Canada Gets High Marks from World Bank

Every year, the World Bank releases an “Ease of Doing Business” analysis, which ranks 183 different countries based on certain economic indicators.  In its most recent “Doing Business 2011” report, Canada was ranked number 7 for “ease of doing business,” with Singapore ranked number one, and the United States ranked number five.

The rankings are based on several economic indicators, intended to provider a snapshot overview for potential entrepreneurs interested in starting a business, and for businesses seeking to expand their global customer base.  Key indicators, along with U.S. and Canadian rankings include:

The Commerce Department reports that less than one percent of U.S. businesses are exporters, despite the fact that 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power is located beyond U.S. borders.  Based on Canada’s high marks from the World Bank, businesses might want to consider looking to Canada as a source of new business opportunities.  To help get you started, you might want to check out the U.S. government’s website, which has detailed information available that is specific to export opportunities in the Canadian market.

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U.S. Customs’ Internal Assessment Program – Right for your Business?

Businesses that regularly import goods into the U.S. face the possibility each year of being selected for a Customs and Border Patrol “Focused Assessment.” What is a focused assessment?  Quite simply, it’s an audit.

Each year, CBP selects importers and conducts an exhaustive review to ensure those businesses are in compliance with all CBP controls, regulations and mandates.  As you might expect, the audit process can be exhaustive, costly and time-consuming.  Fortunately, there is a way to avoid having your business entered in the audit lottery – CBP’s Internal Assessment Program.

The Internal Assessment Program was introduced in 2002 as a way to facilitate the border clearance process for importers that have maintained a consistent record for compliance with all Customs mandates and regulations.  In exchange for agreeing to stringent internal controls and self-assessment protocols, IAP participants are exempted from Customs audits, and can also avoid costly and time-consuming inspections.

Interested businesses submit an application to CBP, and then successfully complete a rigorous review process.  Among the requirements necessary for consideration:

  • Business must be a member of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program.
  • Must be a resident importer with at least two years experience.
  • Must agree to comply with all applicable Customs regulations.
  • Must have detailed records of prior compliance with Customs regulations.

The Internal Assessment Program is very popular with importers anxious to avoid the rigors of a CBP audit.  It’s also a way to send a signal to customers and associates that your business has significant risk management and internal controls in place – strong enough to pass muster with the federal government.

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Seven Top Questions to Ask to Create an Efficient Supply Chain

According to the bellwether Institute for Supply Management, April marked the 23rd consecutive month of overall growth for the U.S. economy.  In addition, the ISM reported that the U.S. manufacturing sector is in the midst of 21 months of economic expansion.  But despite this positive news, many businesses remain unconvinced that the economic recovery is here to stay, and have taken a very cautious approach to planning and investing in the future.

Not surprisingly, businesses are taking a hard look at their supply chains, with an eye to finding efficiencies, correcting past mistakes, doing things smarter and hopefully cutting costs.  And, with logistics costs accounting for as much as 5-8 percent of revenue, it’s a good place to look.

As you consider changes to your supply chain – be they minor tweaks or a major switch in operations – here are a few questions to keep in mind:

