Relationships: Working with a Shipping Carrier

For the fourth article in this relationships series, we’ll look at supply chain relationships—specifically shipping, and methods I have used to establish those relationships.

I have chosen to discuss this aspect of the supply chain for a couple of reasons. One: This is a supply chain partner that many of us will have to incorporate into our business models to survive the future. Two: Shipping itself can be a bit of a challenge, and any insight may prove to be helpful. Outlined here are the methods I’ve used to establish these business-to-business relationships. So, to develop a better relationship with your carrier—and hopefully add some ease to your life—here are a few suggestions to get things started.

Let’s begin by addressing the proper terms. Generally speaking, a shipper or consignor is the person or company who is shipping the commodity—in this case, you. The carrier is any person or company that takes responsibility for the transportation of those goods and any customer losses. In other words, your supply chain partner.

The first step to developing this relationship is online research. By beginning with research, you can narrow in on which carriers, and style of carrier, best fit your business concerning your shipping destinations, packaging desires, shipping times, package size, costs, etc. Starting with research can also help you reduce a lot of trial-and-error experiences and costs. The research process will also uncover the details you need to provide to help make the relationship flow.

Once you hone in on some potential carriers, the second step I would suggest is speaking to reps. Talking with reps allows you to fill in any blanks you encounter, answer any questions you have, and clear up any misinterpretations. This is also an opportunity to gain a friend on the inside. Ask them anything and everything you want to know, tell them your priorities, concerns, rumors you have heard, etc.

Inquire about cost-saving strategies, packaging supplies, processes; you name it. One question I always ask is, “How can I make this process as efficient as possible from our end?” I also inquire about non-retail carrier costs and if there are any cards or affiliations that offer benefits. Do they have any rewards programs, and, if so, how do you qualify? Let your new partner know what is important to you so they can be your eyes and ears on the inside.

After you gather all the information you need, it’s time to choose a carrier(s) and establish those business-to-business relationships. Taking what you learn through your research and combining it with what you know from the reps, you should now be more confident to move forward and place yourself in the best position.

Lastly, when establishing a relationship of this nature, I suggest doing some dry runs. This allows you to check things out in real-time, give you an idea of how things work, where the hiccups might lie, true costs, etc. This also allows you to find and work out any kinks.

Regardless of the supply chain partner, relationships like these are necessary to succeed, and the more fluid they are, the easier it is for you to achieve your goals.

Some key points to remember:

  • Both parties upholding their ends are imperative.
  • Successful shipper-carrier relationships are best achieved when these relationships are developed and managed.
  • It is important to recognize and understand where you and your partner don’t see eye-to-eye so you are better situated to address those differences and make them work.

Shipping has many moving parts, and as with customization, every time something adjusts, generally, so do costs. The more information you have upfront, the sounder the decisions you can make. And the more opportunities you can provide your customers with better and more cost-effective service.

Kirk Harris

Kirk Harris

Kirk Harris currently serves as president of Atlanta-based Kaptain Kirk Clothing Co. Harris' love of apparel began with retail in the late '90s and in 2006 he founded his first clothing line. In 2012 his journey led him to apparel decoration and in 2014 he settled into his current position. He's reachable at [email protected], 404-396-7171, or

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