Crating and shipping products

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Advice on finding the most cost-effective and reliable shipping solutions. July 29, 2003

I build mid-end furniture (mainly tables) and currently only sell locally and deliver with my truck. However, the local market sucks, so I'll need to ship my products 5-25 hours drive away. How would you ship, for example, a coffee table and two end tables? I don't know how to package them. I could build crates, but that seems wasteful and time consuming. I could just wrap the pieces in bubble wrap and stick them on the truck.

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(Business Forum)
Find a carrier that does blanket wrapping and have them ship your stuff. You could start looking for a carrier that specializes in computer and electronic stuff. They are quite used to blanket wrapping. Or if you're lucky you might find a company that specializes in new furniture. A lot of furniture companies contract out their deliveries. The trick is to find who they contract out to. Last resort would be a moving company. They typically are quite used to moving furniture, but I always find the rates too high.

From contributor B:
We ship our curved mouldings all over the country, and while they are usually not quite so delicate an item as your furniture, there are similarities.

We make our own corrugated boxes for each order. We start with 200 lb test double wall 1/4" corrugated board (more commonly referred to as "cardboard"... although you don't want to use that term in the presence of the folks who make the stuff!). We score the bends on a table saw cutting halfway through, and staple the boxes with a proper boxing stapler (typically $400 to $500).

If you make duplicate box halves, you will end up with two layers of cardboard on all 4 sides (that's 1/2" thick), and 1 layer on each end. This makes for an extremely rugged box… our customers will often first want to discuss our boxes before they even talk about the mouldings we've put inside them.

Calculate proper box sizing for extra space for bubble wrap cushioning and you should be all set.

I'm in a similar boat. So far, what has worked best for me has been to design in chunks to UPS dimension limits (sometimes this means designing with some assembly required for the customer) simply because UPS is the most cost effective way to ship. Otherwise, you can work a deal with somebody like Yellow Freight, etc. but the cost goes up exponentially, especially if the product is not knocked-down.

I did a comparison a while back and I actually found that UPS was not the cheapest in my area, and their size limitations were restricting me. I found a couple of local companies who crate and freight. Local furniture stores usually use these folks. And that is the reason they are hard to find. The furniture stores keep them busy enough that they don't want to deal with the hassle of the public market. Anyway, it was worth the forty bucks to have them crate it and they insured it during freight. The cost is passed on to the customer, of course.

Go to a packaging company and have them design and make the boxes for you. Double corrugated in a telescoping configuration with 1" rigid foam works best for us. If you use the foam you will need to wrap the furniture with bubble or foam wrap, as the rigid foam will grind on your product as it vibrates in the back of a truck.

We have had better luck sending out a few boxes stacked and palletized, as the drivers will then use a pallet jack or forklift and you will have less damage. Crates tend to get stacked, which can cause damage.

No matter what common carriers, and worst yet UPS, you are going to get some damage. My favorite was the time a display case showed up damaged and the freight company said the product was improperly crated so I sent a guy out to look at it. The crate had two fork lift holes in one side (about 36" up on 72" crate) and out the other side.

From contributor B:
I once had the box top only arrive... rest of the box and contents gone! That's when I bought the boxing stapler.

From contributor E:
I do a line of cedar outdoor products and ship them country wide. I found that shipping common carrier is the cheapest and most effective way to distribute my product. I also have a local company that specializes in pallet and crate building. They use a combination of 1/4" OSB and cardboard depending on the item shipped. This has worked out great for me. I don't have to spend the time to make crates.

Also, a lot of the time, even with an account with common carriers, it is more expensive than going through an internet company such as Freightquote.

From contributor B:
What are you paying to have the crating done for you? When you combine that with the freight cost, how does that compare with the cost of the product... say, shipping one of your Adirondack chairs?

From contributor E:
My Adirondack chairs are one of the items that, if ordered singly, would be shipped UPS in a cardboard box. If they were ordered in bulk as sold to one of my wholesale customers, then the packing cost per item is down into the 5% range of total shipping costs (these items would be crated). Also, the cost per piece for shipping if ordered by one of my wholesale customers usually gets down to 10% of the price of the chair, which the customer is responsible for.

If it is a single chair order, it gets shipped UPS. Common carriers don't like small single packages. Shipping costs by UPS are much higher. Basically, anything that can get shipped common carrier does. The packing cost is around 5 to 8% of total shipping cost.

