experience to make the process seem fluid and seamless. With lots of praying to the freight gods.

If you are still reading this, then I salute you. If you want to know anymore or just want to pop by for a coffee and a chat about imports & exports then please bring biscuits and come on over.