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admin | Category: Modular Container Homes | 22.02.2015
I am sitting here drinking coffee from a Crate & Barrel jumbo mug (ie reasonably specialist item), made in China.
Having worked in retail (and even retail of things like the thing you describe!) - there is usually someone, at some level of the process who designs packaging and shipping solutions. Often it's a particular way that the items need to be packed into the box, the number of items per box, as well as additional packing materials to protect the item. If memory serves, from the point of the items arriving at the store, it goes something like this.
For a shop like Crate & Barrel where they are moving a large quantity of breakable items, there is probably a line in a budget somewhere that allows for Z number or percentage of loss via breakage. I'm not sure, though, what happens at domestic warehouses and order fulfillment points, vs. Somewhat unrelated, but I've heard that IKEA cuts costs by having the designer of the item factor efficiency of overseas shipping into the original design of the piece.
The manufacturer loads up the product into a shipping container and has a container service pick it up from their facility. Ha, I once almost took a job working for a guy who imported large terracotta pots for the garden. What port would goods arrive in, before being trucked (or transported by train?) to a Louisiana retail outlet?
I don't know, but, quite possibly Long Beach or Los Angeles, or Savannah maybe or Charleston. So then Crate & Barrel are only going to order from a manufacturer who can deliver a minimum of a container's worth of product, right?
Because most of Crate & Barrel's products are exclusive to their stores, they probably contract directly with a Chinese manufacturer to fabricate their designs.
It depends on a seemingly infinite number of factors: the item in question (mug, rice, etc. I spent the better part of a year once designing the business logic and managing the technical development team for a container-loading software that would guide one of the largest drug-store chains in the world on how to optimize the management of how they loaded and shipped the massive amounts of product they imported from China. So, with all of these limitations, we are looking at a literally infinite number of possibilities of product volumes we might combine from 3 different source locations, onto 4 choices of container size, to 3 receiving ports, to 7 regional warehouses, via a wide choice of over-land shipping routes. But, if you're already shipping the container, there are more optimal solutions of mixing products within the different containers sizes to achieve maximum container loads for your money.
So theoretically you pop a very huge (and seasonally shifting) product catalog into a database that the container optimization software can read from, and then you plug in all the variables of what volumes needed to go where, where they were coming from, when they needed to go, and how they could best combine across those 4 container sizes based on the aforementioned limitations of destination, timing, etc..
The interesting thing is that the path started even before the factory where it was made: it started out as raw materials - where did they come out of the ground (grown, chopped down, mined, etc.)?
Really your question is focused mainly on the Deliver step, but its important to understand it in light of the other steps, all of which are interactive, and sometimes and many factors depending, some of the steps will come in different orders than how I listed them above, while others might occur multiple times.
What about cost - say, container by truck to Shanghai, ship to Long Beach, train to mid-west, truck to distribution centre?
I'm not trying to dodge your question by not giving you a dollar figure here, the point is just that there are SO MANY factors that it would probably take a cross-functional team of people at CB to sit down and do the analysis that is going to help you arrive at that figure for just that one specific container.
I also work in logistics, but only in procurement and only for a year so my knowledge of operational stuff is pretty limited. In reality however, the importer would negotiate reduced rates or (more likely) hire a logistics agency to do the whole thing for them (increased purchasing power=cheaper rates). As for routing, Maersk suggest this would go from Shanghai to Seattle (~15 days) and then via rail to Chicago (~5 days). Again, in reality this may not be an optimal routing and the logistics brains will work out an entire supply chain plan, but this is just an example.
Intermodal transport is the cobbled-together stream of various things that carry other things from one place to another. The process is both straightforward and complex, because the big pieces are pretty clear: it takes about this long for a container ship to go from Shanghai to Oakland, and that ship carries a lot of containers. What it boils down to is: if you try to optimally pack discrete items into a given volume or weight so as to maximize the value of things packed, you will run into an exponential number of reasonable possible solutions. I work at a very large (thousands of employees and hundreds of offices) freight forwarding and logistics company.

Hypothetically, (for air shipments), a customer doesn't have to deal with the logistics side of their business much besides packing their freight nice and tight and sending off a few emails.
Air shipments are almost always more expensive, but they allow you to move freight in a matter of a couple days, as opposed to the weeks it takes via ocean. Ask MetaFilter is a question and answer site that covers nearly any question on earth, where members help each other solve problems.
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One of the biggest Chinese imports to the United States these days are affordable, eco-friendly houses -- or at least the building blocks for them. Architects have figured out a way to make these containers useful: Convert them into guesthouses, studios, even single-family homes. The trucking company now can either take it to a train depot that then forwards it on to the shipping docks or simply drives to the shipping docks for delivery to the awaiting vessel.
Everything gets shipped to distribution warehousing for Crate and Barrel as one store could never sell 10k coffee mugs before they get outdated usually. The main container routes from China don't seem to head up into the Gulf even though some do go to the East coast (looking at Evergreen and CSCL's schedules anyway; Maersk Lines' website seems slightly broken and the rest of it involves too many pdfs. Having spent ~4 years in retail operations management and ~4 years consulting primarily in Supply Chain Management (SCM, which is really what this question is about, not just simple Logistics), and now ~2 years in the developing world building modernized Supply Chains here, I think I can say with some experience that: the variance is endless. 4 transit warehouses in each of these where containers would be packed for transit to the US. These are mainly limited to the biggest ports with the best ability to move the most product at the lowest prices, but also sometimes determined by the company that's moving the product, where their primary receiving warehouses are located, etc. Containers are unpacked at warehouses and then returned to port typically on the same reverse route.
