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Getting Goods to the Export Market

Mon, 29 July 2002

Most people’s experience of international transport is limited to sending the occasional parcel long-distance.
We tend to envisage exporting in terms of huge consignments thundering their way across continents, or crates being unloaded from exotic ports. All this can be difficult to relate to your need to send 50 small china ornaments to a distributor in Northern Spain. You may be surprised to find that much export trade is like yours - small or medium sized consignments, with their own special requirements, being transported to customers or agents all over the world. You may also be pleased to find that much of the vast range of help and advice available is geared to your needs.
It is important to remember that the efficiency of your chosen transport method will affect your export costs and your relationship with customers. You should consider carefully what your particular priorities are. Above all, it is vital that your goods get to their destination in good condition, and within the delivery time which you have established with the buyer. Reliability, time and price are fundamental aspects of customer service. Selecting a method of transport for your goods involves a thorough investigation of the processes involved in each option. You should be thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of individual transport methods in relation to the needs of your product. Key areas which you should be considering are:

Transport method:

  • Speed of service - this obviously depends to what extent speed is a priority for your consignment. Customer requirements will influence this, as will the nature of the product. It is also worth remembering that fast delivery can only bring payment closer. 
  • Safety of goods - getting the product to the customer in perfect condition is a prerequisite of a successful export deal. If goods are stolen, damaged or soiled en route, then your efforts have been largely wasted. A new customer, in particular, is unlikely to be impressed, even though the problem was nothing to do with you. Quality of service is obviously sometimes difficult to determine. However, you should be able to assess whether a particular method is more or less likely to expose your product to risk.
  • Cost - cost consideration should include all aspects of the selected method, including transport to and from a UK port or terminal, documentation and handling charges. Depending on your terms of trade you may not be paying for all areas of cost, but one way or another transport costs are going to affect the final price you receive. You should have a fair idea of what you are can afford/are prepared to pay, and how you might get a better deal. Volume also obviously affects costs - would you be able to take advantage of a group consignment if you chose this transport method?
  • Ease of use - by this we mean all the factors which would come into play should you select this method. This includes areas such as documentation needs, packing and marking requirements, legislation, handling of goods at ports and during transfers between vehicles. There is little point, for example, in sending items on a complicated road-ship-road journey when they could easily be posted to their destination.

Your product:

  • Bulk/weight - transporting goods which are bulky or heavy will inevitably limit your options. Air freight, for example, is not the best method for very heavy consignments, nor obviously, is post. Your best options will be shipping, road or rail, although you should also take into account your requirements in terms of transit time. Bulk consignments are, however, frequently more cost-effective to transport so it will be worth doing some research into available deals. If you are sending small amounts, then containerisation might be a way of reducing costs.
  • Other factors - these include value, fragility, perishability, goods which might leak in transit, or which are potentially hazardous. Legislation covers the transport of dangerous goods, foodstuffs, agricultural and horticultural products, and you should be familiar with terms affecting your goods. Other considerations include the degree of packaging that might be necessary to transport an item safely, the availability of refrigeration facilities, and any extremes of temperature which the goods might be exposed to en route. How far would these factors affect the final quality of your product?

Aim to strike a balance in these areas; for example, safety of the goods should never be sacrificed to cost-cutting measures. Your main priorities are to provide a competent and professional service to customers, to ensure that your resources are used in the most efficient way and to obtain full payment for your efforts in order to maintain company cash flow.

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