Navigating rate cards, contracts, and commercial models for 3PL warehousing

Warehouses are a crucial link in the supply chain. Serving as hubs for storage, distribution, and fulfilment operations, warehouses play a vital role in the transport and logistics industry.

Often, warehouse services are outsourced to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider. So, for a manufacturer, product owner, or supply chain manager, finding the right 3PL partner for warehouse storage and services can be crucial to the success of your supply chain and meeting customer expectations.

Navigating the complexities of rate cards, contracts, and different commercial models can be overwhelming. Making informed decisions in these areas can significantly impact your operational efficiency and bottom line.

This article will help you understand these key elements of 3PL storage services agreements, empowering you to make informed decisions, choose the best 3PL solution for your requirements and have a successful partnership with your 3PL provider.

Woman on phone in a warehouse setting with laptop and paperwork in front of her, reviewing rate card and other data.

Understanding rate cards - Warehouse pricing guide

A rate card is a standardised document that outlines the pricing structure for various warehouse and distribution services offered by a 3PL (third party logistics) provider. It serves as the foundation for calculating costs and provides transparency in pricing for both parties involved. Here's what you need to know:

Breakdown of main services on a rate card

Storage fees - These are based on the amount of space your products occupy within the warehouse. Rates can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of storage (rack, bulk, or pallet), location within the warehouse (ambient, cold storage, hazardous materials, etc.), and the duration of storage.

Handling fees - Handling fees cover the costs associated with receiving, sorting, picking, packing, and shipping goods. This can include inbound and outbound handling charges.

Value-added services (VAS) - If you require additional services such as repackaging, quality checks, or customisation, the rate card should specify the associated costs for each value-added activity. It also includes services like labelling, kitting, and assembly.

Transportation costs - Some 3PL providers and warehouses offer transportation services or have partnerships with carriers. The rate card should detail the charges for transportation, whether it's for inbound materials or products, or for outbound shipments or customer deliveries.

Additional fees - Miscellaneous charges such as administrative fees, access fees, or special project fees should be clearly defined in the rate card.

Additionally, many 3PL providers offer discounts for long-term contracts, high volume, or bundled services. Negotiating these can lead to significant savings.

Be aware, some 3PL providers require a minimum monthly or annual spend to guarantee space in their warehouse. Also, the rate card should indicate how often you will be invoiced (e.g., weekly, monthly) and the payment terms. If this is not on the rate card, it should be included in the contract.

Key considerations when reviewing rate cards

Rates and rate cards should be transparent and easy to understand. You should ask for detailed breakdowns of each fee and ensure the rate card aligns with your anticipated storage needs.

It’s advisable to compare rates from multiple 3PL providers. Don't just go with the first offer you receive. Get quotes from several providers to compare pricing structures and find the best value for your budget.

Finally, don't be afraid to negotiate rates and fees, especially for long-term contracts or high-volume storage.

Example rate card
Example rate card document

Contracts - The legal framework

Once you've reviewed the rate card and are satisfied with the pricing structure for warehouse services, it's time to enter into a contractual agreement with the 3PL provider.

Remember, contracts are legally binding agreements that define the terms and conditions of your partnership with a 3PL provider. When reviewing a 3PL contract, pay close attention to these key elements:

  • Term - This defines the duration of the contract, whether it's a short-term agreement for a specific project or a long-term commitment. Long-term contracts may offer better pricing.
  • Service level agreements (SLAs) - These clearly outline the performance expectations and standards the 3PL provider must meet, such as order accuracy, delivery times, and inventory accuracy. Ensure these metrics align with your business needs.
  • Termination clauses - These specify the conditions under which either party can terminate the contract and the notice period required. Ensure you understand the terms for early termination. Flexible termination clauses can be crucial if your storage needs change.
  • Insurance and liability - Determines insurance requirements for both parties, including liability coverage and the handling of claims in case of loss or damage to goods.
  • Dispute resolution - The contract should specify how disputes between you and the 3PL will be resolved. Establish a clear process for resolving disputes, whether through negotiation, mediation, or arbitration, to avoid costly legal battles.
  • Confidentiality - If your operations involve sensitive information, include a confidentiality clause to protect your data and trade secrets.
  • Renewal options - Consider including options for contract renewal or renegotiation to adapt to changing business needs.
    One the blog: What to look for in a 3PL quote. Click this banner to read the article.

