After the Auction: Shipping Larger Items

First Published:
Date Published: 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Kevin Savetz

So, you just sold a Victorian writing desk, vending machine, or velvet Elvis painting in an online auction. Now, the question is this: How will you get it to the buyer? Shipping large items is especially challenging for auction sellers. Standard shippers such as UPS and FedEx won't handle those huge packages. Both companies limit packages to 150 pounds, with a combined length and girth of 130 inches.

What's the solution? Using a shipping company that specializes in moving large, unwieldy items.

Don't Be Shy

Let's face it: Some folks shy away from selling heavier items because they don't know that viable and cost-effective alternatives exist. Shipping with less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers is one such option for online auction sellers. These companies have equipment for both business and residential pickups and deliveries. Moreover, they also offer a range of online shipping tools.

"Customers have the ability to get a price quote, schedule a freight pickup, print shipping labels, and track their shipments, all via a Web site," said Chris Baltz of ABF Freight System.

Auction seller Mike Snider specializes in video games--large, heavy stand-up units like you'll find in an arcade--which he sells to collectors around the United States. He has tried many shipping services, and experienced a wide range of delivery speed and cost.

"Some of the companies around are Forward Air, Yellow Freight, and AAA Cooper." Snider has used all three shippers: "Forward Air is the cheapest, but you must crate the item yourself." Some shippers provide door-to-door pickup and delivery, while others are terminal-to-terminal, meaning that the buyer and seller must move the item to and from the shipper's warehouse. On average, it takes five days to ship an item anywhere in the United States, according to Snider.

Handle With Care

Crating an item--that is, installing it within an abuse-proof wooden box for shipping--needs to be done carefully. "I get a palette, and put cardboard around the base and top of the game, then wrap a sheet of cardboard around the whole game," said Snider. "Next I stretch-wrap it, then I get a refrigerator box and make a tight fit. Then I strap about 40 plastic banding strips around it. The process takes around an hour. I do it myself--that way I know it is done properly."

"I take a personal, hands-on approach to shipping," Snider continued. He says it pays to wrap, package, or crate the items yourself--or hire someone to do it--rather than relying on the shipper. If you let the shipping company package your item, according to Snider, "they don't pack with the same concern and care that you would." Of course, there are also sellers who take a hands-off approach to shipping and packaging, and would rather leave the details to someone else.

One other thing to consider here: For fragile or other specialized items it's smart to find a shipper that specializes in that type of product.

Wrap It Up

The alternative to crating is "blanket wrap," which involves wrapping the item in large, comfy blankets for its journey. Blanket wrapping can save money, according to Joseph Holahan, president of the Antique Transport Company, which specializes in shipping antique furniture.

"The crating cost is usually more than the actual freight costs," he said, adding that a crate shipper will handle all packages the same, "whether it's a crate of books or watermelons or antique furniture."

Holahan's company will pick up and wrap the item, deliver it, and set up furniture in its new home. He says the alternative is a crate shipper who will drop the crated item in your driveway, rain or shine, leaving the recipient to uncrate and move the item inside.

Marc Beaulac of antique furniture seller Stanley Weiss Associates said, "We prefer specialized fine art movers, who blanket wrap rather than crate large items, and have a single driver accompany the piece door-to-door. This way, things do not become anonymous crates in warehouses that can be mishandled by a mover who does not know the contents firsthand." An additional benefit of blanket-wrapped shipping is that "our clients are not obligated to handle the bulky and often difficult-to-open packing materials involved in other shipping methods," Beaulac said.

Shipping costs depend on many variables, including the size and weight of the item, the distance between pickup and delivery points, whether the product must be crated or wrapped by the shipper, and whether it is a terminal or door-to-door delivery. All shippers will provide a custom quote for moving the item.

Forward Air charges from $7 per 100 pounds for a short-distance delivery that can be made overnight, to about $29 per 100 pounds for a delivery from Los Angeles to New York (a delivery that will take about four days, according to the company). AAA Cooper, which specializes in deliveries in the East and South, could move a piece of 200-pound used furniture from Key West to Minneapolis for $305 in three days.

If possible, use a carrier that can pick up and deliver the package without handing it off to another shipper. This can result in a lower price, decreased transit time, and less abuse of the item during delivery.

Final Thoughts

Fort Smith, Arkansas-based ABF offers the following tips for shipping heavier items:

Articles by Kevin Savetz