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When your business is ready to grow beyond U.S. borders, the prospect of selling your products to customers in countries around the world is exciting. But for many entrepreneurs, it's not quite as enticing once they discover the intricate process of transporting the goods, which encompasses everything from preparing documentation and negotiating carrier rates to tracking the shipment and complying with foreign trade requirements.
Savvy business owners know that moving cargo to foreign countries doesn't have to be a nightmare, especially when you enlist the expertise of an international freight forwarder. Known throughout the industry as "transport architects," these professionals can take your shipment from one point to another efficiently, minus the headaches.
"The freight forwarding company attends to the international shipping, documentation and cargo movement from the shipper's facility to the buyer's facility," explains Peter Powell Sr., CEO of C.H. Powell Co., an international freight forwarding firm in Peabody, Massachusetts. With 38 years of industry experience, Powell knows firsthand the ins and outs of shipping freight around the world. His company handles thousands of tons of freight a week for its clients.
Who Can You Trust?
As with any business relationship, entrusting your cargo to the right intermediary is paramount. Johnston Sweeper Co. in Chino, California, a C.H. Powell customer for more than 15 years, manufactures and ships its airport runway and street sweepers worldwide. But shipping 20,000-pound pieces of machinery wasn't always easy for this business.
"I dropped one freight forwarder even though they had extremely good rates," says Leslie Turner, export sales agent for Johnston Sweeper. She got the impression through discussions with the forwarder that the company wouldn't meet her shipping standards. "I could tell they were going to end up dumping things back on me and were not really going to resolve issues as they should," explains Turner, so she went to C.H. Powell, a company she felt would give her the necessary knowledge and assistance to ensure efficient and reliable freight transport. The company fulfilled Johnston Sweeper's top three priorities: Expertise, reaction and response time, and pricing.
What other qualities should you look for when selecting a freight forwarder? "Reputation, longevity in business, and the ability of the firm to answer the clients' needs," says Powell. "Those are the three most important items." Other considerations include finding out whether the forwarder handles certain products, such as hazardous or refrigerated materials.
"[Businesses] have to view the forwarder as the last line of defense," Powell explains. "[The forwarder] is going to be sure that his client conforms with all the government regulations that apply to export cargo. He acts as an agent of the exporter and, in most instances, is like an extension of that exporter's traffic department."