Stay local to go global

To endure, global brands must deliver consistently on the reputations that first inspired demand, but even worldwide businesses know that local tastes vary.

Tempting though container shipping finds it to spend its bumper profits on expansion, the giants of the sector would therefore be wise to consider whether the project cargo sector has any more appetite for global flavours.

Clearly, logistics wisdom far beyond scale economies is needed to build a global shipping brand and, since the early 1980s, container shipping has grown a strong presence in project cargo by using flatracks to provide special and scheduled deliveries. Cosmatos is a buyer of this capacity, taking advantage of its favourable sea freight rates and predictability, and adding the value of its special load handling and last-mile logistics expertise.

My purpose is therefore not to criticize, but to highlight how the uniformity of service and top-down scale economies which make the box compelling also limit the potential of special load logistics as a candidate for over-ambitious growth.

Just five shipping companies account for around 65 per cent of the world’s container-carrying capacity.

By contrast, project cargo logistics is a specialized activity that relies on experience built from the ground up. Nevertheless, its professionals are entrusted with multi-million dollar and often one-off out-of-gauge loads which may have taken years to manufacture. Very much part of shipping’s digital revolution on load calculations, stowage planning and documentation, it remains a business whose relationships demand care and attention 24/7 – and not from chatbots or call centres.

In marketing their project cargo services, liner companies sometimes actually confirm the limitations of the ‘one-stop-shop’ approach by suggesting that selecting their project cargo services will mean shippers won’t have to deal with multiple ‘sub-tier’ organizations.

Another way of expressing this is that the specialized capabilities on which services rely are not directly controlled by the vendor. Furthermore, the term ‘sub-tier’ implies miscellaneous activities carried out by interchangeable subcontractors, whereas the services concerned are the core expertise of project cargo transport.

Based in Thessaloniki, Greece, over the last quarter of a century, Cosmatos has built on its local knowledge, contacts and relationships to develop a worldwide project cargo logistics business. While there is often good reason for equating transport brand giants with ‘safe hands’, the fact is that the local truckers, crane operators, surveyors, inspectors, etc. we deal with routinely take instruction far less frequently from the ‘one-stop’ merchants.

At the purely pragmatic level, regular service buyers will expect priority. They can also expect information exchanges with partners to be frequent and even proactive – on road permit updates, civil works, alternative routings, equipment mismatches, strikes, for example.

We feel that it is also fair to comment that, while scale economies can lead to lower prices, they can sometimes instead come at the expense of subcontractors. Here, too, subcontractors are likely to give priority to better-paying work.

I have a personal experience from 2023 of a new customer visiting us from the other side of the world to go through shipping arrangements after a previous experience with a major carrier led to a port delay which lasted months and was never satisfactorily explained. And even if it had been, explaining a problem is a long way from resolving it.

Where project cargo is concerned, experience shows that troubleshooting local logistics issues demands boots on the ground.

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