  1. Scalability – Is my Supply Chain Flexible Enough to Adapt to the Ups and Downs of the Business Cycle? You know the highs and lows of your business better than anyone – and hopefully your logistics provider is a close second.  But does your logistics provider allow you to ramp up your level of service when needed, and then scale back, or are you locked into strict service levels?  If you find that your carrier does not allow you the flexibility you need, you may want to shop around.
  2. Range of Options – Why Pay Express Service Prices when a Shipment isn’t Urgent? Many businesses unknowingly are paying for higher levels of service than their shipments actually need.  Sometimes this is inadvertent, and sometimes it’s because a carrier offers a “one size fits all,” “take it or leave it” logistics solution.  Make sure your carrier has the capability to offer various services and delivery options that meet your business needs.  Do not pay for more service than you need!
  3. Customized Solutions – Can your Logistics Provider Work with you to Solve your Specific Logistics Needs? The logistics industry has advanced so much in recent years that it is no longer acceptable for a logistics carrier to offer inflexible, “out of the box” solutions.  Instead, a good logistics provider will work with you to understand your business goals, integrate your business processes, and offer you a customized solution.
  4. Customer Service – Is there Someone to Call when Things go Wrong? In the rush to cut costs and integrate technology, many logistics companies farmed out their customer service function to automated call centers and centralized 800 numbers.  As a result, businesses increasingly have no one to turn to when a last minute change needs to be made to a supply chain, or when a mistake or breakdown occurs.  The good news though, is that some logistics carriers still understand the importance of person-to-person relationships, and take great pains to ensure that customer service remains a priority.  When it’s the middle of the night, and you’ve got a problem with a top customer’s shipment, you’ll be grateful that you took the time to choose a logistics provider that values customer service.
  5. Cross Border – Can my Logistics Carrier Accommodate Shipments to Canada?  U.S. businesses are increasingly seeing the potential of tapping into Canada, with its 32 million potential customers, and comparatively strong economy.  It’s important to realize though, that as close as Canada may be on the map, there is a tremendous regulatory maze to clear before your goods can enter that market.  In fact, the U.S./Canadian border clearance process has gotten even more complicated in recent years, with each country introducing new security mandates and technology standards to supplement compliance requirements already in place.  It is absolutely essential that you choose a logistics carrier that has bona fide experience with cross border logistics.  An experienced carrier will provide flawless compliance with all required paperwork, and move your shipments seamlessly into the Canadian market.
  6. Think Out of the Box – What about Taking Charge of your Suppliers’ Shipments, or Shipping Direct to your Customers? As you look to improve supply chain efficiency, it’s important to put every current “best practice” under the microscope and ask if there isn’t a better way to get the same result.  For example, if your business depends on multiple shipments arriving from multiple vendors/suppliers, would it make sense for you to take control of those shipments?  An inbound freight management system would allow you to streamline operations and cut costs by choosing the transportation provider to carry all your inbound shipments.

    Another way to cut costs and improve efficiency might be to eliminate a distribution center stopover from your supply chain.  Many businesses find that they can shave days from their transit schedules by eliminating a costly and unnecessary distribution center stop, and send shipments directly to their end destination.  Not every logistics carrier can offer DC Bypass, but it’s worth the time to find a carrier who can.

  7. Returns ManagementDoes My Supply Chain Maximize the Bottom Line Impact and Customer Service Opportunities of Well-Managed Returns? Two facts to keep in mind:
    1. found that as much as $100 billion worth of goods are returned each year to U.S. companies, a figure that can represent as much as seven percent of a company’s gross sales.
    2. The 2007 National Shopping Behavior Survey, conducted by KPMG LLC financial advisory company, found that 58 percent of consumers said that a company’s returns policy was a factor in their decision whether or not to shop with that retailer.

    With this much at stake, it’s essential to have in place a returns policy that ensures customer satisfaction, and that also allows you to recover some of the costs associated with replacing goods and returning unused goods to inventory.  Many businesses are realizing the value of repairing or refurbishing returned merchandise, and offering it for sale on a secondary market.  And of critical importance, businesses are realizing the importance of having logistics processes in place to guide the returns process.

Clearly, there is a lot to think about when considering changes to your supply chain, and many options for improving efficiency.  What are some of your top questions when shipping cross-border?  Ask away!

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Online Tool Simplifies Tariff Assessments

A new online platform from the U.S. International Trade Administration (ITA) allows exporters to know, at the click of a mouse, tariff assessments for shipments headed to any of the countries with which the U.S.  has in place a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

With this tool, referred to as the FTA Tariff Tool, businesses and interested parties now have near-instantaneous access to tariff information for thousands of products, information that previously was available only by combing through arduous documents and legalese-laden Excel tables.

According to the ITA’s website:

Using the tool, users can see how U.S. and FTA partner tariffs on individual products – searchable by keyword or tariff code – are treated under an agreement.  Additionally, U.S. importers and exporters can see the current tariff and future tariffs applied to their products, as well as the date on which those products become duty-free.  Finally, by combining sector and product groups, trade data, and the tariff elimination schedules, users can also analyze how various key sectors are treated under recently concluded FTAs.”