    Commercial models - finding the right fit

    When engaging with 3PL providers for warehouse services, choosing the right commercial model is crucial. The commercial model dictates how you will be invoiced and influences your financial relationship with the provider. Here’s an overview of the various commercial models typically used in Australia for 3PL warehouse service agreements, each with their own advantages and disadvantages:

    1. Transactional model

    In the transactional model, you pay for each transaction or service as it occurs. This includes costs for storage, handling, and any additional services provided. It is ideal for businesses with fluctuating storage and service needs.

    • Advantages:
      • Cost-control - You only pay for what you use, which can help manage expenses during low-demand periods.
      • No long-term commitment - Suitable for short-term projects or variable demand.
      • Scalability - Easily accommodates changes in your storage and service requirements.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Potentially higher costs - Can be more expensive over time if services are needed regularly.
      • Administrative complexity - Frequent invoicing and payments can increase administrative workload.

    2. Contractual model

    The contractual model involves a long-term agreement where you commit to a certain volume of storage or level of service over a specified period (generally multi-year) to secure better rates.

    • Advantages:
      • Cost savings - Often includes discounted rates due to the commitment.
      • Predictability - Provides stability in budgeting and planning.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Reduced flexibility - Difficult to adjust terms or exit the contract without penalties if your business needs change. May not be ideal if your storage needs change significantly.
      • Risk of over commitment - Committing to volumes that exceed your actual needs can result in unnecessary expenses.
    On the blog: 7 secrets to finding the right 3PL. Click this banner to read the article.

    3. Gainshare model

    In the gainshare model, both parties share the benefits of improved efficiency and cost savings. If the 3PL provider manages to reduce costs or enhance performance, the savings are split between you and the provider.

    • Advantages:
      • Aligned interests - Both parties work towards common goals, fostering collaboration and innovation.
      • Continuous improvement - Incentivises the 3PL provider to consistently seek ways to enhance service and reduce costs.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Complexity - Requires clear metrics and a robust method for calculating and sharing gains, to avoid potential disputes.
      • Dependency on provider performance - Savings depend on the provider's ability to improve operations.

    4. Cost-Plus model

    Under the cost-plus model, you pay the actual costs incurred by the 3PL provider for storage and services, plus a predetermined profit margin.

    • Advantages:
      • Transparency - Provides a clear understanding of actual costs and profit margins.
      • Fair pricing - Ensures the provider is compensated fairly while allowing visibility into cost structures, reducing the risk of hidden fees and unexpected charges.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Potential for cost increases - Costs can escalate if not properly managed. Without strong performance incentives, the 3PL provider might lack motivation to control costs.
      • Monitoring required - Need for diligent monitoring to ensure cost efficiency and prevent unnecessary expenditures.

    5. Fixed-price model

    In the fixed-price model, you pay a set fee for specific services regardless of actual usage or cost, and often includes a range of standard services.

    • Advantages:
      • Budget certainty - Simplifies budgeting with predictable costs.
      • Simplicity - One comprehensive fee covers most services, reducing administrative complexity.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Inflexibility - May not be cost-effective if your needs fluctuate, and adjusting the fixed fee agreement can be challenging if your needs change significantly.
      • Risk of over payment - If your usage is lower than expected, you might end up paying more than necessary.

    6. Hybrid model

    The hybrid model combines elements of different commercial models to tailor a solution that best fits your needs. For example, it might blend fixed rates for certain services with variable rates for others.

    • Advantages:
      • Customisation - Offers a tailored approach that can balance predictability and flexibility.
      • Optimised costs - Potential to achieve cost efficiencies by leveraging the best aspects of multiple models.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Complexity - Can be more complex to negotiate and manage.
      • Need for detailed agreements - Requires clear definitions and terms to avoid misunderstandings.

    Choosing the right commercial model for your 3PL warehouse service agreement in Australia depends on your business needs, volume predictability, and financial strategy. Whether you prefer the flexibility of a transactional model, the stability of a fixed fee, or the collaborative approach of a gainshare model, understanding these options will help you make an informed decision. At uTenant, we’re here to assist you in navigating these choices to find the perfect 3PL solution tailored to your specific requirements.

