How to Find the Right Third Party Logistics Provider for Your Business

How to Find the Right Third Party Logistics Provider for Your Business

There are plenty of reasons to hire a third-party logistics provider for your business. From an experienced team that knows the intricacies of shipping to their connections with carriers, a quality third-party logistics provider can have a major positive impact on your bottom line.

But how do you find an experienced, top-notch 3PL - third-party logistics provider?

It starts with knowing exactly what you need out of one before you begin shopping.

First things first: What, exactly, are you shipping?

Before you can decide on a 3PL provider that will meet your needs, you need to know what those needs even are.

Are you shipping bulk dry goods that don’t have a particularly tight time constraint?

Do you need to check on a heated or cooled truck for sensitive food products?

Maybe you’re shipping industrial equipment – and it needs to arrive at a guaranteed time, all while being handled with extreme care to help ensure it’s in working order when it arrives.

Knowing what you’re shipping, and when it needs to arrive, is the first step before you even consider which 3PL provider to hire (or if you even need one).

This includes the weight break and freight class of your shipment.  If you’re not sure, ask.  The use of dimensioners means that if you inaccurately put the wrong weight, class, NMFC, or dimensions on an LTL shipment, the rates will be adjusted according to their actual specifications.

You can prevent these kinds of errors using the correct weight by weighing your palletized items when they are ready for shipping.  It’s also important to use the correct class, and the correct NMFC number, and provide accurate dimensions of your shipment when it is ready to be loaded onto the carrier.

If you are not familiar with all these details, or worse, think they’re not all that important, you should consult a 3PL so they can advise you of the pitfalls that will occur.

What you’re shipping – and when you need it to arrive by.

While knowing what you’re shipping matters, it’s equally as important to properly plan and schedule the arrival date.

No matter the time of year, weather can have a dramatic impact on the arrival time of your shipment.

The method of shipment can also have a major impact on how quickly you can expect it to arrive: shipping via rail can be much more cost-effective than LTL or full truckload across the entire country, but just how quickly do you need it to arrive?

Does it have to arrive by a certain date?  Are there ways you can ship it early, to guard against delays, or should you ask about guaranteed shipments?

If you aren’t sure about the shipping times for various methods of shipping, that’s also something you should note before you start shopping for 3PL providers.  A quality 3PL provider will be able to help you and your business understand transit times – and set realistic expectations on when things will arrive.  You’ll need this information to plan out your schedule to prepare your shipments.

Not planning can be a surefire way to end up with a provider who may not take into account your overall needs.

Let’s face it, anyone can give you a price.

But - you could work with a true industry leader.  One that’s dedicated to their client’s overall success, as well as understanding their overall needs.  This focus on the client’s complete needs, not just price, is what sets a best-in-class 3PL apart from the rest.

Wait – didn’t you just say we could request that the shipment have a guaranteed arrival date?

If your shipment is high priority or time-sensitive, you can always request guaranteed arrival.

However, there’s a very important caveat when it comes to guaranteed shipping.

Guaranteeing a shipment means that it goes to the front of the line at every point along its journey.

Think of your shipment as riding first class on an airplane.  This makes it significantly more likely that it’ll be on time as it gets preferential treatment – but it doesn’t guarantee the arrival date as Act of God events can interfere with even the best laid-out logistical game plan.

Those Act of God events are things you can’t avoid.  Derailed trains, blizzards, or even high winds can result in delays all over the US that will impact the delivery date of your shipment.

This means that even if your shipment does end up delayed, yes, you still pay the guaranteed rate.  Your shipment still went to the front of the line at every stage of its journey – but that act of God prevented it from arriving when it was supposed to.  Instead of being upset at a delayed shipment, be grateful: your shipment could have been last in line, and even more delayed, if you hadn’t paid for that guarantee.

That is, of course, a very small fraction of shipments that ever get affected by such unavoidable incidents.

The last thing you want, though, is to be that business that left things just a little too long before booking the shipment, and losing out on business or trade show opportunities as a result.

The purpose of this post: Selecting the best third-party logistics provider for your needs

A great 3PL provider acts as a supplement to your existing shipping department, turning your overworked team into rock stars.

You’ll want to look for a logistics provider that is experienced in your industry – be it industrial equipment, restaurant supplies, trade shows, aerospace, or any number of niche industries. You need a logistics provider who knows what you’re shipping, inside and out.

Ask them about their experience working with businesses like yours.  If there’s anything we mentioned earlier in this post that you’re unsure of – ask!  They should be able to easily and confidently answer any questions you have.

Once you get past the initial exploratory call, and book a shipment or two with the provider, they should be able to provide you with an online portal or TMS (Transportation Management System) to log in to.  This will allow you to get quotes for your shipments, pick from a list of carrier options that have been optimized to meet your KPIs, and book shipments on your own from your platform.

If your 3PL provider doesn’t offer that ability, DTS does – request a quote here and check the customer portal box for us to show you how it works!

Additionally, when determining the best 3PL for your business, here’s some important questions to ask:

  • Can they perform advanced analytics and provide a supply chain routing based on past historical shipments?
  • Do they have true logistics experience or are they “just a quoting platform”?
  • Can they put together a complete RFP on your behalf?
  • Are you locked into a contract for a given time line or are they flexible?
  • Do they only work with a certain size shipper?
  • Do they want you to sign a contract where they must handle all your logistics needs - or are they open for discussion on what modes they will handle for you?
  • Can they integrate their TMS portal via APIs into the shipper’s WMS system for a seamless rate population?
  • Is their customer service team available to speak to when you need them?
  • Can they guarantee shipments?
  • What are their expedited shipping rates?
  • Do they have an integrated portal to pull expedited / guaranteed rates?
  • Can you get quotes without having to contact a sales rep directly?
  • What are their LTL services like?
  • Do they have a large LTL carrier base for various options based on your shipping KPIs?
  • Do they fully understand accessorial or supplemental fees and how they would be attributable to your company’s logistical needs?
  • What are their Limited Access Fees – and which of your shipments might incur those fees?
  • What’s their experience with trade shows – if you attend them – and how can they help you ship more efficiently to those shows?
  • Can they tell you about their carrier’s insurance – and what coverage do they have if something goes wrong?
  • Do they offer supplemental insurance for those higher-valued items?

Above all, your 3PL provider should make shipping easier for your business.

If the thought of dealing with a third-party logistics provider makes you groan, maybe you just haven’t worked with the right one.

With decades of experience in logistics, working with a company like DTS can have a dramatic impact on your supply chain.  Instead of worrying over cost or wondering if you’ll be covered if there’s a delay or your shipment is damaged, your 3PL provider can handle it all for you.

Stop worrying, and go back to focusing on what matters the most to your business.

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