Good relationships with transportation providers pay dividends
by Deborah Ragsdale
IAPD President

ick up any newspaper, turn on a television, or do a Google search on the device of your choice and you’ll see some variation of a story about the transportation crisis. There are bottlenecks at the ports, a driver shortage and fuel costs are rising. On the consumer side, toys and gifts for the holidays are in containers in ships waiting to be unloaded or on the docks among thousands of other containers. There is no more space to put containers. What about the everyday problems that business must face due to transportation issues? These are all issues that impact our ability to serve our customers and threaten bottom lines. The plastics industry is no exception, and it is being hit hard. The good news is that, thanks to having good relationships with your providers, you can find ways to save money and make sure your customers receive the materials they need. As I mentioned during my speech at the convention, relationships can help us get through the tough times. This transportation crisis is just one example.

Finding solutions
I became purchasing manager of Polymer Industries in the early 2000s. I challenged myself to find one big ticket item per month and examine it, turn it upside down, weigh its importance and shop it. By doing this exercise, I was able to save thousands of dollars for our company. We had grown so much, so fast, that this type of activity had just not been a priority for us.
Deborah Ragsdale
A few months into my purchasing career I decided to concentrate on freight costs. This encompassed everything from the purchase of skids to cardboard and even banding. I knocked the first issues off my list quickly, but then I came to the daunting issue of the costs of moving freight. I called many truck representatives into my office and I listened — really listened — to the issues they faced and how our freight in particular affected their bottom line. At that time our largest shipments were flat sheets or round rods, the majority being flat sheets. Many reps told us how beautiful our freight was in flat form. Our freight was stackable up to four skids high, plus it wasn’t fragile. Our only problem was that it was ten and eight feet in length, and for truck terminals that had four-foot forks, it became a damage magnet. If you try to move ten-foot skids that weigh 2,500-3,500 pounds spread evenly across the skid with four foot forks, the load will be heavy on the unsupported ends. This will cause bands and skids to break, shooting nails into the bottom of the plastic sheets, which is a recipe for disaster. We listened for their sake and for ours. We ordered hard-to-miss stickers that are still being used on our shipments that say: MUST USE LONG FORKS. This was one of the first steps in making our shipments the preferred shipments for trucks.
Simple changes like this can’t-miss label about using long forks, plus the shrinkwrapping, are valuable tips learned from transportation providers. This change has helped prevent damage to the material and increased the safety of the forklift drivers.
First-hand advice
My next step was to call all my truck reps together and walk them through our shipping department. I wanted them to see our shipments first hand and to comment on issues that we could easily correct. They gave us some great insights into changes we could make that could help them, such as:

  • Limit shipments to 2,500 pounds.
  • Pack with five bands across the skids: three widthwise and two lengthwise.
  • Use edge protectors to protect the edges from grabbing and being damaged.

The list went on and on. A few years ago, we started using shrink wrap to better protect our packaging. Customers can tell immediately when a shipment comes in if the shrink wrap is missing or if the bands are broken, which means that the material could be damaged. We still have a few damage claims, but these have been greatly reduced.

Saving money
All trucklines wanted our business and we built great relationships with the best. Listening to the problems of our trucking companies saved us money on damage claims. It was another example of how having good relationships benefit everyone, something I’ve seen in my career again and again.

In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Louisiana coast, trucklines started adding fuel surcharges. At that time, diesel fuel was hitting all time highs and trucking companies were trying to cope with the rising cost of fuel. We called all our preferred truck lines together and negotiated a cap on the fuel surcharge. High fuel costs happened again in 2011, and we are also seeing them today. Again, we listened to our trusted truck representatives and saved both them and ourselves an exorbitant amount of money. Those relationships saved our company dollars.

It’s all about the relationships
Drivers come into our facilities daily to pick up freight. Some of them must wait a short time for their shipment to be ready. We appreciate those drivers who want our business as much as we need theirs. Our warehouse workers treat these drivers with the same respect we expect to be treated. It’s a two-way street: If a driver calls and will be a little late, we accommodate them. These important relationships apply to everyone involved at Polymer Industries, from the front office to those loading the material on to trucks.

I have been invited to a retirement lunch for one of our truck representatives, Johnny B, who was instrumental in teaching us what we needed to know to make our relationship with his company work. He taught us that we may have to pay a little more to know that his truck will be on our door every day. This has saved us and our customers heartache on many occasions. We are constantly weighing service and cost and our logistics team works hard to make sure that we get the best of everything when quoting, from lead time, a timely pickup, 95 percent damage-free claims, costs and a relationship that makes it a sure thing when we must call a representative to get him to follow an important load. I am going to Johnny B’s last lunch — of many over the years — with a realization that this great relationship is ending, but we will build a relationship with his replacement. These are the relationships that have helped us through the hard times and will continue in the years ahead.