4 high points of a partial load expeditor's job – and 2 of its necessary evils
Think you don't have much to do with the logistics industry? Just take a look around. Most – if not all – the things you see are or are made from things from somewhere else.
You might then wonder how these things got there, in fact. Who made it possible? Who was behind it all? What is their job like?
In this article, we're going to help you find out. We'll be looking at the human side of the challenging – and seemingly mysterious – job of partial loads expeditors, who often work behind the scenes while the rest of the world sleeps.
According to Gintaras Borkys, head of the AsstrA office in Vilnius, partial load expeditors deal with LTL (less-than-load) shipments consisting of small cargo units consolidated to fill the available transport space, usually in truck. Different shipments, usually belonging to different clients, are transported to the same destination or destinations near to each other so as to reduce transportation costs. Otherwise, it would be prohibitively expensive for one client to ship small cargo in a half-empty vehicle, for example.
We asked a few of AsstrA's partial loads expeditors about their favorite parts of the job – and its challenges!
Here's what they had to say.
- Partial load expeditors love sleep and coffee.
Partial load expeditor Kęstutis Lekavičius suggested that because the job is so challenging, with long hours spent awake fielding hundreds of phone calls, he and others like him need to get enough downtime to recover properly.
And in the meantime, coffee keeps them going as they deliver your favorite food to grocery stores, time-sensitive fashion collections, the latest cell phone you can't wait to buy, construction materials for your house, equipment for your job, and maybe even your new car.
When it comes down to it, all our futures depend on freight, right? And expeditors need to take a time out every once in a while to ensure everything runs smoothly.
“A coffee break is the high point of the working day. So you plan those 5 minutes carefully and you prepare yourself for them,” smiles Darya Strizhenok, a partial loads expeditor from AsstrA's Polish branch.
On that note, expeditors love holidays, even though they often miss their own national holidays as they deal with issues happening abroad.
“On a national holiday, you often need to organize some cargo transportation in another country, like Germany, where it is a normal working day. You can not simply let your cargo stand still while you celebrate,” says Ernestas Kalašinskas, head of the Partial Loads Division for the Baltic states at AsstrA.
- Partial loads expeditors relish challenges in high-stakes projects.
While work in logistics can sometimes be monotonous, with partial load shipments you will never be bored. And the more challenging the project, the more enthusiastic the expeditor gets.
“What I like the most about partial loads logistics is the adrenaline. It seems like something new happens every minute of every day at work. Sometimes you think you finally have a moment to relax, and then the next minute you receive 10 new emails with inquiries. Sometimes a single phone call can disrupt all your plans for the day. Sometimes you have to transport an extremely big quantity of shipments of different colors, shapes, and sizes with different deadlines and different client requirements. And you think that doing it well will be impossible. You need to find transport for everything, quote a logical price for it, size it, estimate the shipment time, and prepare the documentation. You feel lost, but then you get on with counting the centimeters, calculating the kilometers, loading the cargo and then “voila!” You made it happen. You then get a shot of pride to go with your adrenaline rush. Priceless!” says Darya.
Justas Cibulskas, another AsstrA partial loads expeditor, remembers a particular route on which he needed to collect partial loads from more than 16 different places in Italy, ride to Latvia to complete the documentation, and then transport it all to its final destination in Lithuania.
“The most incredible part of this project was that everything needed to be done in only 2 weeks – and we pulled it off. I love challenging routes like this,” says Justas.
He goes on to say that an expeditor can develop a knack for combining two or more shipments into larger quantity to be dispatched on the same transport unit to the same geographical region. It all depends on motivation, organization, communication, and the ability to stay cool under pressure, no matter what. Collecting different cargo units for one route means big per item, per order, or per weight savings for clients. Small shipments are a significant part of most enterprises' total traffic volume.
“Our ability to complete difficult projects is a big reason clients come to us. Carefully executed cargo distribution and being able to provide marking and other services during complicated shipments really set us apart when clients are choosing a logistics partner,” adds Ernestas.
- Partial loads expeditors look forward to polite and effective communication.
No matter how challenging a shipment might become, the expeditor, the carrier, and the client stay in constant contact with each other, so good communication between all parties is indispensable. Expeditors love all that interpersonal communication, which makes for a great atmosphere to meet new people and build communication skills. You will need 2 or 3 languages at least, as expeditors work with people from all over the world.
“You get a crash course in all the world's languages. Somebody just calls you and starts speaking Bulgarian or Romanian. And you need to understand his needs. Sometimes it is impossible to understand each other, but that's where working in a multinational company comes in handy. Even if you don't speak a specific language, there is a good chance one of your colleagues does,” says Darya.
