Delivering military mess

Delivering military mess

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Online buyers of military surplus equipment close a deal with a few keystrokes but delivering the stuff is a different story. "It''s a logistics challenge to say the least," said Jim Bramlett, president and chief executive officer of FreightPro.

The Overland Park, Kan.-based third-party logistics company is the preferred provider of shipping services for Government Liquidation LLC, the enterprise that sells surplus military equipment for the U.S. Department of Defense. The auction company sells goods "as is, where is," and defers to specialists such as FreightPro on the delivery logistics.

The 3PL uses web-based technology to manage a network of providers for moving freight, usually LTL shipments of 50 pounds and above. Military surplus accounts for about 10 percent of revenue "but more from a time standpoint," said Bramlett.

"When we first got involved I thought it would be all fatigues, etc.," he said. Not so. FreightPro has handled equipment ranging from amphibious landing craft to ski boots.

There are plenty of complications when it comes to auctioned military hardware.

Getting access to the goods is one. After all, the products reside in military installations where security is an obvious issue. Some bases are remote while others "have limited access," he explained.

Scheduling a pickup can be tricky. For example, in some New Mexico locations "the nearest government liquidation employee is probably a couple of hundred miles away," and there may be a window of a few hours every few weeks when that person can be on site. Explaining that to a buyer is difficult; explaining that a missed appointment means a two-week delay is worse.

The complications can throw the logistics costs out of balance. "They are buying a surplus product, a bargain," he said, yet it is "not unusual for packaging and transportation costs to be more than what they purchased the product for."

Heavy military vehicles that do not run need special arrangements for loading on to trucks. Military sites also are not set up for weighing goods in a commercial environment, making the final dimensions largely a matter of guesswork.

The business is growing, giving FreightPro lots of experience in the odd shipping business. But Bramwell hopes it also means the buyers get more experienced. In this trade, he says, "it''s best to work with repeat buyers because they understand the drill."