The Incredible Adventures of
2500 Christmas Trees
from China to Moscow
We are engaged in marketing and sales development, and it would seem that we are only poking around in our landing pages, ads, social networks and advertising ... But no!

What I really love this job for is that we have to immerse ourselves in the client's business and, together with this, whether we want it or not, we have to find out a bunch of specifics in which our client cooks.

Often this specificity is not very pleasant, but it's terribly interesting!
Jack of all trades, master of none
Spoiler: Next comes The "long read". If you are too lazy to delve into that, you can skip to the resume.
Today I will tell you an interesting case that happened to our client when we prepared their marketing campaign. The client is a worldwide known manufacturer of FMCG oral hygiene products. Their products are sold virtually everywhere. I bet there is their toothbrush or toothpaste in your bathroom. Due to the signed NDA, we cannot give out more details.

In spring 2019 we began working with them to prepare the launch of the new toothpaste brand on the Russian market. Let's call it "UltraTooth Pearl Whiteness".

A huge marketing campaign was planned for early December, just before the New Year 2020.
Heading into the 2020 with a Hollywood snow-white smile, so to speak :)
D'you think the story is about a toothpaste and what does logistics have to do with it? Ha, here it comes! Read on.
As a main attention catcher to the new toothpaste in the retail stores we decided to make small artificial christmas trees. But not the ordinary green ones, but white-pink and of a certain small size.

After extensive search for suppliers of such merchandise in Russia we came to the conclusion that no one would be able to supply us as much of them we needed. Ordering in China would be the only right decision.

We had plenty of time (back then in April 2019). We started looking for a suitable supplier together with the responsible contact from our Customer. Meet Julia, Client's marketer.

In May 2019, a production order for Christmas trees was placed. On June 1st, boxes with our 2 500 white-pink mini-Christmas trees were ready at the manufacturer's warehouse in Zhejiang. This volume fit perfectly into a 40-foot high-cube container, and even a little space remained.

Given traditional 2-3 months transportation ETA our Christmas trees were supposed to arrive in Moscow no later than September 1st.
No signs of trouble...
Another important thing to mention: Julia told me, their Financial Dept. persisted on the cost of delivery (like tax authorities - main task to give back as little money as possible :). Julia had to knock out every penny for our marketing campaign.

"Find the cheapest Chinese supplier and freight forwarder, the budget of the marketing campaign has no excess money. There is no money for express delivery with a magical yellow-red plane," was the eternal argument that Julia heard from them.

Since we began to deal with everything much in advance, there was no urgency and need to send the container by plane. On the client's side, Julia dealt with all the nuances, so I learned all the heat first-hand.

Julia began looking for a carrier to deliver our precious white-pink winter beauties to Moscow. After delivery we planned to distribute them in advance with other advertising materials among the retail chains of the gigantic "Mother Russia".
Having carefully googled the Internet, Julia requested quotes from about 20 different carriers, that claimed to deliver cargo from China to Russia.
Wonders were not long to come :)
Most of the answers were with numerous typos. Normal English? Seemed the guys did not even try to use Google Translate! Moreover, some replies were from free mail services such as Gmail or Yahoo. Julia crossed those suppliers right away.

A few more "shipping" companies were eliminated after they requested payment only via PayPal or WeChat. It seemed suspicious. If it's a normal business having a nice website and then they ask you to "throw money to PP"? No invoice, no contract...What?! ...
Fling some bucks to PayPal of our SUPER CORPORATION
Several sites turned out to be scammers: three-page websites with stock photos, without contact phones, without company's office address, unsafe connection without SSL certificate. But what a surprise - everywhere they had the credit card payment form!
Being stupid can be expensive
By a finger's breadth by June 15th, Julia had a list of 5 Chinese freight forwarders who passed the checks and were ready to deliver a container from China to Moscow.
The difference in price was quite an abyss
1000 dollars for all! Will you show the road?
Carrier "I drive for 1000"
1500 USD! Horses with wagons - here they come!
Freight forwarder for $1500
$2200 for "worry-free service - door to door"
"Some Name Shipping" Carrier
$2980 with a clause that Julia agrees to become a "success-story" case after successful delivery
Freight forwarder with little experience
$3300. Period.
Carrier who does not give AF with the highest price
Because Julia's costs should be agreed with the financiers, she showed them all the offers. Financiers insisted on choosing the cheapest. But really, why overpay 3 times !?

We started working with the cheapest - the company "I drive for 1000".

For a week Julia could not receive the final offer with all transportation costs and the contract. Moreover, the Chinese manufacturer of Christmas trees called Julia himself and refused to work with "I drive for 1000". According to a Chinese manufacturer, this carrier was kinda suspicious and "asked for odd things about loading boxes into the truck."

