Shipping containers (aka storage containers or cargo containers) are just what they sound like: big metal boxes specialized for holding cargo for shipment by flatbed truck, rail flatcar or ship. Shipping containers are especially handy for "intermodal" shipping wherein the goods inside must be moved among carriers — say, from a ship in port to a truck for final delivery — or when the goods must be stored at one or more points along the way. Containerized cargo can easily be moved by swinglift, hoist or even helicopter far faster than the goods within could be manually moved piece by piece; smaller containers can even be moved by forklift. And shipping and storing in locked containers protects your goods from theft or the damage than can occur in manual or forklift loading and unloading.
That said, shipping containers have a staggering array of uses. Some companies use them for convenient long-term storage in warehouses or on-site, while others build custom containers for use as makeshift utility sheds or even portable offices. Some folks have even converted storage containers into residences. Cargo containers come in four basic types, by design:
1. Dry cargo containers, useful for sheds, portable shops, portable offices, equipment storage, records/file storage, mini storage, warehousing, farm machinery/feed storage, maintenance buildings, welding shops, guard shacks, snack shops, and, of course, shipping.
2. Refrigerated shipping containers, useful for shipping and storage of refrigerated goods such as food or medicines. These are typically not self-powered; they need to be plugged into power during shipment and storage.
3. Insulated shipping containers, which can maintain an even temperature for a short period; best for quick trips during which power is not available for refrigeration.
4. Open-top cargo containers, used for heavy or over-height loads.
Here are the most effective solutions for container sales and leasing:
Choose shipping containers by size
What size shipping containers do you need? Although most are eight feet wide (a standard for easy loading on truck, train or ship), cargo containers come in varying lengths, up to about 54 feet long, and most are about eight feet high. How wide a door do you need in order to pass your cargo through it? Do you have cargo too tall to containerize, requiring one of the open-top containers?
Decide whether to buy, lease or hire your shipping containers
Should you buy, lease or hire (rent) your cargo containers? That's always a tricky question. The rule of thumb is that you should buy if you expect to need your shipping containers for more than two years.
Check out options for buying used containers
For budget-minded folk who plan to buy (not lease), used containers may fit the bill. As with anything else used, used containers may not have the fit, finish or durability of new ones, but sometimes the price is too good to ignore.
Customize shipping containers to meet your needs
You can buy shipping containers pre-customized for particular cargo needs or for use as offices, sheds and so on, or you can hire a company to build custom containers to your exact specifications.
Hire a logistics company to coordinate your cargo containers needs, shipping and more
If you are considering buying or leasing storage containers as part of a larger strategy of moving and storing goods, consider hiring a logistics consultant or third-party logistics (3PL) provider. They can help coordinate your shipping and storage needs, advise you on cargo containers and shipping, and help ensure that you are shipping and storing efficiently.
Accugistics, Chainalytics or The Progress Group to learn how they can help with your shipping and shipping container strategy.
- You can buy worn-out cargo containers cheap for use as dumpsters or fill boxes.
- Many vendors offer maintenance policies to keep your shipping containers in top condition and to replace them when necessary.
- It's sensible to try to buy your shipping containers locally; however, most containers dealers will deliver your containers from anywhere to anywhere.