By Matt Fyten, Operations Manager, ALC San Francisco
Everyone is familiar with the phone call, the Monday after a hectic holiday pull, “Hey it’s Never There Trucking, remember me? I have four empty reefer teams ready to go anywhere, can you help me out?”
As brokers, we have to make a choice on which carriers we give our business to in an effort to support our customers. While it might be tempting to give our business to that truck that is ready to haul our loads at a low rate, experienced brokers know that is not always the best long term solution.
What about the carriers that gave you trucks all year and even took on extra loads during that holiday? Are we really going to pass on those options for a truck even if it’s 100 dollars cheaper? These are the questions that are fiercely debated among brokers every day. Managing a carrier’s load volume as well as their relationship expectations has never been more important as we navigate this time of uncertainty.
The largest challenge for produce transportation brokers was that midway through 2020 dry van rates surpassed refrigerated truck rates. There is significantly less liability for a carrier to haul a dry van load compared to a refrigerated load. Refrigerated trucks hauling fresh produce know that they are going to get paid more money because they must wait for extended periods of time to get loaded, use more fuel in their reefer units, maintain a continuous cold chain, and are dealing with a product that has a short expiration date.
We spoke to one of our carriers who stated, “we are getting over $3.50 a mile, having zero claims with flexible loading and delivery dates, along with being able to use 80% of my reefers without having to buy new equipment made dry a profitable option for us.”
They know any breakdown or issue could cause a very expensive problem, constricting an already volatile truck market as our country was entering various stages of pandemic responses.
The rate discrepancy has made many refrigerated trucks that specialize in produce hesitant to commit to a year-long contract rate in 2021. I reached out to some of our highest volume carriers to get their thoughts on the upcoming year. Another of our larger carriers stated that contracts this year are “very risky and a gamble he is not willing to take.”
One solution is to work out mini contracts. These are locked in rates that can last for six months, a season, a month, or even a week. Having carriers sign up for programs like our own RIGS, will ensure we keep their trucks loading with ALC. Carriers take comfort in knowing that a single company can provide them round trips and they don’t need to search the load boards for freight. That same carrier also informed us that they avoid the posting boards because in times like this they need to be assured that they will receive payment from a reputable company like ALC.
Coming off of a very challenging year in 2020 it might be tempting to give business to the less expensive truck that shows up as the market softens. Last year showed us a market shift can come at any moment not just during the summer months or before the holidays. We have to treat carrier relationships like a long-term investment and continue to educate our carriers on the value of repeat business with ALC.
Matt Fyten joined the Allen Lund Company in August of 2014 as a broker in training. Over the years he has held the roles of broker, senior broker and now Operations Manager in the San Francisco office. Matt holds a degree in Liberal Studies from San Francisco State University and has 12 years of experience in sales/customer relations.