But let's just throw routing out the window for the time being and focus purely on one container and how best to pack it.
Let's say in this instance we are working with a 20' container - for heavy batteries the cost effective solution is, almost always, to work with the smallest container possible.
We realized at one point that some of the stuff we were probing into for the system logic was pushing on the borders of math problems that still have not yet been solved (full on Good Will Hunting shit that I'll never come close to even being able to speak to even at any sensible capability).
Well, you take C&B's product mix, where their stores are located, whether they have internal warehousing (or outsource to 3rd party logistics suppliers (3PLs)), where the warehouses are located, what ports they primarily receive through and why, where the factories are located (likely primarily in China), etc.
Yes, CB is probably dealing with exclusive factories, but if there's 2 or 3 or 40 factories all next to each other, they can order specialized items from many and they can be packed in a secondary location prior to shipping in combined containers.
If you have a distro center up in Portland and there's not decent rail network north-south along the Pacific Coast, you're going to truck that route, whilst the goods going to Chicago will go rail 100% of the way, and those going to St. Its helpful if there's somebody to do this, but not all retailers invest the effort to analyze their cost structure in this way.
Today's tariff rates for a standard 40ft container from Shanghai port to Chicago rail ramp (hardly mid-west, but a potential distribution hub) would be in excess of $5,000 per container.
Your mug was almost certainly in a container at one point - a modular unit that can be moved from a tractor-trailer to a lift on a dock to a space on a cargo ship to another dock (and possibly into a customs shed) to a train carriage to a different train carriage because the container's route required a shift from one track gauge to another, then back to a trailer truck and into a warehouse - and then in smaller conveyances as necessary until it winds up in your sink being washed.
However, is C&B big enough to command their own freight train schedules or are they looking for open space on existing trips, or are they holding partial loads at smaller depots until a train or truck with existing space can piggyback them on?
Although I haven't been working in this industry long at all and am in an entry level position, I now have a general idea of what is done to get air cargo from point A to point B (I work in the air section of my office). We figure out what they are moving and who is paying and let them know how much it will cost. Brokerage teams are working on both sides to get these shipments cleared and properly taxed in a timely manner.
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Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. I'm particularly interested here in how freight & distribution of specialist items works - ie if you're shipping rice, I'm guessing you just fill an ISO container with rice and send it off, but if you've got lots of weird little things, how is the contents, packing, count, destination etc of a container determined? A particular type of pot (say the shiny blue three foot tall pot) would always be packed in a crate that was X dimensions with Y number of its fellows.
Items are broken down from their pallets in the warehouses and then re-combined onto new pallets to be loaded to company trucks for delivery to stores. So you've got your layer of batteries in there, but all that space on top you could fit pillows.
And then you get to the end of it all, there in your kitchen, and you find a crack in your mug, and you - Joe Consumer - you kick off the whole process in reverse (reverse logistics, or the Return function, at large). For the ones that do, though, you have to remember that based on other factors, they may sometimes even target an inefficient shipping model.
Built with tyne pockets to allow you to load your flat rack container then lift it ready fo transport via road or rail. If it is on the same continent, either it goes to a train station that sends it on to the next destination or it will pay a trucking company to haul it over the road to the customer. But pillows weigh next to nothing and you're probably still not going to have nearly approached the max weight with them even though you are cubing out. There's so many options in China right now its ridiculous - I remember watching a video that made the claim that an equivalent of 1 ship per second leave China these days packed with exports (have no idea if that's accurate or not, but the point is the numbers are probably hard to comprehend). I have no working knowledge of the rail networks and their efficiencies, my point is that its a mix. The example I'm thinking of is that say this Christmas, the Rudolf Razor Jet Scooter is all the rate and CB wants to drive foot traffic to their store, so they stock up on these and maybe even lose money to undercut their competition and sell them at a loss, on top of the fact that they were already expensive to ship.
The two-story home offers three bedrooms and two and a half baths, a laundry room, pantry, mudroom and other amenities. Depending on the manufacturer, you can have multiple products and multiple models of the products.
Basically the minimum order for most manufacturers of products is whatever fills up the container. He had his secretary use CorelDraw to manipulate predrawn rotatable rectangles representing the crates and the container to estimate how much could be fit in, though, he said, they often didn't pack it the way the secretary planned, but better, fitting in even more crates than expected. You've bought yourself just a tiny little bit more cubic capacity, but you've also bought a ton more weight, which you can fill with pillows - right up to the top. Enter the mug in question: maybe 1' of batteries, 3' of boxes of mugs, and 6' of pillows still gets you to the max cube capacity of the container and closer to the max weight of the container, thus netting you an even higher savings on your shipping in the long run, because if you do it right, you have more flexibility with each container that follows.
Its different for each product, each retailer, and you could really make a case study of the way anything in your kitchen arrived there, but they all follow the same similar path. So basically you'd have a container with 2-foot high stacks of boxes of batteries and 8' of air being shipped on top of that. Bingo: full container load (FCL) - the optimum for any retailer actually involved in the shipping logistics side of their business. It might be, but what if you have rush product on board and the ship will have to wait at sea for 2-3 days before a mooring becomes available? Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. Like a stainless kitchen package, with Viking stove, dishwasher and a fireplace for an extra $25,000. It can be delivered within 10 weeks and assembled on site in a day, according to the builder.

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