How to Create a Truckload Strategy That Works Any Time of Year

For most people, surprises can be wonderful— but, as shippers, you’d like to avoid them at all costs because of the time and funds they can waste. Your best bet to avoid unexpected trouble? Develop a comprehensive truckload strategy so you’re prepared to handle just about anything.  

Building the right truckload strategy for your business

The key to a great truckload strategy is striking the perfect balance between core carriers and a 3PL. In this post, we will outline how to select reliable core carriers and find the right 3PL for your business.

1. Select the right 3PL to augment your strategy

The goal is to create a stable network of asset providers (the CC in this formula). You’ll want to identify enough providers to cover lanes, but not so many that your internal team becomes overwhelmed trying to work with them. Also, avoid spreading your lanes over too many carriers; your volume needs to be meaningful not just to you but your core carrier too.

Consistent volume allows carriers to:

  • Plan their business over a longer period of time
  • Create continuous moves by combining multiple shippers’ freight
  • Capture backhaul freight that aligns with their needs
  • Eliminate unnecessary empty miles and deadhead expenses
  • Provide regular schedules and routes for drivers and prevent unproductive time—all of which can help recruit and retain drivers

Make your freight attractive to carriers, and they’ll be eager and willing to take your freight where you need it to go.

2. Select the perfect 3PL to augment your truckload strategy

Once you’ve selected a mix of carriers, the next step is to choose an optimal 3PL to work with as part of your transportation strategy.

Why just one? For the same reason you don’t want too many asset players on your bench: you’ll lose the ability to leverage scale, volume, and relationship management to your advantage. Working with multiple 3PLs can artificially alter the balance of supply and demand in a market if the 3PLs start chasing the same carriers.

Your 3PL can provide the capacity of many carriers and expand your equipment options in the desired lane. They can coordinate widely fluctuating freight volumes from day to day and week to week, even as they work with you as part of your routing guide in the lanes that make sense.

Choosing the best 3PL for your truckload strategy: what to consider

It’s extremely important to select a 3PL that will work well with your business. Ideally, a 3PL should act as an extension of your existing business functions, so finding one that fits into them as seamlessly as possible is paramount. When you’re sizing up the capabilities of 3PLs, look for:

  1. Size and diversity of carrier pool. To meet your capacity needs cost effectively and rapidly, the 3PL must work with multiple carriers. Ideally, the 3PL will have national or international capabilities in many types of transportation so you gain more leverage through their aggregated volumes.
  2. Financial stability. Be cautious of a 3PL or freight broker that does not fulfill its financial obligations to carriers. To avoid problems downstream, choose a financially strong 3PL that pays carriers quickly. This keeps carriers happy, ensuring your relationships with them remain strong.
  3. Risk control. Transportation involves numerous risks, with responsibility typically landing on the shipper if something goes amiss during passage. Your 3PL should have internal controls in monitor carrier service, operational practices, and insurance requirements in near real time to reduce your risk as a beneficial cargo owner. This can be essential in avoiding unexpected spend, delays, and reputation hits.
  4. Intellectual capital. 3PLs that offer consulting and recommendations add value far beyond capacity. They can share best practices from their work with companies in a wide variety of industries. This can include developing regional calendars in advance of peak shipping weeks with demand forecasts and making commitments to pricing and volumes in advance. They can provide benchmarking information and offer pricing intelligence. That can help your organization develop better planning for a long-term transportation strategy.
  5. Technology compatibility. Look the supply chain technology your business currently uses and pick a 3PL that is compatible your business currently uses and pick a 3PL that is compatible with it, you want to be sure that your chosen 3PL can work as seamlessly as possible with your current business operations.
  6. Past Performances. If you can, get references from the 3PL’s current customers to get a real sense of what it’s like to work with them. Pay attention to their ratio of on time versus delayed deliveries, how they handle problems, and how they communicate with their clients. It is a good sign when 3PLs have long-standing relationships with their clients; it means they build positive, productive connections.

Final Thoughts

A successful truckload strategy draws upon the best competencies and expertise of both asset and 3PL providers. Here’s a simple formula to keep in mind as you go about creating your truckload strategy:

Core  Carrier +1 (or CC+1 for short) = Truckload Strategy

For shippers that utilize both core carriers and 3PLs in their supply chain, in this equation your core carriers are your asset providers, and your +1 is your third-party logistics provider (3PL). A truckload strategy can greatly enhance your ability to execute across your plan and budget, and it can deliver flexibility to your supply chain you haven’t seen in the past—the kind of surprise no transportation professional minds receiving.

Learn more about how an experienced 3PL can help your business execute the right truckload strategy.

Bob Biesterfeld
Former CEO | C.H. Robinson
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