When the owner of a small carrier reads the many printed quotes from CEOs or managers of large competitors, it may appear that nothing they have to say has any effect on your own operation.
After years of battling “the big guys,” predominantly over rates and recruiting issues, you start to believe that you have nothing in common with them, besides the fact that you, like them, rely on trucks to make a living.
As in every other aspect of your business, the devil is in the details. Read everything, because occasionally, you will read or hear something that will make a light come on.
One of the phrases thrown around is “networking.” As a one- or two-truck outfit, it is easy to assume this is another term that doesn’t apply to you. On the contrary, it applies to you even more than it does to the big carriers.
Are you paying a third-party to process your customs paperwork or fuel tax submissions? Probably. You also likely depend on someone to do at least part of your dispatching, because with one or two trucks, a full-time dispatcher is not feasible.
Find another small carrier to work with, preferably with 10 or fewer trucks. A company this size will already have sufficient staff to take care of the aforementioned tasks, but will likely still have time to handle a little extra work.
If this is a carrier that you can work with, they may be able to assist with these activities inexpensively because the staff is already there, but underutilized.
Although it can be incredibly difficult to find anyone trustworthy to deal with these days, eventually you can find other one- or two-truck operators who may share your customer service standard and are willing to work co-operatively for the greater good of all involved.
Form a casual “partnership” with these people. Your principle drawback, in the eyes of your customers, is your lack of available equipment.
This can change in a heartbeat, simply by networking.
Next to unreliable service, one of the quickest ways to lose your good customers is to not be able to keep up with their needs.
If they need to call in a larger carrier more than occasionally to handle freight volume upswings, they will continue to call the large carrier for everything.
Affiliate yourself with other small carriers and you will then be able to handle those upswings, without hiring more equipment that may be underutilized the rest of the time.
During your slow periods, your new partner carrier may use your services in the same manner.
As long as everyone stays on the same page in terms of reliability and service, with similar attitudes towards customer service, everybody wins.
The extra, and maybe equally important aspect to collaborating with other small carriers is the diversity of equipment being offered, and geographical areas to be serviced.
In our own experience, we and the other small carriers we deal with need a much smaller equipment inventory.
Although each of us primarily deal in flatbed work, there are still variances in equipment requirements that, due to our working relationships, can now be dealt with much easier.
Everyone has their favourites, whether it is equipment, areas of travel, or the commodity hauled. One of our “associates” prefers to haul steel, while the rest of us need to be dragged kicking and screaming into a steel mill.
Another small carrier prefers running west; their road atlas ends east of I-81, while the rest of us run 90% of our miles east of Ohio. One carrier we work with has B-trains, while none of the others do. One carrier has a van that no one else has.
Two others have step decks, and are plated for Western Canada and the Maritimes – again, something the rest of us can’t lay claim to. Occasionally, we will actually trade loads moving at the same time, so that each of our drivers are able to travel where they are most comfortable, creating a happier workforce and reducing the likelihood of turnover.
Individually, we all have some very serious limitations related to equipment, and where we prefer to travel.
Together as a group, we can handle any load, to nearly every corner of the continent.
We’ve been fortunate enough to become affiliated with each other through networking and as a result, we can take care of all of our customers, with any equipment, just as well as any large carrier.
And by remaining small, we still retain the level of personal service that only small carriers can provide.
Just by working co-operatively with other carriers, we can be “king” of our own little domain, with a minimal equipment investment, travelling where we want to, while still serving our customers. Who loses?