What Is a Cartage Agent & How To Evaluate One?
In many cases, shippers and forwarders do not have the means to transport or consolidate cargo before or after it’s shipped. Carting agents bridge this gap, offering various value-added services to their clients.
In essence, a cartage agent is a company that is subcontracted by shippers, forwarders, and carriers to pick up and deliver goods, consolidate cargo at warehouses, and offer other value-added services that the aforementioned parties require.
For this reason, cartage agents are essential service providers as they cover important gaps in the supply chain and also operate in areas where larger service providers lack coverage. For these reasons, choosing the right agent or cartage company is crucial.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at cartage agents by outlining their core services, how they work with more established service providers, and how they add value to supply chains.
What Services Do Cartage Agents Offer?
As mentioned earlier, most cartage agents offer freight services in areas where larger carriers don’t operate – that also covers areas near and around seaports and nearby warehouses (sometimes even within free trade zones).
However, many cartage agents offer several complementary services apart from cargo consolidation, pick-up, and last-mile deliveries to increase their revenue streams and remain competitive, including the following:
- Pickup & Delivery – Many cartage companies offer standard shipment pickup and delivery services in their target areas, especially in regions with little competition from larger trucking companies. Some also offer specialized vehicles, such as reefer trucks, to move perishable goods and other temperature-sensitive items. As cartage agents usually operate consolidation warehouses in and near ports, they also commonly transport cargo into and out of seaports.
- Consolidation & Deconsolidation – Consolidation is a popular practice in the shipping industry. It involves combining multiple client or supplier shipments into a single load that a cartage agent transport into the port premises before it’s loaded onto the vessel. Similarly, deconsolidation involves transporting cargo from seaports to nearby warehouses where cargo is deconsolidated (broken up into smaller shipments) and transported to various consignees.
- Delivery of Hazardous Cargo – Some cartage agents specialize in transporting hazardous cargo, such as chemicals, gases, toxic substances, and flammable solids or liquids, to and from industrial areas in isolated regions. These service providers are highly skilled and knowledgeable in the practice of shipping hazmat. Therefore, they often charge higher than ordinary cargo carriers.
- Value-Added Services – The influx of different types of freight vehicles has enabled truckers to add different value-added services. For instance, cartage companies with liftgate trailers eliminate the need for procuring forklifts and staff for loading and unloading cargo. The rear end of these trailers can open up to a horizontal surface and double as an elevator to access cargo at different heights. Similarly, many cartage agents operate from docks exclusively to move loads from one place to another. Other value-added services include loading and unloading of cargo, packaging, warehousing, and more.
- Cross-Docking – Some cartage agents generate additional income and revenue through cross-docking, a popular practice in the logistics industry designed to minimize or eliminate long-term storage. It involves unloading goods from inbound delivery trucks and loading them onto outbound trucks directly. Cross-docking is an incredibly beneficial service for both parties. It removes the need to hold inventory in warehouses for manufacturers or suppliers. Similarly, it allows cartage companies to enable a steady source of income.
How to Find Cartage Agents?
Every business looks for reliable service providers for different tasks, functions, and projects. The same goes for carriers looking to improve their quality by sourcing cartage agents.
As a carrier, you want to ensure that your shipments are in good hands during the final leg of their journeys. We have listed four effective ways to search for cartage agents so you can find the right solution provider for your needs:
- Ask For Referrals – The quickest way to find a cartage agent is to ask for referrals from existing service providers, such as freight forwarders, carriers, or vendors. Today, many carriers leverage the services of cartage agents for consolidation services or final mile deliveries.
- Connect Through Freight Associations – Another great way to find cartage agents is by becoming a member of a local, state, or international freight association. By doing so, you can improve networking and get support from experts in the industry. Many associations also offer digital tools you can use to find agents operating in your area.
- Use Search Engine – Just like searching for any other service online, you can simply Google-search “cartage agents in my area”, “cartage service providers in [city/town]”, or other related keywords. You’ll come across several websites offering cartage services. Alternatively, you can also search on social media, third-party sites, and other digital locations. Make sure you compare the top results and look for reviews on social media or trucking forums.
- Advertise Your Business – If you want to ship products for clients via cartage long-term, advertise your business and shipment needs. You can also prompt cartage agents operating in your area or offering the services you’re looking for to contact you themselves.
How to Evaluate Cartage Agents
Like trucking companies, they vary in price, services, quality of service, routes, fleet, and other factors. Therefore, we recommend you do your due diligence and evaluate them carefully to reap the full benefits they offer in areas where other trucking companies don’t operate. Below are some of the key factors to consider:
1. Network & Coverage
The first thing to consider when evaluating cartage agents is their fleet. It is essential to know if an agent owns trucks or outsources the loads to other service providers. Having a dedicated fleet is a good sign that the provider is not reliant on third-party services’ schedules, fleet, and handling services.
Secondly, you want to know which routes, cities, towns, and counties they cover. The last thing you want is to hire an agent only to find out they only partially cover your required area, especially if you are looking to expand your business to new locations.
2. Customer Service
One of the most important aspects to consider is being able to access customer support to inquire about your cargo in transit or any related information. When choosing a cartage agent, carefully evaluate their ability to provide excellent customer service since it will affect communication channels, information flow, and overall satisfaction.
Ensure to check their operating hours, their standard operating procedures, and how responsive they are when resolving issues, such as delays, cargo damage, and more. Additionally, you may want to check their shipment portfolio to learn if they have the expertise, experience, and resources to safely handle and deliver your cargo.
3. Fleet Type & Size
Apart from learning if they have a dedicated fleet, you also need to learn about the types and quantity of freight vehicles they have (semi-trucks, box trucks, etc.) at their disposal. This can help you understand if they have the right or sufficient resources to carry your or your customer’s cargo.
4. Service Offering
As mentioned earlier, many cartage agents offer several value-added services apart from last-mile deliveries, including lumper service, liftgate, consolidation, deconsolidation, and temperature-controlled deliveries. So, make sure you learn about any additional value they can provide for your shipment processes and choose the right one accordingly.
You’ll also want your cartage agents to be available and flexible since supply chains can be incredibly volatile. Therefore it’s best to ensure that the respective cartage agent has sufficient capacity and resources to commit to your shipment needs long-term or on-demand.
Co-Founder & Writer
About the Author
Andrew is a multi-business owner with over 10 years of experience in the fields of logistics, manufacturing, operations, training, and education.
Being the co-founder of freightcourse has given him the ability to pursue his desire of educating others on manufacturing and supply chain topics.