A cost experience shipping a pallet via air (Spain to US)

There are many interesting and unique products in Spain but most do not see the light of day in the United States. There are several reasons for this but one of the most important is the cost of shipping. For a product to enter into the US market, it has to leave Spain by boat or airplane, cross country borders, cross the Atlantic and arrive to a US Customs entry port in the US. International shipping is complicated and expensive. There is a huge industry built around logistics and shipping but for a typical retailer in the US, the challenge to import from Spain or other countries can be daunting.

Like all shipping, cost is related to how much you are shipping and how soon it needs to be at the destination. Maritime shipping is the least expensive but it takes the most time. Air shipping can be a solution for rapid deliver but it is considerably more expensive. Through Cactus Canyon Ceramics, LLC, I have been working at exporting and importing now for several years. I have to admit that I am self taught. Necessity and urgency have flogged me forward. I have worked with large orders for US box-store chains as well as single container or single pallet shipments. I am happy to report that I have been doing more and more importing of hand painted, Spanish ceramic for my online store http://www.cactuscanyonceramics.com and Amazon.com.

While you would think the shipping process should be pretty systematic, with us living in the 21st centuries and all the talk about robots, software and technology.   But my experience has found that challenges always pop up – always.  I guess that is why there is such a huge industry built around the service.

Some companies such as FedEx have a huge infrastructure built up for international shipping. But the convenience comes at a price (in some cases a REALLY high price!). Just recently, I had to air ship a pallet of stock samples to a customer in the States. The pallet was a standard American pallet measuring approximately 1.2X1X1.5 meters, and weighing approximately 169kgs. For US readers, picture a standard everyday pallet stacked to 5 foot high and weighing 373 lbs. The US based customer had an account with FedEx and told me to put it on their account.

I did some checking because I have had previous experience with air shipping via FedEx. I called FedEx and requested a quote for the shipment. Door to door, the agent told me that I would pay between 2,000€ and 3,000€ (Euros) which at current exchange rates would amount to between $2,300 and $3,500. As usual, I expressed amazement at the cost to the agent and was told that since I do not regularly ship with FedEx and do not have an account, they cannot offer me any adjustments.

I called back again and requested a quote this time using the account number of the US customer, who does a lot of FedEx shipping. I thought that I would receive a quote for less, but the agent gave me an estimate north of 5,000€. Let me say that again, …more than five thousand Euros to ship a single pallet weighing less than 400lbs from Spain to a east coast US destination – for a good FedEx customer! This is more than the cost of shipping a whole container! You can buy a car for that amount, or go on a cool holiday, or invest in your kid’s education…. This took my breath away and I almost swallowed my tongue talking with the agent. The word “scoundrel” crossed my mind several times when I was speaking with the agent, but in reality, it wasn’t the agent, just FedEx leveraging their profits.  FedEx provides a very constant level of good service, but honestly, it does not make sense to me.  I guess that is why they make the big bucks.

I ended up sending the pallet by my regular shipping companies and the total cost for the air shipment came in at less than $1400. Still very expensive but not even close to the FedEx. The alternative solution took approximately 10 days longer, but the cost saving was well worth it, I think.

Relationships are huge in international shipping. You have to find and work with people you learn to trust. Everybody has to make a buck that is for sure, but there are solutions that do not have to be so expensive. Finally, I must place the caveat that this is just one experience (my experience). Others may have very different experiences with FedEx and no doubt do. I am only recounting one of my recent experiences.

Please let me know if you have any international shipping experiences and how they turned out. I love to hear comments and about other people’s experiences.

Steve McCann
Cactus Canyon Ceramics

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