Buildlane’s Handy Guide to Shipping Custom Furniture

At Buildlane we like to think about the custom furniture process and find ways to make it better. Shipping is no exception.

When I first started Buildlane I found it surprising that the majority of interior designers didn’t have much of a process for shipping custom. And yet lots of trade vendors, especially workrooms, don’t really help with shipping. It was quite the paradox that needed a solution if we were to empower the industry to do more custom.

The following is the process that we have developed over the last five+ years. Feel free to take what you like and incorporate it into your own process.

What We Hope To Achieve

The goals of successfully shipping furniture are quite simple (in order of importance):

  1. Low Chance of Damage
  2. Cost

When comparing different shipping partners these are the qualities we can rate them by. Damage is the most important factor by far. It even trumps cost because the hours that you and your staff end up spending when something goes wrong will make the more damage-prone shipper cost more in the long run.

Sure, there are also less important things to consider like what their customer service is like and how they handle claims. But really those things are dwarfed by damage and cost when looking at shipping and your bottom line.

Before we dive into each category let’s first look at what exactly our task is.

The Scope

First, I need to explain the scope of our challenge.

Location, Location, Location

Buildlane manages the shipping for multiple workshops (aka pick up locations) and thousands of delivery addresses all over the country. To give you an idea of where we have to figure out shipping options for, here is a map of where each design firm we work with is located:

And that is just where the designers are – if I put together a map of install locations it would have to be a globe!

Each delivery location is also different. Is it a receiving warehouse? Is it a residence? Are there stairs? Is it in lower Manhattan where deliveries are only allowed on leap years if the moon was full the night before?

Well I guess we do lean on you for that information – you might have seen this form before while creating a project on Buildlane.

The Shipment

If you have ever talked with a shipping company they might ask you, “What size boxes do you generally ship your product in?” Or, “Is it on a pallet?”

But we aren’t shipping boxes or pallets. We are shipping expensive, one-of-a-kind furniture that took months of planning and execution to create.

And designers are never given the proper time needed to decorate a house so we’re looking at a tight window that if anything is damaged is going to be a big problem.

Now let me tell you how Buildlane (and more specifically Dani who runs our shipping department) has designed our process for each category mentioned above.

Low Chance of Damage

We’re going to have to break this one into sections.

History

Because Buildlane has an app we have tons of data about every order that has ever gone through Buildlane. And in the five+ years of Buildlane’s existence we have worked with a lot of shippers. 

I feel safe to say at this point we have a nice equilibrium with the shippers that have remained among our vetted network. 

But we’re constantly keeping an eye on the data to make sure that damage rates are extremely low.

Partner Agreements

We’ve found that the best way to reduce damage is to put all the onus for a safe shipment on the shipper at the time of pick up. Every shipper’s favorite scapegoat of “concealed damage” is impossible with our shipping partners. Here is the simple one-page agreement that has worked wonders for us.

Of course, the designer can also create problems when receiving the furniture. If you’ve ever ordered with Buildlane you are familiar with our receiving policies we remind you of on every shipment.

And every time if both those documents are followed we have no issues with damage and a 100% claim award rate.

Cost

There really is no way to lower cost besides volume. Fees are determined based on the number of pieces, dimensions, weight, mileage and current national fuel surcharges. 

Shipping companies tend to quote pretty consistently. With custom furniture it’s really useful to have quoting histories as workshops are wildly inconsistent with their quotes. But shippers seem to have a very good grasp on their expenses.

But you do benefit from a volume price with Buildlane that you wouldn’t likely see as a single firm. Plus the shipping cost is simply a pass through for us. So you enjoy those volume discounts. What we like to call “concierge shipping services” are simply part of the Buildlane magic.

Additional Benefits of Buildlane Concierge Shipping

Assuming you have the best price with a carrier that has a very low damage rate, what else is there to consider?

Quoting

When you leave a message on Buildlane asking for shipping quotes we will ping a handful of shippers in our vetted network. This is a good way to give you some perspective on the wide range of quotes from different shippers. With our shippers these discrepancies are often simply based on routes that different shippers are more efficient at. We have a network because there really is no single shipper that always has the best price.

Tracking / Delivery

Some shippers have better tracking than others, but in general I would categorize tracking in this industry as “meh”. This isn’t like FedEx where the tracking is mostly correct and updated almost instantly. In general, I think the only thing that is accurate or useful for furniture shippers is when it’s picked up from the workshop.

And once you see that it has been picked up your best bet for a speedy delivery is to proactively call the shipper to set up a delivery appointment.

Even if a shipper does not offer a public tracking link, we will always provide the dispatch contact number along with your reference number.

Damage Claims

In the unfortunate event that there is damage Buildlane will pay to have repairs made immediately so your client can have a solution as quick as possible. We will then work on the damage claim in the background on your behalf. Our agreements and relationships with our shippers has shown that we have no issue having the claims honored.

Note of course that this system can all go south if our receiving instructions were ignored and a delivery was signed off as damage-free when there actually was damage. Having the BOL properly notated and photos for supplemental documentation are critical when it comes to reporting damage. It’s literally the only requirement from the receiver/recipient that can guarantee a slam-dunk claim.

Crating

We also have a network of crating companies. Crating is sometimes requested by the shipper or simply appropriate for certain types of furniture. All international shipments also need to be crated as there is a special stamp each crate needs to leave the port.

The cost from our shippers plus the crating costs are almost always cheaper than some well know companies that offer the combo of crating and shipping for designers.

Some examples of when crating is a good idea: velvet or any other sensitive upholstery material, cross-country or long transit shipments, and if you have a hard install date and need quicker transit options.

White Glove

Our shippers offer a range of shipping options, including: Dock-to-Dock to a Receiver, Whiteglove to Commerical or Residential, Curbside to Commercial or Residential.

For White Glove I am often asked what that includes, so here is directly from our guidelines:

“All Whiteglove Services Include: Inspection of piece at workroom before loading, packaging and/or blanketwrap, delivery to residential/commericial room of choice, light assembly (i.e. sectionals and bed assembly; Carriers are prohibited to attach/install any custom items to walls or foundation of the building/home for liability reasons) and debris removal.

Removal of existing furniture is available upon request for an additional fee.

Depending on the size/weight of a piece and if stairs are required for delivery, an Extra Man Fee may automatically be added to the shipping fee.”

Note, you are always welcome to book their own shipping with your preferred carrier as long as the shipper can inspect the piece bare, and package with their own materials/blankets prior to loading. However, when BuildLane books your order, another benefit is that if any issues do happen in transit, we pursue any potential claim on your behalf – saving you and your team a ton of time and communication with the carrier since we already have partnership agreements in place.

In Conclusion

That is Buildlane’s shipping process in a nutshell.

Like I said, we think about and try to improve everything about custom furniture. In fact, there are some shipping ideas we are currently building out right now, but that is for an article in the future…



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