As a result, they were afraid that nothing would reach us at all.
Some oddities loading the boxes
It was already July 1st. We lost time, went further on down the list.
The communications with "$1500 freight forwarder" were fine, but for some reason they said they want truck the goods first to Guangzhou instead of shipping via Ningbo Port (this is a completely different part of China for a minute!) and then ship the container by sea to St. Petersburg. They also insisted on passing the boxes over to them without signing any documents.

Our Chinese factory refused to take responsibility for such shipment. There was a suspicion that either "$1500 freight forwarder" would eventually not load the container fully or even worse, the scam. Julia had a feeling that it could be possible to lose the whole valuable cargo (total $ 25,000 value!). Why such risks?

Julia refused this freight forwarder.
We know the shortcut!
Calendar showed July 10th. Next!
Another freight forwarder with the sound name "Some Name Shipping" quickly provided a quote and a contract for the container delivery from China to Moscow for $ 2,200. They quickly invoiced a prepayment of 20% too.

Julia did not find any negative reviews about them on the Internet. But any positive review too.

According to the quote, everything was included in it - "full worry-free service - door to door from China to Moscow with customs clearance included."

The only weirdness was that "Some Name Shipping" stated in the contract the delivery time of 3 months instead of regular 2. However, they vocally promised to deliver everything to Moscow in 2 months. As per Julia's estimate even if the cargo arrives to Moscow on October 10th at latest, we will be just fine on our schedule to complete the campaign preps comfortably.

Moreover, Henry from "Some Name Shipping" offered a bonus - free stretch wrapping of pallets inside the container. As he said containers sometimes can fall off the crane or hit another container while port loading. So wrapping would help to prevent our goods inside the container from being "Shaken, not stirred" like James Bond's Martini. Henry assured all the pallets will be wrapped with special film and secured inside the container. Well, really, what will happen to these plastic artificial Christmas trees?

Henry's care inspired Julia's confidence in this company. Although, as we later learned if a container falls, no film will help ...
"Here he is — the perfect man freight forwarder!", Julia thought.
In the beginning everything was quite fine, the container delivery went according to a longer scenario. "Some Name Shipping" explained that since they gave us a super-favorable tariff, they sent it via a longer route. We were in no hurry and ready to calmly wait for 3 months instead of the usual 1,5-2.

At the end of September (after 2.5 months), our container arrived at the transshipment port - Hamburg. So we were already off the schedule. Guess what was next? A surprise. Again.
Here we go again...
To reach St.Petersburg along the Baltic Sea our container should have been reloaded from a cyclopean oceanic vessel to a smaller vessel (popularly referred to by logisticians as a "feeder").

"Some Name Shipping" emailed Julia that an oceanic vessel came to one terminal and a dwarf feeder had to depart from another terminal. Our container had to be transported to another terminal.

For this "Some Name Shipping" promptly billed us an additional $300 and asked to pay. Allegedly it was not their fault.

How would you feel about that? Obviously not a gentleman's act. These costs were not included in Julia's budget, so it took her a couple of days to coordinate these costs with financiers. While approval was underway, the container stood in the port. "Some Name Shipping" invoiced Julia another $150 for those 4 days storage in the port of Hamburg. Julia's financiers reluctantly agreed to pay. Well, what else was to be done? Christmas trees are needed, damn it.
Pay again, my dear!
One must give Julia credit that as soon as the problems with "Some Name Shipping" began in Hamburg, she got the sensible idea to limit their services by delivering the container to St.Petersburg and find another freight forwarder to clear the customs formalities and deliver the goods to Moscow.

Knowing that in Russia "everything is not as usual" and if "Some Name Shipping" failed to perform normally in Europe, then what will they do in Russia?

As a result, Julia asked around friends and colleagues to recommend a decent carrier. So that's how she found a carrier with European roots and own offices in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Let's call them EUROTRANS (as not to advertise anyone here).
Oh that "unusual" Russia
In mid-October, the container was approaching the port of St. Petersburg, Julia notified "Some Name Shipping" that their transportation was ending in St. Petersburg, reasonably motivating it with the incident in Hamburg.

For customs clearance and acceptance for further transshipment to the truck all documents were required - Bill of Lading, Cargo Manifest, paid container shipping line bills, Release Warrant.

"Some Name Shipping" refused to provide the Bill of Lading until all their invoices are paid.
Normal business practice?!
Instead of the original $ 2,200 quote the carrier billed as much as $ 3,125:
Initial rate for transportation from China to Moscow
$ 2 200
Transshipment in Hamburg
$ 300
Container storage in the port of Hamburg (4 days)
$ 150
Attention! Container return fee!
$ 200
And absolute arrogance! "Some Name Shipping" demanded to pay the penalty. They said WE were guilty of confusion in Hamburg.
$ 275
$ 3 125
Comparing to the initial quotes even the most expensive offer from "Carrier who does not give AF" was already cheaper. And the delivery was not to the final point in Moscow.

But the biggest frustration was that "Some Name Shipping" refused to provide the Bill of Lading, and without it Julia could not get the container.