As a practical application, the ITA’s official blog Tradeology notes that, using the tool, an exporter can see “that the 20 percent tariff Peru used to charge on [a product] has been reduced to 14 percent under the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement.  Next year, the tariff will drop to 12 percent and will completely disappear in 2018.”

Compliance with trade regulations and uncertainty about the process are often cited by businesses that have yet to expand their customer bases beyond U.S. borders.  FTA’s new tariff tool will hopefully help shed a little light on the process, and help businesses realize that, with the right logistics partner on your team, expanding to new markets can be a smart, and relatively painless business strategy.

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Ignore those Returns at Your Own Risk!

Last year U.S. consumers returned more than 8 percent of their purchases.  That’s a staggering statistic for a retailer, and a figure that exceeded $200 billion last year.

But despite knowing that a significant chunk of merchandise is certain to be returned, and despite the fact that 80 percent of returned items are not defective, many retailers have yet to implement a serious returns management policy.  Businesses that neglect their returns do so at their own peril however, given that:

  • 58 percent of consumers said that a company’s returns policy was a factor in their decision whether or not to shop with that retailer.
  • The estimated cost of generating a new customer is five times more than the cost of keeping an existing customer happy.
  • Businesses can increase earnings by as much as 5 percent of sales, by implementing a sound reverse logistics process.
  • The Secondary Market is a rapidly growing sector of the economy – accounting for 2.28 percent of U.S. GDP during 2010.  Returned and refurbished merchandise is resold in secondary market venues including outlets, dollar stores, value retailers, auctions and retail salvage operations.

With so much at stake, businesses are increasingly turning to qualified logistics providers for help in developing returns management solutions.  For example, businesses with significant export volumes to Canada, need to ensure that their returns process takes into account the added hurdles of the U.S./Canada customs compliance process, along with the distribution challenges of the vast Canadian landscape.

An experienced logistics provider will offer different options to meet your specific needs, including:

  • Consolidation capability to help meet peak returns volume.
  • Tracking and reporting capability so that your customers are constantly aware of their return’s status.
  • Distribution capability that provides returns to designated warehouse or refurbishment locations.
  • Returns/replacement capability so that customers are provided with required replacement merchandise or account credit on a timely basis.
  • Returns Management Authorization (RMA) capability so that you can better track returned items, and receive “early warning” with regard to any potential defects or product malfunctions.
  • For international transactions, carrier must have the ability to seamlessly transport goods across borders, and to comply with all regulatory and security mandates.
  • Ability to integrate forward and reverse logistics into overall supply chain strategies.
  • Established distribution network that allows returns to avoid unnecessary route detours and warehouse layovers.

Gone are the days when a business could ignore their customers’ returns, and just let them accumulate in an untended pile.  With more than 8 percent of all merchandise destined to be returned, and with money to be made in the secondary market, it’s imperative that businesses put in place a returns management process that meets their needs – and satisfies their customers.  What methods do you use to manage returns?

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Don’t Let an Ill-Prepared Shipping Label Hold You Up

Sometimes it’s the easy things that can mess you up.  Take shipping to Canada.  Most businesses are so concerned about the Customs clearance process, and making sure that they don’t get slapped with hidden fees or unexpected delays, that they tend to overlook something as simple as proper labeling.  As many businesses can attest, overlooking the labeling process can be a surefire way to ensure delays in having your packages arrive on time.

Following is a list of six tips that certified international trade professional Curtis Cook pulled together.  Failure to follow any one of these suggestions can mean the difference between a successful delivery – and a happy customer – or a shipping nightmare.

1. Label boxes and containers with required information.

For export, this information includes, but is not limited to, the country of origin, shipper’s mark, weight and/or volume information, cautionary marks and handling instructions (for instance, the word “glass,” the symbol of a glass, the words “this side up,” or the symbol of arrows pointing upward), consignee’s mark, destination and order number, and the number of the package and size of the case if there are multiple boxes or containers.

2. Do not label boxes with extra information that is not required.

If there is no need to specify the content of the box on a label, avoid doing so.  Identifying valuable goods contained in a box is an invitation for thieves and vandals.  Use coded marks to identify export goods unless local laws prohibit this practice.

3. Do not use boxes or containers with old labels.

Recycling is admirable; however, all old marks, addresses or advertising must be removed or permanently obscured to eliminate confusion for handlers and carriers of your export goods.

