The Best Ways to Improve Your Flatbed Shipping Performance


Through these changing times, flatbed trucking remains an important contributor to the overall economy. Key industries continue to leverage this solution for the movement of their critical flatbed freight. However, flatbed freight can also be an overlooked element to the success of key industries, including:

  • Manufacturing/Auto/Industrials: Raw material and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) supplier networks, along with factory outputs tied to industrial equipment, automotive products, and consumer goods.
  • Energy: Oil, gas, and power generation (e.g., wind, solar, utilities)
  • Construction: Building products for commercial and residential projects; retail markets; and federal, state, and local infrastructure projects leveraging steel, pre-cast, and material suppliers.

Each industry faces unique challenges in seasonality, regulation, competition, and scalability when it comes to flatbed shipping. Accordingly, each industry procures and manages capacity differently to navigate these challenges and drive positive outcomes.

Despite these differences by industry, there are best practices in flatbed shipping that can help combat challenges and optimize processes for better open deck shipping performance.

The best ways to improve your flatbed shipping performance

Organize procurement exercises regularly

As a shipper, regular procurement bids allow you to build market credibility for being reliable and strategic. Procurement bids are also good for your business because they allow providers the ability to increase the number of flatbed shipments they accept and offer quality service, improving your overall cost savings and performance. Your changing business goals and those of your carriers are also taken into consideration through regular procurement bids.

Carriers often benefit from annual procurement exercises, beyond offering up to date rates for shippers. Annual bids may prevent them from being locked into challenging situations for extended periods and allows carriers to streamline planning and commitment of resources from a carrier perspective.

Frequent pricing exercises allow carriers to align with desired lanes, price them accurately to current conditions, and facilitate awareness to market conditions throughout the quarter prior to any changes—up or down.

Best practice: At a minimum, conduct your flatbed procurement exercise annually. If you have highly seasonal freight (e.g., project freight or construction) conducting events multiple times a year based on market seasonality may yield even better results. Watch for dramatic market shifts and adjust your strategy as needed. You may want to consider an event in the spring or summer and again in late fall or early winter when rates and flatbed volumes typically shift.

Continue to enhance your supply chain tech

Working with a leading provider, like C.H. Robinson, can improve the shipping process and ultimately the flatbed freight rates, as well as dramatically impact visibility through enhanced supply chain technology.

With C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere® technology, not only do you gain end-to-end visibility, but you also receive insights into your mode optimization solutions, project cost allocations, and pricing to better manage spot market decisions during supply and demand surges. Supply chain technology can also provide shippers with:

  • Enhanced supply chain strategy: While many providers offer services to align capacity and freight within the spot market, procurement activity goes beyond that. The right provider will work to provide supply chain technology to strengthen your open deck strategy, improve efficiencies, and align key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Risk assessment: Another benefit of a provider is that they allow you to obtain the most current information available through active carrier monitoring (e.g., insurance assessments, authority reviews, and score carding) to actively mitigate risk and confirm all parties are on the same page.
  • Business intelligence: Supply chain technology provides shippers with an information advantage through data analysis as well as intricate programs for inventory control, PO management, routing, and optimization solutions. Through a third party logistics (3PL) provider, this business intelligence information improves efficiencies, shipment visibility, and increases potential savings for shippers of all sizes.

Best practice: Leverage both technology and data to create a detailed approach and customized, flexible solution. Through advanced technology, you can increase visibility to freight while developing consistency across all modes of transportation. Look for a 3PL with technology capable of developing route guide strategies and creating dedicated and committed capacity programs, while managing the open deck spot market.

In addition to bringing technology to your business, your 3PL can also improve your supply chain strategy by having the ability to execute on account specific products that offer you greater flexibility through access to capacity, such as power+ programs, flatbed LTL, hot shot capacity, and drop trailer.

Be prepared for anything by knowing the market

Historically speaking, the open deck marketplace has had a clear bell curve representing annual activity—peak season in second and third quarter with shifts in demand before and after that time.

However, recent demand patterns have become inconsistent, caused by shifting consumer buying patterns, regulations, and industry events. These market factors create an unpredictable landscape with a great deal of volatility, as indicated in the DAT flatbed load-to-truck ratio chart. The chart shows the load-to-truck ratios for flatbed equipment from 2018 through 2020. Each line shows the number of shipments present for each piece of flatbed equipment.

These demand inconsistencies have a tremendous effect on the supply of flatbed equipment and can make allocating trailers to an industry or shipper increasingly complicated. Transportation providers should focus on reducing empty miles, creating efficient capacity networks, and hiring and retaining drivers. Shippers also need to work with providers who understand how this volatility affects capacity availability, have access to vetted, reliable open deck capacity, and bring transportation strategy expertise to navigate through this change.

Best practice: Collaborate with a provider that offers industry expertise, robust capacity options for all types of open deck equipment, and knowledge of each industry’s best practices. By doing so, you’ll set your business up to successfully adapt to change, create strategies, and implement solutions.

Ultimate thoughts for your flatbed shipping performance

Taking these steps helps create a strong, resilient—yet flexible—flatbed shipping strategy that helps you:

  • Improve flatbed shipping performance by leveraging supply chain technology in collaboration with transportation experts who understand the nuances of flatbed shipping.
  • Collaborate with a provider to ensure surge and planned flatbed freight is covered as the market changes.
  • Review your open deck procurement process and determine if your current cadence provides optimal cost savings.

C.H. Robinson offers tailored, market-leading solutions that can help you improve efficiencies, navigate the flatbed marketplace, and enhance your performance in an ever-changing transportation landscape.