We were literally taken hostage: either money, or you won't get your container. And every day the storage of a container in St. Petersburg Port at a customs warehouse also costed us money!
To say that Julia was furious is to say nothing!
After many negotiations, nervous emails and calls with "Some Name Shipping", Julia together with the guys from EUROTRANS, managed to remove the Hamburg storage and penalty from the final invoice. They managed also to reduce the main rate, because transportation was not provided in full (no St.Petersburg to Moscow route segment and no customs clearance).

Finally, "Some Name Shipping" services cost was decreased to $1950. Julia's finance department paid the final bill.

"Some Name Shipping" released the original Bill of Lading, and EUROTRANS customs broker took up the customs clearance of the container.

Julia and I were already thinking, "Finally! Now the customs will release the goods, they will load our Christmas trees in a truck and bring them to Moscow."
It's brand new crap all over again.
Remember the myth of the Trojan Horse? So Some Name Shipping gave us just such a surprise.

When the customs opened the container, in addition to our Christmas trees, there were 3 more cheap Chinese children's bicycles in the container.

It is still not clear why "Some Name Shipping" put them there but for the Russian customs this was enough to detain the WHOLE container and tell us that it was smuggling!
Smugglers captured!
Now our Client, a worldwide known toothpaste manufacturer, has also become a malicious smuggler!

Just from such an innocent delivery of Christmas trees from China we managed to plunge into blackmail with extortion, with the actual capture of our cargo by the carrier and into smuggling! JACKPOT!

The guys from EUROTRANS got actively involved in solving our problems with customs. They reassured Julia that such cases occur when the actual cargo in the container does not 100% coincide with the one in the documents.

But no one was ready for another aspect...
Now really welcome to Russia!
Our Client imports all products to Russia via their local distributors. Our Christmas trees were also documentarily issued for the legal entity of one local Russian distributor.

Since our Christmas trees were essentially not a product that the distributor sells, but only internal supplies for the marketing campaign, the distributor also decided to save. Julia did not know about that.

The local distributor assigned this cargo to a "technical" company that was in the process of bankruptcy. Due to one month delivery delay the bank account of this "technical" company was already closed. But the customs clearance fees to Russian officials had to be pay officially from the bank account of the cargo importer.

How to officially pay the fee if the company already has no current accounts?
Mission impossible
EUROTRANS knowledge and "magic" (as they later called it) arranged a Customs release for our Christmas trees.

A due trubute must be paid to local distributor, as they actively dealt with the problem together with EUROTRANS and found some way out.

But it's all the time, Julia's nerves, money ... We still don't understand why Some Name Shipping put these children's bicycles in our container. Maybe they wanted to earn money and send someone else's cargo in our container?

Customs confiscated the bicycles. Probably customs officials' children received a good New Year gift :)
And, remember "Some Name Shipping" promised Julia a bonus to carefully pack the pallets in a container? You already understand how everything really happened :)

Of course, "Some Name Shipping" did not pack anything, all pallets scattered into a complete vinaigrette in the container.

We then had to throw out approximately 3% of the Christmas trees. Loss of approximately $750... Pennies... but remember the difference between "Some Name Shipping" and other more expensive freight forwarders?

A popular old saying: "The avaricious pays twice." And he did pay twice indeed.
FINISH! YAAAAY!!! Half dead though :)
the usual transportation may still be some kind of unusual!
Choose normal reliable partners! Do not overly save! It may come out to be muuuuuch more expensive! And you will wait for your "Christmas trees" for a very long time, and maybe you won't get them at all.

One must also bear in mind that the case was with Russia and its nuances. Therefore it is better to choose a freight forwarder that works every day in Russian realities, understands how everything happens there, is ready to take on the solution of "non-standard situations", and knows "the local magic".
Julia has shared with us a detailed action plan she made for herself. As she said it helps her know to choose the right freight forwarder and avoid scammers. As a bonus she also included her 15 Quick Checks Strainer List.

So finding and choosing normal freight forwarder can be a breeze.
Use it for your comfort for free!

Julia's Action Plan & 15 Quick Checks List!

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Julia's afterword:
After overcoming all that hard times I thought it might be really helpful to share this knowledge with the people who would face the same "easy task" to get their cargo delivered to Russia safe and sound.

Thanks God, we met great people along that journey! They taught me lots of tiny details that made our marketing xmas trees finally arrive to Moscow. I must say we were lucky!
So once you decide to ship the cargo to Russia my check list can be a useful side material for you! I really want you to reach the finish line easily and comfortably – without all that overhead and troubles I had to face!

Julia E.
Marketing Manager, PRSG Customer
Here is a story about toothpaste and Christmas trees. By the way, we still managed to fulfill our obligations to the Client on time. Met the deadlines and successfully launched the campaign.

Y2020 began with a snow-white smile for Russians :)

If you liked our story, share it with your friends and colleagues and come over from time to time to our Blog. We will be writing up some more good stuff!