SVG Sit-Down: Rock-It Cargo’s Brian Roberts on Challenges and the Future in Freight-Forwarding

Regulations on transporting lithium batteries raise issues in shipping broadcast gear

With a lineage that stretches back nearly four decades, Rock-It Cargo has plenty of experience in freight-forwarding and logistics for events. The industry has faced a number of challenges lately, and Brian Roberts, VP, business development, recently discussed Rock-It Cargo’s role in the business, its aspirations, and its plans.

Your team serves a variety of industries and offers a number of services. What do you see as some of your strengths in the marketplace?
Rock-it Cargo is not a traditional freight-forwarder. In fact, we do zero supply-chain freight shipments and [have specialized] solely in live-event freight for 39 years, so our services are uniquely tailored to live-event needs. Our services that specifically address the needs of the sports-broadcasting industry are logistics planning, specialized customs brokerage, a global network, and single point of contact.

For logistics planning, we determine the most cost-effective shipping option that meets the time-sensitive schedules of sports teams, equipment vendors, sponsors, and broadcasters. And we have customs-brokerage and carnet teams internal to our organization. We don’t depend on outside resources to handle clearances, so we can control and expedite shipments as needed.

With respect to our global network, with owned offices in Australia, Japan, China, Europe, and South and Central America and over 100 agents around the globe, we can service freight going literally anywhere. This network is live-event–experienced, so they know how to handle sports shipments.

Lastly, unlike many logistics companies that pass their customers from department to department, Rock-It Cargo assigns one account manager that knows exactly where the customer’s freight is at all times.

There are a number of challenges facing those looking to ship broadcast equipment, most notably issues around the shipment of lithium batteries. What are your thoughts on the current state of regulations with respect to shipping batteries, and are you concerned that legislation might adversely impact the industry?
While we have concerns regarding upcoming changes, we also understand the need for safe air travel and, in turn, the safe travel of the equipment we transport worldwide. Companies who specialize solely in the transportation of lithium batteries will feel the regulatory changes more acutely. We are a solution-based company and will always find a way to transport for our clients in the safest and most effective manner. One of our priorities here at Rock-It is to keep ourselves well-informed on the current and projected legislative actions considered regarding the movement of lithium batteries. We actually have staff on hand whose main focus is to meet this need for our clients. The key factor is to keep informed and plan.

Some people still believe they can handle shipping themselves. What do you see as the advantage of working with a company like Rock-It Cargo?
It’s understandable for a company to think they can do it themselves, particularly for small shipments between major cities. But it only takes one failure in the time-sensitive sports industry to demonstrate how complex shipping can be. Rock-it Cargo is experienced and knows where the pitfalls are.

For example, each country has its own specifications on how freight manifests and customs documents need to be prepared. If they are filled out incorrectly, the freight will get delayed. And, unknown to customers, many shipments are transshipped through an intermediate point, and this adds additional risk of failure. RIC chooses direct lanes and monitors shipments every step of the way. And, because we do not own the trucks, planes, vessels we ship on, we aren’t limited to our own assets and can choose the ones that are best-suited for the shipment, saving time and money for our customers.

Are there any trends that you see among your clients in terms of the kind of things they are shipping (for example, more flypacks) and the size and scale of the gear they are moving from point A to point B?
We wouldn’t quantify industry trends so much in terms of the product they are shipping but more as service expectations of the logistics chain. Although technology has allowed broadcasters to ship lighter and smaller equipment, event requirements are still the same (RF, LitON, scenic, hospitality product, etc.). Hence, locational influences remain a core part of the shipping requirements.

What we have started to see more of is how our clients start to work around the supply chain to find creative and economical ways to bring freight in. We already see companies shipping assets from country to country in advance of an event to help offset rush airfreight costs by conversion to advance ocean bookings. We see some planning with broadcasters to try to get shipments in via ocean (USA-Europe, for example) as transit times for shorter leg segments decrease significantly on ocean freight moves.

What we still have not seen from most of our clients is the ability to manage a lot of the processes when it comes to packing, classification, and document-processing. The ability to assist clients in these is key.

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