These forwarders are immensely knowledgeable. Most have worked for the multinationals at one time or another, but now specialise, as well as taking general cargo when they have to. And there is, not surprisingly, a suspicion of the multinationals, which are accused of failing to offer decent customer service and expertise. You get the feeling that at this end of the spectrum, relationships are far more important than anywhere else in the industry. Trust is critical for the forwarder partnerships -and the speed-dating style of the WCA gatherings relies on their ability to make a call on a partner based on instincts. “We all work on hunches,” said one. “We sometimes get it wrong – and 90% of the time you don’t meet the right people, but it’s that 10% you do that is important.”
The old WCA hands say the meetings are really about developing existing relationships. There is a certain fear about newer members, many of which are from China and India.
It all sounded a bit condescending and snooty, but that isn’t quite fair. One German forwarder explained: “We spend a lot of money to come here to Bangkok – and the Americans even more. And we get offered the office junior, who has done no research on our business and has no decision-making powers. It’s rude not even to send the boss.”
Another added: “You don’t make business decisions based on a company presentation and a brochure. You make them based on the personality of the senior executives, and whether you will get on and understand each other well.”
The number of brochures and business cards, mostly from China, strewn over each and every desk, spoke volumes. Another European forwarder said: “Business is risky at the moment. If you do a deal with a forwarder who is not in the WCA, you very often don’t get paid by companies in the emerging market – they simply disappear. Many don’t see it as a long term business opportunity, but as a short term buck.”
Even within the financially protected WCA Family the short term buck problem remains to an extent. “You simply are not going to do much business with a company who has invested nothing more into it than some printed material. This is about people and relationship building.”
Nevertheless, judging by the noise of 1,450 forwarders having 60,000 meetings over three days, and then the noise of 1,450 forwarders drinking, there was certainly a lot of relationship building going on. And they are at it all weekend. Good luck to them. They are a good bunch of people, and deserve to be better recognised by the wider logistics industry.