    Looking for a 3PL provider? uTenant has an extensive network of 3PL providers across Australia and New Zealand. We can find the right match for your business. Click here to submit your request.

    3PL storage models in contract logistics and warehousing

    There are a few storage solutions that 3PL providers offer, each with different characteristics. Understanding the difference between each will give you a more comprehensive picture of the 3PL warehouse landscape. Helping you make an informed decision and choose the most suitable 3PL solution for your business.

    • Dedicated warehouse - The 3PL provider’s entire warehouse facility is dedicated to the inventory of a single business. This offers more control over your inventory and storage environment, and is ideal for businesses with high-volume, predictable storage needs. It requires a long-term commitment (normally a minimum of 5 years), which may not be suitable for all businesses.
    • Multi-client (shared) warehouse - You share space with other businesses in the 3PL provider's facility. You might have fluctuating stock levels throughout the year, and shared warehousing allows you to scale up or down based on your current needs. This is a cost-effective option for businesses with less predictable or lower-volume storage requirements, however, it may limit your ability to customise the space and services.
    • Managed warehousing - The 3PL provider takes complete responsibility for managing your inventory, including receiving, picking, packing, and shipping. This is a good option for businesses that want to outsource their entire warehousing operation. The warehouse facility is either owned/leased by the 3PL provider or your own warehouse facility.
    • Bonded warehousing - This is a secure 3PL storage facility where imported goods can be stored without paying customs duties until they are sold or removed from the warehouse facility. Goods can be inspected and tested before duties are paid, however, you may pay higher storage costs due to increased security and regulatory requirements.

    The best approach for your business will depend on your specific needs. If you require a high level of control and have predictable storage requirements, dedicated warehousing might be the way to go. However, if you need a more flexible and cost-effective solution, shared warehousing or public warehousing could be better options. Managed warehousing is ideal for businesses that want to completely outsource their warehousing needs.

    Additional tips for navigating rate cards, contracts, and commercial models

    • Ask questions - Don't hesitate to ask the 3PL provider any questions you have about the rate card, contract, or service offering.
    • Get references - Ask for references from other businesses that use the 3PL provider to get their feedback on service quality and reliability.
    • Consider your long-term needs - Choose a 3PL partner that can accommodate your future growth and adapt to changing requirements.
    On the blog: Leverage your supply chain for a better customer experience. Click this banner to read the article.

    Australian market in perspective

    In the context of the Australian market, rate cards, contracts, and commercial models for warehouses take on a unique dimension. Australia's vast geography and diverse industries create a dynamic landscape for warehousing and logistics.

    The market is influenced by factors such as the country's extensive coastline, necessitating specialised warehousing for import and export activities, as well as the need for climate-controlled storage solutions due to the extreme weather conditions in certain regions.

    Navigating rate cards, contracts, and commercial models for warehouses can be a complex process, but it's essential for establishing a successful and cost-effective partnership. Carefully reviewing rate cards, negotiating favourable contract terms, and choosing the right commercial model can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship that supports your logistics and supply chain goals.

    Additionally, with a growing e-commerce sector and an emphasis on sustainability, Australian businesses are increasingly seeking 3PL providers that offer not only cost-effective warehousing solutions but also environmentally friendly practices.

    3PL providers offer significant cost savings and valuable services for e-commerce businesses, manufacturers and importers. From warehouse storage to pick and pack, these providers can enhance efficiency and reduce expenses. It's crucial to understand the costs associated with 3PL providers before making an informed decision about their suitability for your operations. If you're looking for a 3PL warehousing solution, enter your requirements on the uTenant platform to find pre-vetted partners that match your needs.


    By understanding rate cards, commercial models, and key contractual clauses, you can make informed decisions when choosing a 3PL warehouse storage solution. Remember to compare offers, negotiate terms, and ask questions to ensure you find the right partner for your business needs.

    5-star Google review from AMES Australia: "uTenant were able to source a suitable provider for my needs very quickly, and at a competitive price. Recommend!"

    Published: 5 June 2024