From contributor B:
It's very interesting that you find common carriers less expensive than UPS. I find just the opposite.

I have between 50% and 60% discounts with 4 carriers, which isn't bad for a small shop. However they all have minimum charges, so if I have a box that weighs 35 lbs. but is too large for UPS, then I'm going to pay for a minimum of about 100 lbs. If I'm shipping across the country, that will be well over $100. Bottom line is that west of PA, I'm not going to find a freight bill less than $100 no matter how light the box.

In CT I'm lucky in that we have a carrier that will ship up to about 125 lbs. in-state for $26.00. One day delivery, too. They will cross into our bordering states for $55, which still isn't bad.

I've just signed up with NewPenn Freight, which seems to have better deals on the east coast, but I haven't had to ship a large but light box with them yet so I'm not sure of the minimum charge situation.

With UPS if you establish an on-line account you get a pretty good rate now. We do everything we can with them. Unfortunately most of our large but light boxes require oversize charges (weighs 10 lbs. but ships as 70 lbs because of the box size). For Zone 2 that is no big deal... further away it begins to have an impact.

From contributor E:
As with a lot of my smaller single order items, such as planter or folding Adirondack chairs, UPS is cheaper and that is how we ship. But with bulk orders or our picnic tables, UPS is just too expensive. Example: I can break my octagon picnic table into kit form to ship on UPS (which some people prefer). That table shipped to Florida would cost $180.00 on UPS. I can pay to have the crate made and pay shipping to Florida for under $160.00 on a carrier such as Roadway. That's big savings in a run of a month, between the shipping charge and the packing materials such as cardboard for UPS. Most of my products that are shipped kit form make UPS oversize size and weight standards, so I'm forced to pay the longer price. If I went with smaller packages but more of them, I would be sending my customers just cut out pieces without some assembly already done. I can ship an octagon table on freight carrier in kit form so that anyone could assemble it in the 30 minute range with minimum tolls required.

Both my UPS account and account are easily managed from my computer. Up in central Maine, I'm having a hard time finding an in-state carrier, so I am forced to do either customer pickup or deliver myself.

I am a low-end unfinished furniture manufacturer. We sell only to furniture stores, and face many of the same dilemmas you do. Our product has a low price point (generally under $50 per piece), and shipping charges can end up being a significant portion of total product cost.

Our primary carrier is FedEx Ground. Their base rates are penny for penny identical to UPS. However, we get standard discounts of about 3% and retroactive discounts based on total shipping volume at the end of the year.

The main reason we switched was because of damage with UPS. If you mark a box fragile, it seems like they throw it even farther. Also, I never once saw my account rep. So when the FedEx guy came around, set me up with discounts, and gave me a computer and label printer, I made the switch. So far I've only filed 5 claims this year. With UPS it was about 5 a week.

A very valuable service that both companies offer is the HundredWeight program. Once your billable weight goes over 200 pounds, you get billed per cwt rather than each and ever box. If all your shipments are OS1 or OS2 the savings aren't all that significant. But if you have smaller types of boxes, 10-15 pounds, the saving are very significant. For example, if one of my stores order 20 cases of shelves that weighed 10 pounds each and was a zone 2 for me, the total per package rate would be about $88.00. Now apply hundredweight pricing of $16.00 per 100 pounds, you get $32. The minimum charge for HundredWeight is $42.50, more than half the $88.00.

First thing regards packaging. We really overhauled how we package items this year. The most important thing with corrugated containers (fancy word for "box") is the paperweight and certification. Your salesman can spend an hour explaining the difference between an ECT carton and a Mullen test carton.

We now use only 275C single wall cartons. We chose single wall as opposed to double wall to get a more rigid container. With 275 single wall they use 69LB test paper on both sides of the box. With 275 double wall, they use 56LB test on the face, 42LB in the center and 42LB on the interior. Both designs give you the same burst strength (275 psi), but have different characteristics. While the double wall carton offers more cushioning, it is more pliable then the single wall. We feel that we need a rigid and sturdy container to withstand rough handling. Also keep in mind that the majority of the damage occurs at the hubs and distribution centers. I think most of the drivers try to be careful with the boxes, unless maybe they don't like you.

For the life of me, I can not find a common carrier than can economically ship our products. Because our stuff is very light, they cry the density plea all the time. That's why they have to charge $125 to deliver a $39 bookcase. Needless to say, I haven't found a store yet willing to pay that freight.