Shipping Part II - LTL Freight Shipping

Paul's picture

In a previous post, I discussed parcel shipping, the shipping process whereby relatively small weights and volumes are shipped via the USPS, or corporate carriers such as FedEx, UPS, and DHL.

The second type of shipping is freight, which is used to move a large volume or weight from one location to another much more efficiently than parcel shipping. In our experience, a volume of goods becomes cheaper to ship via a freight carrier when its weight reaches approximately 200lbs, with savings increasing dramatically beyond that point.

Unfortunately, there are several difficulties with freight. First, unlike the case with parcel shipping, most consumers are not aware of their options when it comes to freight carriers. Second, in order to realize the cost savings inherent to freight shipping, one must be set up to properly ship and receive.

There are a number of different types of freight shipping which are used to move different weights and volumes of freight. The smallest freight loads, generally on the order of thousands of pounds, are shipped via LTL freight, which stands for "Less Than Load". As the name implies, LTL is any amount of freight too small to require a dedicated tractor trailer or shipping container. For most publishers, the majority of shipments to distributors will fall into this category.

Typically the most serious issue a small publisher may face when dealing with freight shipments is access to appropriate facilities and equipment. Unlike parcel shipping, LTL shipments are sent out on pallets rather than in boxes. Pallets make moving large, heavy loads quite easy with the right equipment. However, they also require, at the very least, a source for pallets as well as a pallet jack in order to move them around once loaded. Fortunately, used pallets are quite inexpensive (on the order of a few dollars a piece), and can be purchased, delivered, from various dealers in most major cities. Similarly, Craigslist or similar sites frequently have used pallet jacks for under $200.

One major advantage of LTL shipping for large orders is the cost savings. Not only are LTL carriers significantly cheaper than parcel carriers for loads on the order of thousands of pounds, the packing material required to keep your products safe is also much cheaper. In addition to the pallet, the only material requirement for safe freight is several cents worth of plastic pallet wrap and possibly a “Do Not Stack” sticker. Now, in order to maximize your cost savings possible from freight shipment, one should also ideally have a loading dock and dock plate. However, while dockless pickups require specialized trucks with lift gates, and are a bit more expensive, freight companies can certainly pick up from most locations, including residences and other locations without a dock-height door.

Working with freight carriers can be daunting if you don't have experience in the area. While parcel carriers such as UPS and FedEx are household names, far fewer people are familiar with Estes or YRC. Fortunately, many LTL companies have reasonable websites. You will generally need to sign up for a shipping account, which will require some basic information about your company. For individual shipments, the carrier will, fairly intuitively, need the weight and dimensions (length x width x height) of any shipment, as well as its origin, destination, and approximate value.

One good option to avoid much of the hassle of comparison shopping and dealing with dozens of different carriers is to find a good shipping broker. Most reasonably sized cities have a number of companies that specialize in facilitating freight shipping for small businesses. They will typically have accounts with many different carriers, allowing you to compare prices and transit times, and will also be able to help you out with questions on complicated shipments.

For a small publisher just launching their first game, freight shipping might not be terribly useful. However, as soon as you start getting orders of several hundred pounds from distributors, or start shipping inventory in bulk to gaming conventions, it is invaluable. Understanding the available options for freight shipping will save you both time and money while distributing your products.

Part I - Parcel Shipping

Part III - Full Containers and Other Fun Stuff


arenson9's picture

Eating this stuff up. It's just so cool to learn how the world actually works.