Just like a kid looks forward to Christmas morning and opening all their presents, the same can be said about getting that call from the freight company, or a notification from my receiving warehouse that products have arrived. It is very exciting, and it is one more piece that gets us that much closer to the big installation day for our clients' projects.
That is the part of freight I love. They transport the beautiful custom products we design and procure for our clients from the manufacturers and vendors to our receiving warehouse. What's not to love about that? Santa Clause showing up in a 53' truck instead of a sleigh!
Freight is one of those things that our clients never have to worry about when they hire us. It is built into the full, turn-key experience that we promise our clients. We take that promise very seriously, and we do whatever it takes to make sure our clients' lives are not negatively impacted by the process of the job they hired us to do. In fact, it should be the opposite - We want our clients to be excited and look forward to a big change in their home, and a change that will support their lifestyle and hobbies
The fact however is that the whole freight industry has gotten progressively worse in the last few years, and there is not much we can do about it as designers. We simply have to research to find the best we can find and trust that our clients' goods will arrive on time and undamaged.
We have made it our mission to educate and inform clients upfront about the potential for things going wrong where freight is involved. It is a conversation that if we don't have early in the process, can create discord down the line, and unhappy clients when you have to deliver the bad news
I will try to keep this post as positive as possible. With every problem, there is a solution. We are highly skilled problem-solvers here at Casa Vilora Interiors. As our client, you get the benefit of years of expertise and our high level of problem-solving. You will never get a call with bad news about the freight company nor anything else for that matter, without us also offering up a solution.
As a leader in the industry, however, I felt it is up to us to bring some awareness to this issue, so other consumers can see that it is a widespread problem, and it is not your designer not doing his/her job.
Here's a pretty picture to ease you into a list of some of the problems that we are seeing :-)
Again, we have solutions for most of these problems, but there are inevitable delays that sometimes result from them that we just cannot control.
The freight industry is heavily regulated.
That might immediately sound like a good thing. After all, regulations are supposed to be a good way to keep everyone doing the right thing all the time. And I am sure they work in some cases to keep drivers and the roadways safe. But what seems to be happening is these heavy regulations are shrinking the already slim pool of eligible truck drivers. Some new regulations are in areas that include: electronic onboard recording devices, tracking devices and GPS, the hours of service, rest and sleep breaks, wages, drug testing.
Again, not bad things in and of themselves, but usually regulating them will not go over too well with the actual drivers. With not many people rushing out to become freight truck drivers, that means a shortage overall within the industry. Shortages will always trickle down to consumers in the end.
It is not the most rewarding job
No disrespect to anyone who chooses to be, and loves being a freight truck driver. This ties into point number one. There is a shortage of eligible truck drivers nationwide. Not only due to the things mentioned above, but it is a tough gig being on the road all the time and being away from family. Sadly that shortage affects the industry as a whole
It is expensive
Yes, freight is incredibly expensive. I don't use the word "expensive" loosely, because expensive is subjective. What I might find expensive, someone else may find cheap. But with freight it just seems inequitable to me.
Freight costs can sometimes be more than 25% of the cost of a group of items, and depending on where the item is being shipped from it adds more and more to the cost. I have ordered a table before where the freight was almost double the price of the table. That is almost 200%. Sure it was a small item, but that goes to show you the types of bills that we get
Freight companies usually charge per weight, plus fuel surcharge, but there are several other charges that get added on: location, especially if they have to subcontract the pickup to another freight company due to location, lift gate charges, whether they are delivering to a residential, commercial office or a location with a loading dock, curbside versus white glove delivery, LTL (less than full truck) versus full truck. Often times as designers we are doing LTL.
They subcontract out pickups
That may not seem like a big deal, but this could easily add 2-3 weeks to transportation time. This comes into play when let's say a freight company is headquartered on the East Coast, and a product you order is manufactured in say California. That freight company most likely does not pick up in California, so they hire a small freight company to do the pick up, and deliver it to one of their hubs in between - usually the hub is on the East Coast where their headquarter is. North Carolina is a popular hub because it is the furniture capital of the US. That product has to then go through the receiving process at the hub and then assigned for delivery here in Houston. The margin for error, as well as damages has now increased. Now, they do this all day long, and I am sure they have processes in place to make sure errors don't happen, but you can see that it makes it more possible than if the item had a straight ride to Houston
This is not to scare you, but it is just the reality. There are only a few freight companies who will do cross country pickups and deliveries.
