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Fleets, big and small, can work together harmoniously

One of the most infamous and deadliest feuds in history pitted the Hatfields against the McCoys. Although an official truce was declared in 2003, the actual feud commenced more than 100 years prior, and only lasted a little over 20 years.


One of the most infamous and deadliest feuds in history pitted the Hatfields against the McCoys. Although an official truce was declared in 2003, the actual feud commenced more than 100 years prior, and only lasted a little over 20 years.

Here in the trucking industry, we have an unspoken feud that exists today and has lasted much longer. This feud is still ongoing, but thankfully it has not yet resulted in bloodshed – at least not as far as we are aware.

I speak of the angry, bitter, unending animosity that exists between many small and large trucking companies.

Large companies tend to view their smaller counterparts like a teenager views a younger sibling; just a pesky little jerk that is always underfoot. Smaller carriers view their ‘big brothers’ as an arrogant bully; one who either makes up their own rules or influences others to change them on their behalf.

Perhaps there is a shred of truth to both these assertions, if we are all open-minded enough to admit it. But there are also examples of how we can peacefully co-exist and even support each other.

As a small carrier, I will take the first hit in this debate. If you own 20 trucks or less, do not, in my advice, give in to the temptation to bid on that juicy, multi-truck contract you’ve learned about.

First, you will not be able to handle such an upswing in freight volume and commitment. Lending institutions are legendarily ungenerous with trucking companies, particularly small ones. If by some miracle, you are able to acquire funding, who will drive your shiny new equipment?

The large carriers have full-time, aggressive recruiters, who struggle to fill seats despite their resources. As a small operation, you simply cannot compete with that level of determination. If you jump through all these hurdles and land the contract, get ready for a world of financial hurt.

Most large contracts – especially if they are with a multi-national company – come with 90-120 day payment terms, which you, frankly, can’t afford. If you do attain such a contract and fail from a service standpoint, rest assured that this opportunity will never come your way again. If this contract causes you to fail financially, you have not only lost this job, but everything you have worked for to this point.

Conversely, large carriers should avoid dealing with the smaller shippers; the ones that need a couple trucks per week. Such customers usually require a more personalized service, preferably with the same small driver pool, neither of which you, as a large carrier, can readily provide.

Familiarity with the handling of the freight is generally of far greater importance to a small shipper, which is much easier to attain with a smaller driver group. A small carrier can excel in this situation, with drivers and shippers operating on a first name basis, where the large, diversified carrier generally cannot.

If we are ever to co-exist in some form of harmony, it will require everyone to realize their strengths and weaknesses, and stay within the accompanying boundaries. Co-operation will always ultimately be more successful than defiance for everyone involved.

A prime example of this, at least in the freight boom years of the late 90s and early 2000s, was MacKinnon Transport. Rather than try to flatten any small carrier that was borne of a prior owner/operator, MacKinnon chose the co-operative route.

With plenty of extra freight to offer, MacKinnon took a number of small carriers under its wings. As long as you were timely and reliable, ran good equipment and had good customer service skills, you were welcome to participate in their success either occasionally or regularly. (Try backdooring them or delivering late or damaged freight though, and you were gone, as it should be).

Accepting outbound freight from their dispatch team was always met with an offer to load you home as well, if needed. Advice, often unsolicited, was plentiful, including how to structure freight rates with your own customers, which lanes to avoid, which lanes to strive for and how to spec’ equipment.

Although there was a fair amount of mutual trust involved – which entails some risk these days – the system worked well for both parties. MacKinnon, for its part, gained a Rolodex full of reliable, loyal, sub-contractors, who were now better equipped to be successful in the industry.

The small carriers, besides gaining a new source of available freight travelling all directions, and being paid on a regular schedule, had probably picked up half a lifetime of industry knowledge in a very short time. So good was this relationship, that several small carriers over the years have eventually devoted their equipment entirely to MacKinnon Transport, operating either under their own name, or flying the MacKinnon banner.

This is a stellar example of how we can all get along and thrive together. Unfortunately, this is a very rare example of the way we could all succeed, with maturity and co-operation.

– Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy currently own and operate Parks Transportation, a four-truck flatdeck trucking company. The company was founded in 1999 with a 20-year-old truck, rented flatbed trailer and a big dream. Bill can be reached at
williamcameron.bc@gmail.com.


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