“Happy Holidays to you and yours – and good luck being a shipper of choice again next year!”
While this may seem like an odd way to greet your fellow shippers this holiday season, it’s just as appropriate as it was a year ago. Because, while the capacity crunch continues to show signs of easing, it remains far from over. To operate effectively within this tight-capacity environment, you will need to continue to win favor among – and make your loads attractive to – the carriers with the capacity to haul your products.
Truck capacity climate heading into 2019
The economy is doing well and is projected to continue trending upward in 2019. This means that there is plenty of freight to be shipped. The problem remains that there aren’t enough trucks – or, rather, truck drivers – to handle the volumes. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. It’s easier to find a truck now at the end of 2018 than it was at the beginning of the year when the effects of the electronic logs mandate were starting to be felt. This improvement – or at least a return to some semblance of balance – is expected to continue into and throughout 2019.
Also expected to improve in 2019 are the rates. According to the latest numbers from FTR Associates, contract truckload rates are expected to remain about 15 percent higher than they were a year ago before dropping to 7-to-10 percent above the prior year in 2019. Spot rates – which at one point in 2018 climbed as high as 30 percent in comparison to 2017 – are also coming back down to earth.
So, looking to the new year, shippers can expect that capacity will be easier to find and at lower rates than in early 2018.
Becoming a shipper of choice
You might be saying, “easier than early 2018? That’s not saying much.” And you would be correct. While things are improving, they are still a far cry from what anyone in the industry would call normal. To shippers, “normal” means that carriers are vying to win your business. In this new environment, the opposite is true: carriers can be selective regarding the companies they haul for, and if you fall out of favor, you’re going to have an uphill climb sourcing capacity.
So, how do you win favor with carriers to become a “shipper of choice”? Start with the following.
Be Flexible. Perhaps no other single item will improve your standing with carriers as your ability to be flexible. Just about every carrier has a jam-packed schedule these days. The more flexible you are, the more likely the carrier can fit your loads into its schedule.
This doesn’t have to mean giving your carrier 24-hour load and unload windows, but can you extend your windows? Can you include night pickups and deliveries? Can you ship on off-peak days when the carrier can better accommodate you? Or, can you simply talk to your carrier to figure out what works best for both of you? This last item brings us to…
Communicate. Yes, something as old-fashioned as one-on-one communication can help you navigate these modern transportation challenges. A simple conversation can provide a shared solution for both you and your carrier’s needs. Even more importantly, it can help to foster a relationship that will help you secure capacity from the carrier in the future. Lastly, it can clear up – in minutes – potential issues that, if unknown, can result in huge wastes of time and money.
For example, have the specs at the consignee location changed since the last time your carrier was there? Let the carrier know. Shipping bulk chemicals? Be sure your transportation provider fully understands your product’s requirements, and work together to ensure that the appropriate equipment is used.
Be driver-friendly. To get carriers to want to work with you, have their drivers want to work with you. Are your facilities driver-friendly? Are instructions for loading and unloading clear and easy to understand? Are your loading and unloading areas safe and easy to reach? Are check-in windows manned? Are weigh scales available on-site or nearby? Is there a secure parking lot where a driver can drop his/her tank or trailer and take a break during loading/unloading? If not, well, these are good starting points to becoming a driver-friendly shipper.
Give lead time. When capacity is tight, carriers are not likely to accommodate last minute requests. So, plan ahead to the extent possible and give your carrier as much lead time as possible. If you can give your carrier a week or more notice, then you greatly improve your odds of being accommodated. This is especially true in and around New Jersey, Chicago, Texas and other major hubs. Such forward planning will also plant you firmly in the “easy to work with” category, which will go a long way in strengthening your relationship with your carrier.
Lean on freight brokers to facilitate carrier relationships
Whether you’re shipping your products via dry vans or bulk tanks and trailers, consider freight brokers as a key ingredient of your capacity-sourcing mix. Why? Because freight brokers have relationships with large networks of carriers – and access to the capacity those carriers can provide. So, forming a relationship with a freight broker is essentially like forming a relationship with dozens or even hundreds of carriers simultaneously (and its far less time consuming than forming each of those relationships yourself).
Best of all, freight brokers can fast track your “shipper of choice” status with carriers. Particularly with regard to bulk shipments, a broker that specializes in bulk freight understands the carrier’s operational needs and can make sure that your product is an appropriate match for the carrier’s capabilities – and vice versa – while handling every last detail of the shipment. To learn more about the benefits of having a freight broker in your corner in 2019 and beyond, contact Bulk Connection today.