Essentially, In Partnership is an extension – a major one – of the basic freight forwarding service we have always provided. Whereas with a “standard” service we would simply collect, transport and deliver an item, with our In Partnership clients we take on their entire commercial management process too. All we need are the basic shipment details and a value for Customs, and that’s the sum total of our clients’ involvement.
A few years ago, a long-term customer said it was taking its custom elsewhere. It transpired that another freight company had offered to take over their whole shipping operation and more importantly, in their eyes, all consequential responsibility. The company had two full time, experienced shipping staff but was increasingly having problems as the business and volumes grew and procedures became ever more complex.
We had noticed that the customer had been calling on Benair for expertise that was not available in-house more frequently. Furthermore, when one of the shipping staff was absent the whole operation slowed, with service and customer satisfaction naturally being affected. So, when the other company came along offering to resolve all these issues, the client was naturally enthusiastic.
Anxious not to totally lose the client, I asked whether Benair might be able to retain its business if we could provide a more comprehensive service. The customer’s willingness for us to come up with a proposal reassured us that the past service it had received from Benair was not at all in question. However, it now required a service that it thought we could not provide.
Following detailed discussions with the company’s managing director, we demonstrated that Benair could offer a service package that would actually meet more of the customer’s needs than our competitor.
Today, the customer’s day-to-day involvement in shipping consists of a couple of calls or e-mails a day telling us what they have and where it needs to go. Benair produces all the necessary documentation including invoices and packing lists – on the customer’s own stationery, so that its customers’ perception is not affected – shipping notes, Certificates of Origin and any number of other forms and documents that might be required to accompany any particular shipment. We also handle all communications with its customers.
Realising that many shippers have a significant percentage of their shipments routed through a forwarder of their customers’ choosing, we have also adapted the service to incorporate the routed shipments, and we also communicate with these companies on our client’s behalf.
As soon as we realised the potential in being able to offer this total service, we took the concept to other customers. Eschmann Holdings, a 220-employee manufacturer of operating tables and medical equipment in Lancing, West Sussex, is one of our In Partnership clients.
It came about almost by chance – our sales executive visited one day to try and secure some business, not expecting much success as Eschmann had been using the same local company for more than 20 years. After the visit, the company’s shipping manager casually mentioned to her boss that she had seen someone who offered a total shipping service but that she would be sticking with the existing forwarder.
Fully aware that her shipping manager was retiring in the not too distant future, Barbara Tunnicliffe was keen to find out more and asked us to make a formal presentation about In Partnership.
Tunnicliffe explains: “I had this major problem of having to replace a key and very experienced member of staff and was presented with the solution. Benair relieved Eschmann of a lot of pressure by taking over. They did everything necessary to ease the transition, even developing expensive software so that the invoicing interface between our two companies was optimised. Basically, we send them all the invoicing and packing list details in a simple .txt file, and the software translates it into Eschmann invoices and packing lists at their end.”
Harkness Hall Screen Division, a Herts-based manufacturer of projection and cinema screens, is similarly impressed with the service: “I think the key to the success of our partnership with Benair lies in the closeness of co-operation,” says Andrew Robinson, managing director. “Systems, structures and day-to-day admin are under constant review and as soon as something needs tweaking, it’s highlighted and taken care of.”
In Partnership is not limited to export business. Benair also handles all Harkness Hall and Eschmann’s imports.
For Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), we look after the import of spare and replacement parts for the thousands of Coca-Cola vending machines throughout the UK. CCE was bringing in many individual shipments a week from all over the US. We suggested that we could cut CCE’s costs dramatically by collating all these shipments stateside and import them together. For a start, there would only be one Customs Clearance fee instead of multiple fees, and we were also able to provide cheaper freight rates due to the larger shipments. CCE’s concern, however, was that the more urgent shipments would be delayed if they followed this route.
Sue Churchill, CCE purchasing manager, comments: “During 2001, as the level of imported parts for our Cold Drink Equipment re-manufacture operation in the UK increased, we needed a way to ensure on time deliveries at a competitive cost. We approached several forwarding companies to quote for the business, one of which was Benair. They were effectively offering to handle the whole shipment from the despatch door of our overseas suppliers to the Goods Inwards door of our site in Milton Keynes with minimal input from us.”
Benair took over the entire operation and all associated communications with the US to ensure that each CCE shipment is assessed and controlled independently and the more urgent consignments are not delayed by consolidation. We employed someone specifically to co-ordinate everything, and reduced costs even further by consolidating imports for other clients along with CCE’s – everyone benefits.
So what are the disadvantages of outsourcing your shipping? Quite simply, none. Increasingly, companies are realising the benefits of offloading various corporate functions.
For example, marketing and public relations have for many years been handed over to specialist agencies and consultants. More recently, employment agencies have been re-branding themselves as “recruitment consultants” and providing the added value and services needed to enable companies to outsource their human resources function as well.
On first consideration, the concept of moving a complex and detailed shipping operation may appear daunting and impractical, but that should not be a deterrent. The benefits to be gained and the pressures and complications that can be removed by far outweigh any concerns about time input needed to affect the changeover. Furthermore, it does not have to happen overnight – the process can be staged – and Benair can assume as much or as little shipping responsibility as the customer requires.
To date, the majority of our In Partnership clients are medium- to larger-sized companies, but the service need not be limited to bigger organisations. It is arguably even more effective in smaller companies where the “Cinderella” function of shipping can often fall into the remit of a secretary or a stores person. Companies are often loathe to consider exporting for the first time because of the complexities of the procedures and paperwork involved, and these are the companies that Benair plans to help in the not too distant future.
Brian Southern is director at Benair Freight International. Tel: 01753 671671.