Product distribution: the basics
Whether you are a small-town bakery, an eBay powerseller or a
heavy machinery manufacturer, at some point during the course of
your business, you will need to transport your goods. Choosing the
correct mode of transport means striking a balance between time and
budgetary constraints. Get the balance wrong, and you will be faced
with a set of deeply unimpressed customers.
Choosing your mode of transport: what to consider
- When you're choosing how best to transport your products,
budget should be the most important factor in your
- The speed of the transport is also important - if
you have perishable items, sending them on a three-month sea voyage
through Africa is a bad idea. Likewise, make sure the mode of
transport you choose is reliable so your customers are not
- If you are transporting hazardous or dangerous
products, there are various guidelines you need to meet. If
you think they may be classified as dangerous, contact the Department for
Transport's Dangerous Goods Branch.
- If your products are expensive or you are shipping your product
by sea, you may want to consider some for of
insurance. This will come in the form of
goods-in-transit or marine insurance, and is paid for either by the
buyer or the seller, depending on what the terms of trade are. If
you think insurance is necessary, make sure you have agreed on the
terms with your supplier or customer to avoid confusion.
- If your cargo is valuable, it might be necessary to use a
vehicle tracking system so you know exactly where it
- While damage during transit is fairly common, it is usually the
responsibility of the supplier to make sure cargos are
adequately packaged and labelled to reduce the risk.
Modes of transport
Choosing the correct mode of transport for your products depends
on the size and urgency of your shipment.
- Road transport is cheap, convenient and one of the most
flexible modes of transport, but it's not as eco-friendly as
other methods and if you're unlucky, it can be subject to heavy
delays - particularly frustrating if you're working to a tight
- If you're planning to transport your goods by road, you need to
be aware of height, weight and length restrictions. At
the moment, a lorry should be no more than 16.5m (54ft) long ,
2.55m (8'4") wide and 44 tonnes, including the fuel and truck.
- If you're transporting your goods outside the UK and Republic
of Ireland, you will need to familiarise yourself with the
CMR note, which applies to every international road
haulage contract. To find out more about CMR notes, see
- Rail transport is speedy, environmentally friendly and
not (always) subject to congestion or delays. However, it is
inflexible and can be very expensive.
- The easiest way to ship your products by rail is to buy a
rail haulage package through a freight operating company
(FOCs), a terminal operator or a third-party logistics company. For
a list of FOCs, see the Office of
Rail Regulation website.
- According to rail operator Network
Rail, sending cargo by train really only becomes economically
viable 'with payloads of 300 tonnes or more per train, over
distances more than 150 miles between rail-linked sites, where
there is little or no road haulage needed at either end'
- Don't forget to factor in the cost of road haulage at either
end of the journey.
- Airfreight is, without a doubt, the fastest way to
transport your products across long distances - but it's
expensive and not very eco-friendly.
- Airfreight is carried by cargo-only airlines as well as
scheduled passenger aircraft.
- As with excess baggage on passenger airlines, airfreight
is usually charged by the kilogram. Be aware you will also
have to incur costs including handling fees, fuel and risk
surcharges, customs fees and security fees, as well as duty and VAT
if you are importing.
- Freight forwarders organise airfreight shipments
for you, so you don't have to worry about all the details and extra
costs - the forwarder will quote you based on the cost of the
shipment, as well as handling fees, fuel etc.
- If you're thinking of using a freight forwarder, make
sure the company you approach has experience shipping to the
country you're planning to send your goods to, is a member of a
freight service industry body, and is covered by limited liability
- Have a look at the British
International Freight Association (BIFA) website for a list of
reliable freight forwarders
- Compared to airfreight, shipping your products by sea is
relatively cheap, particularly if you are sending large volumes.
It's slow, though, and fairly inflexible - there are relatively few
ports and you will probably need to make arrangements to move your
- Sea freight vessels are made up of the following:
- Container ships - carry 20' or 40' containers
which you can hire out
- Cargo ships - carry loose cargo
- Bulk carriers - carry unpackaged goods, generally
grain, coal etc
- Tankers - carry liquids
- Roll-on roll-off vessels(ro-ros) - carry haulage
and passenger vehicles
- There are two types of shipping:
- Liner vessels operate on fixed routes with fixed
- Tramp vessels operate entirely according to the
demand of the person chartering them
- Couriers are fast, reliable and very secure, but can be
- Because of the nature of couriers' vehicles, they generally
only deliver goods up to a certain weight.
- Couriers are usually only cost-effective over short
Dunnage: Haulage jargon for protective wrapping or
Rolling stock: rail wagons
Traction: rail jargon for haulage
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