The great majority of shippers will insist, of course, the demands they make on their direct carrier or forwarder are as gentle as the summer rain; that they are the most understanding, kindly and generous people alive.
Carriers and forwarders, not surprisingly, take a far different view. Speak to a carrier executive or forwarder away from a shipper and they will complain about the excessive demands of their customers. How shippers are unreasonable, illogical, irrational and often just plain stupid.
Neither party, of course, has truth 100% on its side. Like most disputes, the somewhere in the middle. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that a dysfunctional relationship exists between shipper on one hand and his carrier and/or forwarder on the other. I further submit that this dysfunctional relationship is upsizing rather than downsizing
Ironically, during the past year or so, there has been considerable talk about shippers and carriers drawing closer together, patching up their differences, setting up lines of legitimate communication, and generally operating in an environment of cooperation and accommodation. How much of this talk has been translated into reality is another matter entirely
Perhaps reality is eluding shipper, carrier and forwarder because increasingly, both sides are inhabiting dream worlds. Aren’t dream worlds the province of Hollywood rather than the tough, gritty transportation business? I think our business has become part of the dreamworks factory because the shipper has been allowed to build castles in Spain based on the wondrous array of services the carrier can provide. And just who have helped build these castles in Spain? Why, the carrier and the forwarder, of course.
Until recently, transporting goods from Point A to Point B was a relatively simple matter. Shippers expected little more than delivery of cargo in the time promised, with their freight arriving in good condition. This simple state of affairs also was generally a very profitable one for the carrier. When Burlington Northern Air Freight, now Burlington Air Express, started operations in 1973, the parent railroad gave the fledgling subsidiary $2 million in seed money Those funds were repaid within 18 months, with the forwarder profitable almost from the moment it opened its doors.
Today, the international air cargo business exists in a world of logistics management, outsourcing, intermodal traffic, an information explosion and technology run amok. With this broad array of services available, is it a more profitable world for either carrier or forwarder? Just ask the chief financial officers of the cargo divisions of the airlines or the forwarders.
In their zeal to have shippers sign on the dotted line at rates that barely match their costs, forwarders have promised the moon to their customers. And shippers have come right back demanding not only even cheaper tariffs but the moon, planets and stars as well.
How many times within the past few years have we heard the phrase, “information about a shipment is just as important as the shipment itself.” I believe that statement has caused almost as much grief among forwarders as shippers who don’t pay their bills.
Now, shippers are demanding the most detailed accounting of the status of each of their shipments because forwarders have sold traffic managers and purchasing agents the joys of “logistics management.” Unfortunately, this almost minute-by-minute report on the status of each shipment creates enormous costs both in continuing technology updating and skilled, expensive manpower. Shippers and carriers have banded together to sing the praises of just-in-time delivery. Just in time delivery of goods often can be helpful in making production or distribution cycles more efficient, but it is not a panacea for every shipper. Unfortunately, JIT also has raised often unrealistic expectations by shippers of goods delivered directly to the assembly line on almost to the minute schedule.
Despite all the talk about shipper and carrier becoming “partne