4. Ensure labels are clear and permanent.

Labels must be large enough to read and information must be indicated in the appropriate language.  Labels for your export goods must also be waterproof and resistant to the elements.

5. Label more than one side of the box or container.

Consignee marks as well as destination and transfer point marks should be applied to at least three sides of the package.

6. Symbols have international appeal.

Exporters can purchase self-adhesive labels with international carriage symbols.  These are cautionary symbols providing carriers and handlers with instructions on the correct manipulation of your packages.  There are commonly seen symbols such as the wine glass (fragile) and the umbrella with the raindrops (keep dry).  There are also more obscure symbols, such as the penguin inside a box (keep frozen) or the penguin inside a box with a diagonal line intersecting it (do not freeze).  When an export shipment involves transfers through different countries with different languages, symbols may act as the universal language that protects your goods.

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Canada by the Numbers: Top Reasons to Expand Your Customer Base North

Looking to increase your customer base? Expanding to new markets and even new countries is a common plan. As a US based business, Canada is an obvious place to look, because of its close proximity and the many cultural similarities we share.  In addition, here are a few facts to keep in mind as you consider whether or not Canada might be a logical source for new customers:

32 million potential customers: The population of Canada is roughly 32 million people, about 90 percent of who live within 160 miles of the U.S. border.

E-Commerce has taken Canada by storm. Internet shopping was slow to hit Canada, but once it did, it took off with a vengeance.  According to Statistics Canada, Canadians placed more than 95 million online orders during 2009, which marked a 32 percent increase over 2007 levels.  The study also found that the average value per order during 2009 was $158.

Comparative strength of Canadian economy. Canada was able to avoid the direct recessionary hit that slammed other nations, including the U.S.  As a result, the Canadian economy avoided the dramatic drop in employment, output and corporate profitability that the U.S. experienced.  Although the Conference Board of Canada has raised flags about the pace of Canada’s post-recession recovery, the country has recovered much of its financial footing.

Canadians have an Affinity for U.S. Goods: Canadian consumers have long been drawn to the wide selections and desirable status of U.S. brands.  In fact, when the Canadian dollar – referred to as the loonie – hit parity with its U.S. counterpart in 2007, the result was a surge in cross border sales by Canadian residents hungry for U.S. goods.  By one estimate, U.S. goods and services account for 60 percent of purchases in Canada.

Ease of Doing Business in Canada: According to an analysis by the World Bank, Canada ranks number Seven (out of 183 nations surveyed) with regard to “ease of doing business.  Criteria included in arriving at that ranking include:  Starting a Business, Trading across Borders, Enforcing Contracts and Paying Taxes.

More than $1 billion in Goods Cross the Border Every Day: Prior to the recession, the flow of goods between the U.S. and Canada averaged about $580 billion per year – roughly $1.6 billion every day.  The recession saw a drop in trade levels by about 30 percent.  However, trade is rebounding strongly, and is on course to return to pre-recession levels in the coming months.

Reduced Corporate Tax Rate Invites Business Expansion: The corporate tax rate in Canada fell from 18 percent to 16.5 percent in January of this year, marking the fourth time that the tax has been cut in as many years.  The tax is scheduled to drop again next year to 15 percent.  When provincial taxes are factored in, the average rate will be 25 percent.  Contrast this to the United States, where the average rate is a world-leading 40 percent (35 percent federal rate plus average 5 percent state rate).

Other U.S. Retailers have Already Taken the Plunge:  Several U.S. retailers including Victoria’s Secret, Crate and Barrel, Anthropologie, Bath and Body Works, Brooks Brothers and Loews have already opened stores in Canada.  Other stores have announced plans to head north, including Target, J. Crew and Marshall’s.

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78 Percent of Duty Drawbacks go Unclaimed!

Are you in the habit of allowing the federal government to keep more of your money than is legally necessary?  Well, according to reports, each year the U.S. Customs Border Patrol (CBP) holds as much as 78 percent – a total of $2.5 billion — of monies owed to U.S. businesses – businesses that are apparently unaware they may be entitled to reimbursement.

If your businesses is involved in export/import practices, pay attention.

