If you’re a small company that is shipping your products for the first time, don’t feel bad if less-than-truckload shipping is your only option.
You may not have enough cargo to fill a full truckload (FTL), but that’s not the only reason logistics managers choose LTL shipping. Plenty of companies, large and small, rely on the flexibility of LTL shipping to help save them money and time.
Leveraging LTL shipping as a small or startup enterprise allows you to stay streamlined, securing only the amount of cargo space you need. By understanding what makes it most effective, you can use LTL to your advantage — even when your company makes it big.
LTL shipping: A quick rundown of the process
It’s worth reviewing the basics of LTL shipping as a foundation for considering how you can develop best practices for success.
Cargo that exceeds 150 pounds typically moves beyond the realm of package shipping — the kind that happens with consumer carriers such as UPS and FedEx — and into LTL shipping. There is no definitive weight limit, per se, for LTL shipments. As an outer limit, one could say that shipments with weights exceeding 20,000 pounds likely will ship FTL.
Your LTL cargo is embarking on a different kind of travel than door-to-door FTL shipping, and you need to prepare properly. Actually taking the time to conceptualize the steps your shipment takes from your warehouse to its destination can help you figure out how to implement best practices.
When your LTL shipment leaves your warehouse location, it will be loaded onto a box truck, tractor trailer or other cargo container. From there, it likely will go to a local warehouse to be consolidated with other LTL shipments in the same or a different truck.
The truck will then embark on its route making multiple stops, including the final destination of your particular LTL shipment.
LTL Best Practices: Continuously optimize
Optimization means making positive adjustments at every level of your LTL shipping process, including picking at the warehouse, packaging, scheduling, tracking and follow-up.
Take the time to optimize, then track data about your LTL shipments and optimize again. This ongoing cycle improves processes over time and allows you to react more deliberately to the inevitable ebb and flow of business.
LTL shipment package optimization: Product grouping and proper materials are every LTL shipper’s two mantras of package optimization.
To accomplish smart product grouping, combine items of similar freight class in the same LTL shipment. This eases the consolidation process for your LTL carrier and provides the most strategic packing approach for you.
Don’t skimp on LTL shipment packaging, least of all when considering crates and pallets. LTL shipments are subject to potential damage during consolidation and by other cargo while in transit. Crating and palletizing your LTL shipment also makes it more easily stackable, a feature attractive to LTL carriers.
LTL shipment process optimization: Even small companies can garner significant optimization by using a transportation management system. These software programs allow logistics managers to track success rates and monitor data over time. Most TMS are now cloud-based, positioning them to more easily align with data from carrier and other vendor systems.
Although supply chain technology is exciting, be sure to account for the human element of your LTL shipping process, as well as its importance in optimization. You can maximize internal productivity with the right logistics manager and warehouse processes. Allow team members to contribute ideas for optimizing LTL shipping processes and combine them with data to make the smartest decisions.
LTL Best Practices: Properly classify your freight
The freight classification system is fascinating, but the truth is that you don’t have to know much about the system itself in order to properly classify your freight.
Identifying the proper freight class for your LTL shipment involves analyzing its characteristics, including weight, size and overall fragility. If you need help, ask your LTL carrier for suggestions. Freight class is a critical bit of knowledge for LTL carriers, so they won’t mind helping you figure it out.
Learn all about the freight classification system with our easy-to-understand guide.
Improperly classified freight can cause real problems later on, as it could mean a delay during the customs process while officials wait for corrected paperwork. These last-minute changes also will trigger an accessorial charge from the LTL carrier to correct the bill of lading.
Additionally, your misclassified freight that is stuck at customs also holds up the other LTL shipments in the truck. It delays the driver and could disrupt upcoming routes.
A company that chronically misclassifies freight could get dropped as a client by LTL carriers who consider them too unreliable. With LTL shipping capacity at a premium, small companies especially cannot risk getting alienated by carriers.
LTL Best Practices: Understand documents and accessorial charges
Any gap in knowledge about your company’s LTL shipping process risks you being surprised by a negative outcome along the way. Be sure you understand the documents you’re completing and the contract you sign. Read the fine print and ask questions about any charges you could incur.
Get to know bills of lading inside and out. These most basic LTL shipping documents are your opportunity to set your freight out on the right foot. Each company’s may be a bit different, but if you know what the terms mean, you can be confident in completing them.
As a first-time shipper, be sure to review all the fine print in your LTL carrier contract. Pay special attention to potential accessorial fees. These are charges added by LTL carriers onto the price of your original quote for services rendered during the commission of your delivery.
Some accessorial fees are ones you can avoid, while others are inevitable. Be sure to understand every fee to which your LTL shipment might be subject.
LTL fees related to cargo characteristics
LTL shipments may be subject to accessorial fees if the freight requires special handling or is challenging to carry. This could include cargo that:
● Measures in excess of 10 feet in length
● Is crossing into Canada from the United States
● Contains hazardous chemicals or substances
● Must be protected from freezing
LTL fees for carrier services
If the LTL carrier must extend any special services in the process of picking up, transporting or delivering the shipment, they likely will charge for it. Carriers may charge service fees if you ask them to:
● Notify a party prior to delivery
● Sort an LTL shipment according to characteristics such as size, brand or flavor
● Use a special lift gate truck to pick up or deliver the LTL shipment
● Pick up or deliver an LTL shipment inside a building, instead of at a doorway or dock
LTL fees for delivery special requests
Depending on where and when your LTL shipment is being picked up and delivered, the carrier may charge additional fees. This may be relevant if your LTL shipment is being delivered or picked up outside normal business hours or from location such as:
● A grocery or food warehouse
● From a convention, trade show or exhibition
● At a residence or farm
● Places with limited access, such as a school, prison, airport or construction site
LTL fees for errors
If something goes awry during the carrying of your LTL shipment, the carrier may assess fees for adjustments they must make in the moment. These include fees for:
● Correcting a bill of lading that was incorrectly used or completed
● A variance in weight from what was claimed on the BOL, discovered later in re-weigh