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Besides saving money and time, being efficient when shipping construction materials and equipment can lower green house gas emissions and reduce the embodied energy in completed structures. (Image credit: chrisroll / 123RF Stock Photo)

By Alexandra Crews and FreightCenter.com

Freight shipping is an essential function of the construction industry. For professionals, the process of procuring materials and equipment can easily cut into your bottom line. Regular shipments include anything from structural steel, raw materials, machinery and heavy haul equipment, to lumber, bricks and concrete.

Luckily, the average business owner doesn’t have to be a logistics expert to save money on their shipping costs. Here are a few cost saving techniques to help reduce your shipping expenses.

Continual Evaluation

It’s essential to continuously reassess your existing shipping structure.  When shopping for consumer goods, it is best to look for the best deal each time you buy – not just once a year. While it’s important to use carriers you trust, it’s equally as important to make sure you’re getting the best value.  Even though one trucking carrier may be less expensive when shipping from California to New York, another may save you money shipping from Oregon to New York. Each carrier has specific lanes they drive more frequently, which means cost savings when you ship in that direction. Make sure you are up-to-date on industry shipping costs, as they are constantly fluctuating. The top shipping companies in the industry, such as YRC Freight, Roadrunner Transportation Services and R+L Carriers, are all consistent and reliable carriers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the only ones you should use. To sort through all the options consider using a freight comparison site like www.FreightCenter.com where you can compare multiple carrier rates, submit paperwork, and book online – all in one location.

The Ins and Outs of LTL

Besides comparing rates, you should be comparing method of transit. Ninety-percent of the time, less than truckload, or LTL, will be your best option for transporting freight. But the other 10% of the time you may be able to save on overhead. LTL is used for items that don’t require a full truck so you only purchase the amount of space you’ll be needing. LTL shipments however, may be moved from one truck to another several times before reaching the final destination. The more hands that touch a shipment, the better it needs to be packaged and secured to avoid loss or damage. If you’re only shipping one pallet of hard wood flooring, you’re going to save hundreds on shipping with LTL versus any other method. The other interstate shipping options are partial truckload and full truckload. Partial truckload shipping can be used for several pallets or crates of materials that need to be shipped. Partial shipments are larger than an LTL shipment but smaller than a full truckload. Often times a shipping company will steer you towards shipping LTL, when a partial shipment is the most cost effective option. Build a relationship with a freight agent you trust and make sure to ask the right questions. Also, if you have two shipments that need to be delivered one week apart, try consolidating the shipments into a full truckload to save on costs.

Consider the Rails

Rail is America’s oldest method of transporting freight and it is often an underutilized mode of transportation in the construction industry. Depending on the type of freight and its destinations, rail can be a relatively inexpensive way to ship. Rail freight is transported in cargo containers. The containerization of freight shipments may reduce your risk of loss or damage because containers are never opened as they move through the transportation system. Also, if you’re an environmentally-friendly business, rail freight is considered extremely energy efficient in comparison to its interstate trucking counterpart.

If you’re not an expert in freight shipping, your agent is going to be your biggest source of information. Freight agents can help you avoid re-bills and surcharges and assist with paperwork. Construction materials are often very difficult to both classify and weigh. Play it safe. If it’s the first time you’ve shipped hollow metal doors and door frames, talk to a freight agent about what freight class this would fall under. Also make sure you pay attention to the weight of your construction materials. Each terminal has a weigh station, so if you are unsure of a shipment’s weight, ship it from a terminal instead of on-site. Freight shipping requires you to be very specific, so avoid generalization and estimates.

Most construction industry professionals ship large volumes of shipments allowing them flexibility in their shipping arrangements. Start with finding an agent you trust and comparing rates. You’d be surprised at how much money a phone call could save you.

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