From working with a carrier directly to using online load boards, there are more options than ever to help shippers put their bulk freight in motion. Yet, the advantages of using one of the most tried and true of these options, the freight 3PL, may be largely unknown to some shippers. So, to set the record straight, we sat down with a real-life bulk freight specialist – Bulk Connection’s own Dry Bulk Manager, Scott Wilson – to answer the question: what does a bulk freight 3PL do to add value for shippers?
What is a bulk freight logistics provider?
A bulk freight 3PL is a licensed property broker that uses its network of carriers to transport shippers’ freight – and much more. This “much more” includes helping shippers to cut costs, move freight fast, and remove the demands of traffic management and carrier sourcing from its operations.
So, in that respect, the term “freight broker” feels antiquated nowadays. We’re third-party logistics providers (3PLs) that perform a lot more on the shippers’ behalf than simply moving product from points A to B. Anything from drayage and arrangement of customs details to manufacturing logistics and just-in-time delivery can be included in our services. Not to mention the human component of communication and negotiation for cost savings.
What advantages do freight 3PLs provide for shippers?
Cut freight costs. Most freight 3PLs have very large networks of carriers. A 3PL can leverage the size of its network to find the best carrier for a shipper’s load based on experience, equipment and cost. A 3PL can essentially ‘comparison shop’ on behalf of their shipping customers.
Move freight fast. Again, the large size of a 3PL’s carrier network allows for greater flexibility in meeting the timelines of shippers. From there, communication is vital to iron out schedules that work for shippers and destination facilities. We can also factor in stops to tank washes and other items.
Remove demands of traffic management. When a shipper books a load with a carrier, that shipper typically must allocate internal resources to track that load and manage the timeline and stakeholder expectations. 3PLs can handle those tasks on the shippers’ behalf.
Provide multiple transportation modes. Some 3PLs, like Bulk Connection, that specialize in bulk freight shipping can handle transportation across liquid and dry bulk freight; effectively giving shippers a ‘one-stop-shop’ for their transportation needs.
Maintain carrier information. For shippers going it alone and working with different carriers directly, there can be a lot of work that goes into maintaining the carriers’ licensing, insurance and regulatory compliance information. Some 3PLs even have a dedicated team whose responsibility it is to keep these records updated and ensure that the 3PL’s TMS system assigns shippers’ loads ONLY to carriers that are up-to-date and qualified to handle them.
Perform coordination among stakeholders. When a bulk freight 3PL is a true expert, it understands that there are so many details that make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful load. As such, these 3PLs will guide you through the entire load. This includes calling both the loading and unloading facilities to confirm key items like operating hours, on-site staffing, and the necessary equipment. It also means staying in contact with these stakeholders until the load is completed.
Can a shipper use a freight 3PL AND hire carriers directly? Or is it one or the other?
Shippers can and do use both carriers and freight 3PLs. Often, a shipper will have a comfort level with a specific carrier in a specific lane(s). As capacity is needed for new lanes however, shippers can lean on 3PLs to source them and/or lean on 3PLs to simply explore options in these new lanes. Some shippers may also choose to augment existing carrier arrangements with 3PL-based loads within the same lane so that they are not too reliant on a single carrier.
There are other times where a shipper may have a new product that is outside of its regular carrier’s wheelhouse and, again, a 3PL can step in and handle transportation for that product.
What are some value adds that a freight 3PL provides to shippers?
A major value add that freight 3PLs provide is emergency shipping. When you’re dealing with a single carrier, it has what it has. If you have an emergency and all of that carrier’s trucks and drivers are booked, you’re out of luck. A 3PL with a large network, however, can pull trucks in from near and far to support your needs.
For example, one winter there was a Vermont company that had its rail operation significantly disrupted due to winter weather. Bulk Connection sourced – and ran – 4-to-6 trucks a day for over a-month-and-a-half to compensate for the railcars that were out of action.
What are misconceptions that shippers may have about freight 3PLs?
The barriers to entry to becoming a freight 3PL are relatively low. It’s important to partner with a 3PL that has a proven track record and the longevity that breeds trust. In Bulk Connection’s case, we’ve been a trusted partner to shippers all over North America since 1987.
What about digital freight marketplaces? Do they replace the 3PL?
For some freight where the 3PL adds little value, the 3PL role may not be necessary. But anyone who’s ever booked a bulk chemical shipment – understands that there is often significant knowledge and back and forth communication that goes into making the shipment successful. As such, shippers need true experts to guide them through the process. You’re simply not going to find that expertise and support in a load board or a computer algorithm – especially if the project encounters a hiccup along the way.
Learn more about bulk freight 3PLs
Whether you have been partnering with freight 3PLs for years or are simply interested in the advantages they could bring to your supply chain, contact Bulk Connection to see how its expert 3PL services can supercharge your operations. With over 35 years of liquid and dry bulk experience, Bulk Connection has the expertise and the carrier network to help you optimize your shipping operations. To learn more, contact us today.