They likely don't go anywhere without a full load
I mean if you think about it, it makes perfect sense from a business standpoint. It is better to drive hundreds of miles with a full truck, because fuel is not cheap. But that can sometimes mean delays. If they don't have a full load for a week, it means that product sits there for days longer than it needs to
Damages occur all the time
Manufacturers and vendors do a great job of packaging. The reputable companies we deal with always do a quality check before any product leaves their dock, but items do show up with concealed damages; sometimes visibly crushed boxes. This can easily happen if a truck is overpacked or not packed properly. Imagine a tiny table in a box is underneath a box with a sofa. I am not a skilled packer, but you can see how cramming items on a 53' truck that has to then drive hundreds of miles can be a problem.
Thankfully this only happens a small percentage of the time, and we have measures in place to deal with damaged products. Our warehouse in Houston have highly skilled and efficient staff who unbox all packages, check in detail for damages in the presence of the freight company driver. Any damage is noted and we are notified right away. Sometimes it is a minor ding or scratch where our skilled refinisher can handle that in a flash, and if it is more serious, we file a damage claim to have the item replaced.
The problem however is that damages can cause delays. Imagine if the damage occurs on a one-of-a-kind piece, or a piece that is now discontinued or on backorder. So you can see that damages are a major inconvenience for everyone involved.
Not only that, there is a very small window of time in which a claim can be filed, so a damaged item, automatically becomes top priority in our small firm, and that time can cost us money
Freight drivers just don't have the same personal connection we do with our clients
I would hate to sit here and blame every freight driver for every problem that exist. I have had good experiences with freight drivers and I have had some bad ones. I once had a freight driver leave a bath tub on the curb for my own project because I apparently did not choose the white-glove delivery option (which there was no option for at time of purchase by the way), and then another time a freight driver helped me get 1500SF of porcelain tiles into my garage even though his ticket said to leave it on the curb (another time there was no option to upgrade).
Imagine if my clients had to deal with all this stuff? Imagine boxes showing up damaged, items needing to be assembled, items left on the curb? These are the things clients don't think about and they shouldn't have to
Freight drivers don't often think about the people on the other end of that product. They don't realize that this young married couple maybe saved and sacrificed for a long time to afford to hire an interior designer to finish a room in their home. They don't realize the single mom who is creating a little escape in her own home. They don't realize the woman just signing off on the divorce papers and just needs a new refreshed home that is all about her. They don't realize that the sectional is for a family room where this family will build some great memories. They don't care, because they don't have to face the end user like we have to. For them, it is just a piece of furniture on a truck full of other furniture.
Customer service is not their strong suit
I have had to call freight companies a lot over the years, and let's just say they are not known for their customer service prowess. You are usually connected to a dispatcher who wants nothing more than to get you off the phone because he or she has 10 trucks to make sure is in the right place. They too don't often think about it from the end user's perspective. They are just there to do the job they are getting paid to do, and nothing beyond that
So how do we make it so that our clients don't suffer through these painful things?
Well, we take on the painful things ourselves so our clients don't have to. Our word, our promise, our reputation, our integrity, our caring, makes sure we don't allow any client to have to bear any of this. We know the ins and outs well enough to know what to avoid and what to do more of. We have chosen, for the most part, freight companies who are better than the norm. We stay on top of items out on order and we communicate constantly with our vendors and clients
The important part as I mentioned in the beginning is having that difficult conversation upfront; advising clients of what to expect with freight. We are sure to mention that it is not like Amazon and Wayfair where you get products the next day. We are producing custom products and we don't have a fleet of trucks ready to pickup and deliver. What our clients get instead is the great care and attention, and a resulting beautifully, well-thought-out space that will enhance their lives. Our clients don't have to lift a finger when we are designing their home.
When we create a full service design plan for our clients, it is accompanied by a budget breakdown of all the items we will be furnishing your home with. Included in that budget is a line item or allowance for freight, receiving, storage and white-glove delivery. It is an estimate, because there is no way of telling what the actual costs will be until after final installation. We bill at our cost with no additional fees. Any amount above the total is billed after final installation and any amount less is refunded back
Our hope is after reading this post you will continue to see the value that we bring to your project. While we are all optimists and we go into new ventures expecting and hoping for the best, it would be naive to think that nothing ever goes wrong. Unless you have the time and resources to deal with all the things that can go wrong, you should be working with a designer.
Wishing You Beauty And Inspiration!