Exporters at the annual meeting of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition lament lack of visibility and carrier accountability and the disappearance of telephones.
At their annual meeting in Tacoma, Wash., this week, members of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition stressed the need for better service from carriers.
“It is a tough market right now,” said Traci Hamilton, a sourcing leader at International Paper. Tariffs and a downturn in the economy are forcing “a different level of conversation for customers” and the need for improved on-time performance by carriers.
“Supply chain is now a commercial discussion with our end users,” she said. “He or she who can deliver my product on time is going to win my business. It is really important to us, as a sourcing and supply business, to find ways to improve that execution.”
Jennifer Sidis, international logistics manager for the seed producers Wilbur Ellis Nutrition, said that shippers face many challenges — carrier consolidation, higher freight rates, obtaining equipment and space on vessels, tariffs and the higher cost of fuel because of the global cap on the sulfur content of bunker fuel that will go into effect on Jan. 1.
“These are the costs of doing business in the transportation industry,” she said. “The only thing that sets one provider off from another is how they handle these types of situations.”
Sidis complained that customer service is a “dying art form” in shipping and talked about the inability to get straight answers or prompt responses from carriers. She expressed bewilderment at the unwillingness of some companies’ employees to speak with customers on the telephone, saying that she has learned at some customer service centers, phones actually have been removed from desks.
Lori McGinty of the seed company Barenbrug said that while there have been some improvements, shippers frequently find it takes several hours for truckers to get in and out of terminals in Seattle and Tacoma when delivering containers.
International Paper’s Hamilton said customers are asking for shorter lead times, lower inventory liability, just-in-time delivery and no safety stock.
She asked carriers to work collaboratively with shippers and “provide the basics well. Don’t punish the shipper and my customer for the wrongdoings of the industry. Care about my cargo. If I am paying to move it, what’s in it matters. I don’t care if it is paper, produce, poultry. If we are paying to move it, it would be really great if somebody cared as much about that box as I do.”
International Paper exports about 300,000 TEUs of product annually from 15 ports to 700 destinations around the world. It works with more than 25 carriers.
Hamilton said that problems can start even before ocean voyages begin, with 10% of the company’s cargo departing out of U.S. ports more than three days late.
“It’s much more difficult to get there on time if you don’t leave on time,” she said. When her company does not have visibility to those delayed departures, it can create additional costs and challenges upstream for the company’s drayage providers that must deliver large numbers of containers in a short period of time.
Hamilton said delays incurred during transshipment can be a particularly difficult issue and mentioned that her company has seen cases in which cargo sat in a transshipment port for 30 days.
Overall, she said just half of International Paper’s cargo is delivered within one to three days of the estimated time of arrival, but that 35% arrives nine to 13 days late.
Hamilton said her company tries to compensate for those delays by booking with a seven-day window. “We get it, things are going to happen regardless.”
Still, she said her company is “scorecarded” by its customers on on-time performance and they attribute delays to her company and not the carrier.
Hamilton said shipments that arrive 14 days late or more are an even bigger problem. “Our supply chain is not built with the flexibility to adjust for two weeks,” she said, explaining it creates operational problems for customers and translates into 3,000 containers per month and about 75 customers that customs service teams must manage — “begging, pleading, apologizing, trying to save the sale for the next month.”