How Much Lead Time is Ideal for Securing Bulk Shipping Capacity?

Posted on January 10, 2019 by Don Roberts

Have you ever called a popular restaurant trying to make a reservation for just a few hours later?  You’re typically not going to have a lot of luck.  Seating is likely already spoken for by people who had the foresight to book in advance. 

The same applies to bulk shipping (and any other type of shipping).  People who can book their loads in advance are going to have much more success securing capacity than those who need a truck “tomorrow.” 

It makes sense, but how much time are we talking about?  What does “in advance” mean when it comes to bulk freight?  Let’s find out. 

How far in advance is ideal for booking your bulk loads?

bulk shippingThe simple answer to this question is “as soon as you know about the load.”  In short, the more time the better.  Now, obviously, if you book a load for 2 weeks from now, the carrier isn’t going to really do anything on your behalf until it gets close to the loading date.  The padding of so many days, then, may seem pointless.

In this scarce tanker-truck-capacity climate, however, there’s no such thing as pointless.  By giving a carrier advance notice, securing capacity is much more likely.  Why?  Because you’re giving the carrier more time to plan.  If the carrier hasn’t yet built out its full schedule for two weeks from now, then it likely can include your load in its planning.  Conversely, if you call asking for capacity “tomorrow” when the schedule is finalized and all the trucks are spoken for, you won’t have much luck. 

Download the free eBook, 
Sourcing Bulk Freight Capacity: 7 Steps Shippers Can Take to Keep Their Supply Lines Moving

So, the more time the better.  We know, however, that most shippers don’t have tons of time (not weeks at least) to get their goods in motion.  So, what’s a reasonable amount of notice?  In our experience as a bulk shipping broker, you will have more success securing bulk capacity if you can give at least 5 business days of lead time.   

Again, we’re talking about “ideal” here.  As a freight broker that specializes in providing bulk carrier capacity, we regularly deal with short-notice requirements.  

There are exceptions

As with all things, there are exceptions.  If you require special equipment like fiberglass- or rubber-lined tanks to haul acids or other hazmat materials, for example, you’ll need to give your carrier (or broker) as much time as possible to source capacity.  There is much more limited availability of this equipment and a smaller pool of carriers that can handle it.  The same also applies if you require compartment tanks.

On the flip side, you can sometimes get lucky and secure relatively-last-minute capacity due to cancellations or if a carrier sees an opportunity for a backhaul.  

Flexibility is key

Putting specific numbers of days aside, your biggest asset in securing capacity can be your flexibility.  Carriers love to work with shippers that can roll with the punches and accommodate scheduling adjustments.   Your flexibility, then, can go a long way in making you a “shipper of choice” to carriers.  Ways for shippers to be flexible include:

  • Moving load up or back a day, if needed
  • Extending delivery windows – even night pickups and deliveries
  • Providing a secure parking lot that allows the driver to drop his tank and take his break during loading
  • Shipping on off-peak days when demand is lower

Lastly, you can use the old-fashioned method of talking to your carrier to plan your loads.  A simple phone call can get you both on the same page and ensure that both parties are happy with all aspects of the arrangement.  

The role of the freight broker in bulk shipping

Speaking of phone calls, a simple call to a bulk freight broker can eliminate a substantial amount of work and uncertainty for you.  Brokers often have very large networks of carriers that they work with on a regular basis.  They understand the lanes that each of those carriers serve, as well as their capacity and scheduling requirements.  So, a broker only needs a few minutes of your time to understand your load and is then able to take care of the rest – saving you the trouble of worrying about lead times and other logistical items.  To learn more about entrusting your loads to an expert bulk shipping broker, contact Bulk Connection today

New Call-to-action