AsstrA's Partial Loads Division predominantly transports cargo in two ways: from one country to a staging point in another country or from one country to a specific end location in another country. For example, a Lithuanian expeditor will be responsible, in the first instance, for loading cargo from European sender, storing it in Lithuanian warehouses, and later shipping it further to Scandinavia, Russia, China, East Asia or anywhere else, depending on the receiver.
“Better now than tomorrow – that's our philosophy! Our strength is transporting goods as quickly as possible. We are working under high pressure, and most of our clients want to have their products delivered as quickly as possible. They rely on our services, and we love being appreciated. Our daily work is quite varied. We enjoy surprises and solve problems eagerly every single day, and we are open to new challenges and love demonstrating our skills to a growing number of customers,” says Mareen Hauert, an expeditor working in the Express Delivery Department of Asstra Deutschland GmbH, founded in January of this year.
Lithuanian expeditors cover all European countries for the import and export of partial loads. Another 16 AsstrA holding units cover the rest of the world in a similar way, offering excellent geographical reach.
“We have clients for whom we transport partial loads to China by road, by sea, or by air – it all depends on the client's needs. So language and communication skills are a must to do this job properly, and I like when I am talking with someone who knows the business and respects you. If we compare the current situation to that of twenty, ten and even five years ago, today's clients and carriers respects the work of an expeditor much more. At last they understand that an expeditor is a very important part of their business and their role deserves respect,” says Ernestas.
- Partial load exhibitors enjoy opening new markets.
Expeditors loves trying new routes, entering new markets, and shipping products they haven't worked with before.
“If you want to be successful expeditor, you need to be innovative. I see how most logistics companies going into the Chinese market are struggling hard to grow larger, let alone grow stronger. It's a competitive market full of costly price wars. A market leader will not be the one to offer a cheaper price but rather the one to adapt flexibly to clients' needs. That's a vital capability that leads to higher profits, eventually,” says Ernestas.
By offering a value-added services, not just transportation from point A to point B, a business can increase its positions in a new market.
“To go further than your competitors, you've got to head for new geographic regions outside China's industrial centers, improve transportation modes like express railways and express air freight, and offer your services across more sectors,” says Ernestas.
- Paper work is a necessary evil for partial load epeditors.
Documentation is one of the most time-consuming tasks an expeditor may find himself or herself doing. And it differs according to each type of cargo. For example, the international regulation of cheese will differ from that of wine.
“I'm not a fan of the volume of paper work and bureaucracy that accompanies a huge shipment of cargo. With each unit of freight there is documentation to handle. So just imagine: you transport partial loads and at the same time you have to deal with several types of shipments from different senders and with different sizes, weights, and categories. Plus you need to be extremely accurate while doing the paperwork. It's a pain, but the main point here is that partial loads save clients money,” says Justas.
Justas also adds that the paperwork hassle sometimes creates a situation where a carrier will delay shipping relatively small cargo. And then it is the expeditor's job to explain this unfortunate situation a client. Expeditors hate such scenarios, especially because they can be so difficult to foresee and prevent.
“In general, most expeditors don't like paperwork. But for partial loads the documentation procedures get even more complicated. You are not simply checking if the cargo has the required permissions; you have to proofread every single line of those persmissions; you have to double-check if the shipment sizes on each document are correct; you fill in the customs documents so that each pallet or box in the vehicle can go to it's own receiver. So you can imagine how much patience we need to have,” says Darya.
- Transport to lonely, remote locations is a headache.
One of the biggest challenges a partial loads expeditor faces is managing the transportation of small shipments to very inconvenient, geographically-isolated places near rocky mountains, fjords with gravel roads and scarps, or forests with narrow, bumpy roads.
“Sometimes it is barely possible to find a carrier who will agree to take a small parcel to a risky location. Need someone to make a truck delivery via serpentine mountain roads to an icy, windy location? Well, you had better have a pre-existing relationship with an experienced driver. Personal relations are crucial when doing this job,” says Kęstutis.
At the same time, challenging routes, of course, present a good business opportunity with a higher profit margins. Most European logistics companies would be thrilled to master emerging markets that have many such difficult destinations.
“Each country requires a different operational approach. The first and most important thing to do is build a flexible but tightly integrated ecosystem of process, local people, technologies, and services. Each country has unique market characteristics and a logistics services provider must have locally developed capabilities and talented people to help to keep the business going,” says Karol Baranchuk, head of the Partial Loads Department at AsstrA.