Any business that imports materials into the United States must pay duty on those goods.  If those materials are then used in the manufacture of products that are subsequently exported – they are taxed again.  For example:   A U.S. manufacturer imports a set of tires from Canada, and those tires are used in the assemblage of a truck that is subsequently exported.  Well, the U.S. manufacturer would pay a tax on the tires when they arrived from Canada, and another tax when the finished truck is exported from the U.S.  That’s double taxation, right?

The U.S. government agrees, and through a process called Duty Drawback, businesses can be reimbursed for the additional taxes.  The problem though, is that businesses have to know about the program in order to request reimbursement – and have to understand how the program works.

As U.S. Customs has made clear, as much as 78 percent of duty drawbacks – money owed to U.S. businesses – goes unclaimed.  If you think your business may be entitled to reimbursement from this program, you should check with your carrier or logistics provider.  Although, it’s worth noting that a good logistics provider would have been on top of this, and already applied for a reimbursement on your behalf.

Unfortunately though, not all logistics providers are as experienced with the export/import process as they claim.  And CBP’s own website acknowledges that:  “[T]he process of filing for drawback can be involved and the time it takes to receive refunds can be lengthy.”  Despite the apparent bureaucratic hassle involved, an experienced logistics provider will be well-versed in understanding the process.  With $2.5 billion waiting to be claimed, what do you have to lose?

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Ten Things to Know When Shipping to Canada

U.S. businesses are increasingly realizing the potential of expanding to the Canadian market, where just across our northern border, live 33 million potential customers, and an economy that weathered the recent recession far better than the U.S. did.  But before you set out to conquer the Canadian market, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Here is our list of “Top Ten Things” to keep in mind when expanding your customer base to Canada:

  1. Canada offers excellent opportunities for U.S. businesses. More than $1 billion in goods and services cross the U.S./Canada border each day, with the U.S. Department of Transportation reporting that surface trade (shipments that travel over ground, ie – trucks and rail) surged by more than 22 percent during 2010, compared to 2009. Canadian Business magazine reports that many U.S. retailers —  Victoria’s Secret, Crate and Barrel, Marshalls and Brooks Brothers –have already hung their shingles in Canada, with others, including Target, J. Crew, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Kohl’s and JC Penny expected to follow suit during 2011.
  2. Don’t Get Stuck at the Border. Businesses on either side of the border are complaining about a “thickening of the border,” whereby post-9/11 security mandates and compliance regulations have caused longer wait times, increased inspections and bureaucratic red tape.  While discussions are ongoing for a permanent fix, each government operates “trusted shipper” programs, to allow certified carriers preferential treatment upon arrival at the border.  Make sure your shipment is traveling with a trusted carrier who is a participant in both U.S. and Canadian programs.
  3. The Fine Art of Customs Compliance. In addition to the above-mentioned security mandates, there are many, many other customs-related forms and fees with which to contend.  Unless you are well versed in the intricacies of customs compliance, it might make sense to entrust the compliance process to an experienced third party.  Any mistake in the process can result in costly delays and fines, and possibly even having your shipment denied entry.
  4. Once your shipment arrives in Canada, then what? Here’s a mistake that many U.S. businesses make – Just because your U.S. based carrier does an excellent job of transporting your intra-U.S. shipments, do not automatically assume that they can handle distribution to your Canadian customers.  Make sure your carrier has a Canadian network in place that will ensure seamless service and an on-time delivery.  Too many shipments have been left lingering at the border, waiting to be picked up by a Canadian carrier while precious days tick by.
  5. Your government may actually Pay You for shipping to Canada. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments operate programs to entice cross border trade.  The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), for example, operates the Non-Resident Importer program, which basically levels the playing field for U.S. businesses, and allows them to avoid having to circle back to their customers with an additional invoice for unexpected duties and fees.  In the U.S., the Duty Drawback program actually reimburses businesses for import fees that are paid on materials that are used in the manufacture of goods that are subsequently exported.  But, you have to know about these programs to benefit from them.  Most businesses aren’t tuned into the customs process enough to know about these programs – but a qualified carrier should be.
  6. Strong Canadian Dollar is Fueling Demand for U.S. Goods. It used to be that the U.S. dollar had a decisive advantage over its Canadian counterpart, commonly called the Canadian loonie.  But in 2007, that changed when the two currencies reached parity.  Since then, the Canadian dollar has remained strong, against a weaker U.S. currency.  The impact has not been lost on Canadian consumers, who are racking up Internet sales of U.S. goods. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians placed more than 95 million online orders last year, which marked a 32 percent increase over 2007 levels.
  7. Beware of Carriers with Limited Delivery Options. Until recently, few carriers offered express or expedited service to the Canadian market – and even fewer offered options for weekend deliveries.  And some carriers offer rigid “one size fits all” options for weekday deliveries.  Shop around, and make sure you entrust your shipment to a carrier that offers a variety of options that meet your delivery needs.
  8. Canada is a Vast Country – Make Sure you don’t lose sight of your shipment. Will your customer understand if a shipment fails to arrive on time, and you have no idea where it might be?  Probably not.  Well, unfortunately, that can happen, when a U.S. carrier hands off a shipment to an unknown Canadian partner, and with that hand off, gives up all tracking capability and visibility.  An experienced Canadian logistics provider will be able to maintain control of your shipment for the entire route, and will also ensure continual tracking and visibility.
  9. Make sure you are prepared to handle the inevitable returns. According to, businesses can expect that roughly 7 percent of sales will be returned.  How a business handles those returns – timely replacements, credits, refurbishments – is a vital part of the overall customer service experience.  And vital to processing those returns, is a good returns management policy.  Make sure your carrier has the capacity and the solutions that you need to bring your Canadian returns back into the U.S., where your shipments will be subject to a second round of Customs procedures.
  10. There’s no substitute for actual, bona fide Canadian cross border logistics know-how. There’s more to shipping goods to Canada than meets the eye.  Many businesses – and carriers – take a “how hard can it be” approach – because of Canada’s close proximity and the strong U.S./Canada trade relationship.  But unless your carrier has actual hands on experience and expertise with the Canadian market, chances are that you will find that the process can be quite confusing and challenging.
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The “Aha” Solution Helping Businesses Take Control

