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Small carriers can leverage customer relationships, agility for success

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Small carriers can leverage customer relationships, agility for success

Small carriers have the advantage of close relationships with customers and agility in the industry that can be leveraged against current soft market conditions.

Customers are not calling an 800-number and waiting in line for the next available service agent. “You are calling a dispatcher you talk to every week and he or she knows what you need as well as knows your shipper and receiver [knows],” said Peter Jenkins, general manager, TransPro Freight Systems.

Participating in a panel discussion at Truckload Carriers Association’s Truckload 2024 conference in Nashville, Tenn., he said this may not be of value to large shippers who are chasing the cheapest rate. But small carriers can reach out to smaller customers and establish relationships. “We will service you, answer your questions, respond to your emails and we care if your shipment gets delivered or not.”

From left, Jon Coca, Adam Blanchard, Peter Jenkins and Dave Gallano participate in a panel discussion during TCA’s Truckload 2024 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Dave Gallano, president of Gallano Trucking said since he runs a smaller company he can offer creative solutions to customers when they need a particular load moved. Customers call when they have a problem, and since his focus is service, it is up to the carrier to provide a solution.

Smaller companies are so much more agile, added Adam Blanchard, co-founder and CEO of Double Diamond Transport. When his company decided to sell its reefers and focus on dry van units, the decision was made quickly.

Human resources

“When I hire someone, I tell them the most valuable resource we have is right between their ears,” he said. Building a culture of decision-making and not being fearful of failure allows his company to get ahead of trends and adapt to change more quickly than a larger company can.

Jenkins added he also attends driver meetings and hands out his business card with his cellphone number. It helps build relationships and drivers appreciate they have a direct connection to a decision maker.

Technology investment

Technology is now part of the industry – in trucks, operations, and the shop. Smaller fleets don’t have the capital to invest in technology that may not be ideal for them.  

Blanchard acknowledged he has some tech fatigue in not knowing what to buy. He said bouncing ideas off peers in the industry helps narrow down choices. For him, technology needs to increase his revenue, and reduce – not increase – headcount, while streamlining processes.

Jenkins said the vendor should demonstrate return on investment so that the carrier can spend money on expensive technology.

Gallano is a proponent of technology and believes in implementing it before it is mandated, which he did with electronic logging devices. He also has road-facing and driver-facing cameras in his trucks. But he adds a word of caution about challenges he’s faced with some tech.

“The demonstration was cool, I put it in, and shit don’t work, and I pull it out.”

Return on investment

Jon Coca, president of Diamond Transportation System, who moderated the discussion, said he prefers to acquire proven technology. He would rather use a system that other companies have implemented.

Technology is adopted due to regulations, strategy or to cut costs, Jenkins noted. Bringing employees along during the implementation process boosts buy-in and leads to better adoption.

Fair pricing

The discussion concluded with the importance of fair pricing and managing customer relationships.

Jenkins said it is important to do the job well and at a fair price so that customers don’t have an incentive to look elsewhere. “There is a risk of turning down a shipment. Never say no, find a way to do it, and give them a price.”

Coca, who runs an owner-operator fleet, said he had a conversation with a customer a couple of years ago, telling them he would not take advantage of them as others were doing in the hot market. He also asked them to return the favor down the road as the market changed. When rates get cut, the owner-operators take home less money.

Blanchard said if you take advantage of a customer, they will find out, and a relationship with the customer will be lost to the competition.

Gallano added there is karma in business, and it can be cutthroat. Trust built up over a period to time can be lost in an instant.

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