By Mike Challman
Vice President, North American Operations, ChemLogix, LLC
Lately, I’ve been chuckling at the TV commercials featuring tax software providers in which consumers learn that their “professional” tax preparer is actually a retail store clerk or a master plumber. Whether that is a fair assessment of tax preparation companies or not, it got me thinking about third-party logistics. The implication of the commercial is obvious: some jobs are better left to “true” professionals. The question that it raises in my mind is:
What are the risks of assuming that any third-party logistics company can efficiently and safely manage your freight activity?
Many people might just assume that all transportation modes and services are basically the same thing. The equipment looks similar, doesn’t it? Trucks travel on the same roads, don’t they? A load is a load, right? Most of all, many third-party logistics providers claim that they can do it all. Accept that assurance at your own peril.
When assessing 3PLs as potential transportation outsource providers, ask these seven fundamental questions, especially if you are a shipper of bulk chemicals and/or hazardous products:
1) Is the provider’s core expertise primarily in transportation or in another logistics discipline?
2) Does the provider have specific expertise in the transportation of your specific type of product? In the chemical industry, the 3PL must understand the intricacies of bulk shipments and hazmat requirements.
3) Is the provider offering the latest technological capabilities and are they ideally suited to your market?
4) Does the provider’s operational staff possess significant experience and training in the proper and safe management of your type of product? For chemical transportation, the staff should have knowledge of bulk and/or hazardous shipping.
5) Can the provider offer insights into market conditions, rates, carriers and other critical aspects of transportation, both for your market segment and for the broader transportation marketplace?
6) Is the provider’s proposed solution flexible and adaptable to your specific requirements?
7) Does the provider demonstrate an appetite for continuous improvement, for challenging the status quo, and for finding new and better ways to address your evolving needs?
While there many good 3PLs, not all are primarily transportation experts; offer state-of-the-art technology; and/or hire, train and retain operations staff with significant industry experience. Virtually no 3PL is an expert in every single industry. And only the very best are ready or willing to adjust and adapt their solution to best fit customers’ needs, with an eye toward doing it even better tomorrow.
If the 3PL with whom you are working, or thinking about engaging, can’t answer at least five to six of those questions appropriately, you may be asking a “retail store clerk” or “plumber” to do your taxes. The very best of the 3PL breed can effectively address all seven issues. Just as tax-paying consumers need a professional tax consultant, you need a 3PL partner who is a truly experienced and verifiable professional.