When You Think Like an Owner-Operator
Matt Sullivan| DAT
Today’s freight market offers seemingly endless no-contract van, reefer, and flatbed loads to drivers. This has caused brokers to leverage load boards to ensure their freight stays in motion and finds its destination.
So what’s the best way to connect to a far more selective pool of drivers in the face of such cramped capacities?
Getting into the heads of small carriers and owner-operators can be a great way to keep your freight moving and attract more drivers using just a little common street sense.
Get the Lowdown on the Upshift
According to owner and driver Chad Boblett, the right load isn’t always about the rate. For him, the right load can be the one that provides a way to get home or establish a relationship with a new shipper or broker.
“It’s always shifting,” says Boblett. “Each load represents a different set of opportunities with benefits that can go well beyond merely the highest rate.”
For Bryan Spoon, a driver based in St. Louis, the load search is more systematic. “I go from head-haul market to head-haul market,” he says. “I use a load board to secure heavy machinery loads I haul to the East Coast, and I head back home to Missouri with flatbed loads.”
Spoon’s dispatcher, Anna Lowdermilk, makes sure no matter which direction he chooses, she’s got just the right load for him. “I make sure he gets the best rate on the outbound – before I book the load to send him there. We make a great team because I got my eye on the load board and find the best possible choices, even before he knows where he’s going.”
Lowdermilk’s technique goes like this. First, she scans the load board for freight within a 100-mile radius of Chicago. Then she searches for loads posted going into Chicago.
“If there’s an imbalance – like there’s 509 loads inbound and 226 loads leaving – I know the broker has an advantage on the rate,” she explains. “To cover all the bases, I’ll even keep my eyes peeled for routes through Indianapolis or even Peoria. It only takes a minute to look, and I could end up finding something far more lucrative, or even establish a new relationship. It’s actually pretty fun, to be honest.”
“Quote the Ugly Load”
Boblett quotes every job that’s offered to him. He describes taking a call about a load of rain barrels to be picked up in Winchester, KY, on a Thursday and offloaded at three separate stops n Delaware – a tough place to dig up an outbound load on a Friday night. Boblett can hear the desperation in the broker’s voice.
“I said, ‘If you give me $4,300, it’d be worth doing.’ This wasn’t a negotiation. He didn’t ask if I’d do it for $4,000 or $4,100,” Boblett recalled. “He just said, ‘Done.’”
According to Boblett, quoting the “ugly load” lets the broker know you’re available if the price is right – and you’re compensated for the miles you have to deadhead out of Delaware.
While most small carriers won’t post their trucks on a load board because they don’t have time to field the resulting phone calls, Boblett takes a different approach.
“I’ll pick up the phone and listen to every opportunity,” Boblett says. “In my experience, whoever receives the call is in the best position to negotiate.
Snap on Some Digital Tools
Reputable load boards provide an array of tools to find loads, review rate histories, check DOT authority, insurance coverage, creditworthiness, stability, and reputation of a carrier or shipper. The carrier is also checking the broker’s credit history and days-to-pay.
It’s good to know how these features work. If you think a trucker believes you are low-balling him or her, it may help your cause when you can come back with a rate history on that lane and know how it was calculated. Is it a seven-day average or a 90-day average rate? Are rate histories based on actual transactions or something else?
“Part of what we pay for today is market intelligence and customer service,” Boblett says. “So why not take advantage of it?”
Matt Sullivan is a longtime journalist, blogger and the editor of carrier and owner-operator newsletters at DAT Solutions.
Load Board Strategies
When’s the Best Time to Look for Loads?
- Monday is the most popular day for carriers to search for loads, followed by Tuesday and then Thursday.
- The number of searches ramps up at 8 a.m. EDT, peaks at 10 a.m., and gradually declines into the mid-afternoon.
“A particular hour or day of the week typically has more new postings or searches than others, but I’m not sure the difference is that important,” says Peggy Dorf, market analyst at DAT. “Access to the most trucks isn’t the same as access to the best truck for a specific need at that time.”
In other words, the best time to post a load is when you need a truck. The real magic will happen when the broker and trucker find the right match.
What’s the magic hour for posting a load?
- Wednesday is the busiest day of the week for brokers to post loads, followed by Tuesday, then Monday.
- 8 a.m. – 9 a.m. EDT is the most popular hour for posting loads. Activity tapers off until just after 1 p.m., when the number of new loads posted tends to rise slightly before falling sharply after 5 p.m.