By Susan Elise Campbell
Global freight networks— needed to get the goods from manufacturers to customers—are complex and challenging. And when the COVID-19 pandemic came along, it threw a wrench into things.
Manufacturing was cut back, ports closed, truckers stayed home and delays increased, affecting the dynamics of an industry that consumers and businesses rely on.
“It was a total nightmare, but we have pivoted to adapt to the changing environment,” said Jake Oswald, an account executive with Trans-Border Global Freight Systems Inc. in Round Lake.
Trans-Border is an award-winning, licensed U.S. customs broker specializing in transportation logistics. Oswald said the firm manages goods as they travel throughout the supply chain by land, sea or air. They do so as safely, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible and in accordance with a litany of changing regulations and financial considerations.
The company has a staff of 65, as well as remote sales reps and independent reps sprinkled across the country. But it takes about 590 international partners, developed over the past 25 years, to manage the importing and exporting needs of companies, according to Oswald.
With the teams of import and export specialists and directors at Trans-Border, Oswald said “there are a bunch of eyes on the supply chain to make sure products get through quickly and efficiently.”
He said that while “anybody can book a shipment,” not everyone can book a shipment that is specific to client needs and time restraints, especially in today’s environment. All importers and exporters around the world have been impacted by COVID-19.
There has been an extreme increase in air/ocean shipping rates and space has been limited, making bookings difficult. Moreover, with American buyers competing with Amazon and other e-commerce giants, “there is often no choice but to pay premium rates at $3,000 to $5,000 over the general rate” for a transaction, he said.
Then there is the technology to trace and communicate where the product is in real time. Take, for example, a publishing company buying a printing press manufactured in Germany for delivery to New York City. Oswald said if there is an in-house delivery date of Jan. 1, there has to be a network in place to support that date.
Trans-Border will check with the steamship line on Dec. 28. If there is a problem or delay with the container the printing press is on, an account exec would explain the delay to the client, Oswald said.
“My job is 80 percent sales and 20 percent communication, including working with clients on pricing,” he said.
Recently one local business buying a $50,000 piece of equipment from China substantially trimmed his shipping and customs costs by having Trans-Border manage the logistics, he said.
“Customs has always been complicated because you have to pay taxes and duties to come into the U.S.” Oswald said. “If you classify the shipment incorrectly, it can be held up for weeks and run up storage fees every day.”
“We are experienced import compliance managers who can provide pages and pages of documentation showing the classification code is correct so that the shipment can clear,” he said. “It rarely happens that Trans-Border has issues clearing through customs because of this depth of experience and the superior technology we have developed.”
Another aspect that makes the company competitive, Oswald said, is that it has invested in an in-house finance department to review letters of credit and international contracts, something most forwarders cannot do.
“By simplifying the international banking process, we can save our clients time, reduce their risk and ensure timely payment,” said Oswald.
Trans-Border aims to continue improving technology, hiring staff with freight experience, and expanding the business. Since the pandemic, the company has installed a new domestic network, made its tracing system more user friendly, and shifted from outside sales to inside sales, said Oswald.
“I was usually on the road three or four days a week, but not since COVID,” he said. “I miss meeting with people and hearing their stories, since it’s harder to connect with people over a video conference.”
The company philosophy is that there are Four Cs To Success: communication, compliance, control and cost. They believe in the personal touch, meaning no voicemails.
“If your operations specialist is at lunch, you will not have to wait to receive an answer for your question, which can be critical in a time sensitive situation,” said Oswald.
By Susan Elise Campbell