When you import unassembled furniture, some of the choices you make about transportation can save you a good deal of money. Here’s some advice on how to find cost-saving opportunities when shipping furniture in containers.
How smart loading cuts the cost
The great thing about unassembled – or “knockdown” – furniture is how neatly it fits into cartons. Secure those boxes on pallets, and it’s easy to load this freight into containers and unload at the destination.
If you transport enough furniture to fill multiple containers, either in one shipment or over time, your biggest cost-saving opportunity lies in the way you load those containers. That’s because the maximum weight you can load in a container is far more than the shipping lines would have you believe.
Steamship lines often tell shippers that they need to keep a container’s contents to no more than 44,000 pounds. But the truth is, if you handle things correctly, you might be able to load up to 10,000 pounds more and still keep your shipment legal for over-the-road transportation. The trick is to work with a specialized heavy haul carrier. A trucker with the right permits and equipment makes it possible to cross many U.S. states with 54,000 pounds or more in a container.
So you can add 20 percent more furniture to a container without increasing the cost of transportation on the water.
True, you’ll pay a bit more to use a heavy haul trucking company. But because the steamship line charges the same rate per container, no matter its weight, this strategy can reduce your door-to-door, per-unit transportation cost by up to 20 percent.
Smart loading, by the numbers
A company planned to ship 20 metric tons – about 44,000 pounds – of boxed furniture from Europe to the United States. The full cost to move that container from origin to destination would have been $213 per metric ton.
Then I.C.E. Transport suggested that the shipper add more boxes to the shipment, bringing the weight of the load to 25 metric tons. The cost for the ocean portion of the shipment stayed the same, and the door-to-door transportation cost dropped to $175 per metric ton.
Making the pieces fit
Of course, loading more boxed furniture in a container is easier said than done. If you’re shipping a mixed assortment of pieces – say, executive desks, computer workstations, file cabinets, conference tables and other items for furnishing an office – those unassembled items come in boxes of different shapes and sizes. You want to fit as many of those boxes in a container as you can, using the available space to reach the maximum weight, but no more. In essence, you’re working a 3D puzzle. Your goal is to ship more furniture and less air.
Many shippers complete this puzzle on their own. But if you work with a logistics partner whose tools include stow planning software, that technology can help you improve container loading to control your shipping costs.
More to keep in mind when shipping furniture in containers
Shipping furniture poses a few other challenges as well:
The risk of damage: Whether the product is made of plywood, particle board or solid wood, it could get nicked, dented or chipped if it doesn’t have proper protection. Cardboard boxes go only so far in shielding the outer edges of furniture components. As you develop your load plan, be sure to provide enough bracing and padding to keep the product safe in transit.
The Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS): As you prepare your documentation for U.S. Customs, it’s not always obvious how to classify furniture. The correct code in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule depends in part on how the furniture is made. Is it all wood? Or does it include metal, or fabric? If the overseas manufacturer provides an HTS code, that number might or might not match the code used by U.S. Customs. You, or your customs broker, must verify whatever classification you’re given. Otherwise, you could end up paying more in tariffs than you expected.
Regulatory requirements: One of the regulations that furniture importers have to consider is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). First enacted in 1976, and updated in 2016, TSCA regulates the production, import, use and disposal of certain chemicals. Adhesives or finishes used in furniture could include some of those chemicals. So when you’re shipping furniture in containers, the documentation for entry into the U.S. should include the manufacturer’s certification that the product is TSCA-compliant.
Furniture could also fall under the Lacey Act, which bans trafficking in illegally-sourced plant products, including wood. A company that imports certain kinds of wooden furniture must file a declaration with details about the product and its materials.
For best results, find door-to-door help
Clearly, shipping unassembled furniture in containers requires careful planning all the way. Each step – loading the cargo safely and efficiently, arranging for overweight transportation if you need it, and providing for trouble-free customs clearance – demands a different kind of knowledge and experience.
You could piece together the expertise you need by working with several partners. Or you can find one service provider to manage the whole move, from overseas factory to final destination in the U.S. A partner that specializes in containerized shipping and overweight container services can help you build cost-effective loads and move them efficiently. It can also help you manage the import compliance process, especially if it has its own customs clearance agent services.
Do you need a better way to ship boxed furniture? Start a conversation with I.C.E. Transport.