Inbound Freight Management:

Businesses are increasingly realizing the good sense – and good economics – of taking control of the transportation logistics for all inbound materials.  The concept took center stage last year, when Wal-Mart announced plans to take control of its inbound transportation.

What exactly does this mean?  In its most basic form, if your business relies on several different vendors to supply inventory of goods and parts, then you know that you are generally at the behest of those vendors’ transportation providers to get those goods delivered on time.  And you are also forced to take it on good faith that your vendor has negotiated a good rate with that carrier, since you will be the one picking up the tab.

With an inbound freight program, all that changes.  Your business assumes responsibility for transporting all inbound goods.  You select the carrier, negotiate the rate and determine the schedule.

The obvious benefit is to free your business from shoddy service or exorbitant fees from a carrier that you did not choose.   And, it allows you to centralize the logistics function, thereby giving control for all inbound shipments to a single source.  With centralization, comes greater leverage in negotiating rates and service guarantees.

Developing an inbound freight program also gives you a chance to start with a clean slate  —  to create a logistics strategy that works best for your business.  And, with logistics carriers increasingly offering “out of the box” solutions, it’s a great opportunity to upgrade your supply chain components.

Some solutions that you may want to consider incorporating into your logistics plans:

Intermodal: Does it make sense to incorporate a rail or air component into your transportation plan?

DC Bypass: Is it necessary for a shipment to make a stop at a distribution center, especially if your carrier has the capacity to travel directly to its end destination?

Backhaul: What about taking advantage of the trucks leaving your facilities, and use them to carry shipments to customers or elsewhere in the supply chain?

Consolidation: A centrally managed transportation program allows you to coordinate inbound shipments coming from multiple vendors, so that LTL shipments can be consolidated, and efficient routing can be ensured.

Service Guarantees: At a time when the logistics industry is still reeling from recession-induced capacity cutbacks – and when a March 2011 survey found that 77 percent of shippers expect to see very tight or somewhat tight truckload capacities — an inbound management program will allow you to lock-in service guarantees with a carrier.

What is your business doing with their inbound freight strategy? Have you developed programs that improve efficiencies?

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