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Transportation Best Practices: Dedicated trucking helps shippers sleep tight

With capacity already tightening and increasing federal regulations threatening to exacerbate the driver shortage, dedicated trucking is going to continue to grow at double-digit percentage rates—and help shippers get a good night’s sleep in the process.
By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
April 01, 2012

Dedicated trucking operations are booming. As the overall economy improves, shippers are increasingly choosing dedicated as a sure-fire way to guarantee capacity while simultaneously assuring themselves of top-notch service with one additional perk—the ability to sleep at night.

“As free-running truckload capacity becomes scarcer and more expensive, dedicated fleets are coming back into vogue,” says John Larkin, a leading trucking analyst for Stifel Nicolaus. “A shipper can sleep soundly knowing that his base load volumes are being handled at a high level of service and at a pre-negotiated cost, with perhaps some embedded cost escalators.”

As a result, dedicated is growing at near double-digit percentage rates. The logistics and transportation research firm Armstrong & Associates is estimating that dedicated contract carriage will hit $11.5 billion in revenue over the course of 2012, up 9 percent from last year when it grew 10.6 percent.

As the name implies, dedicated trucking involves fleets “dedicating” a certain percentage of its fleets to customers who can lock in capacity through long-term contracts. This guarantees capacity for shippers, gives fleets a consistent base of customers that don’t “churn” as much as normal dry van truckload customers, and guarantees drivers a predictable number of miles along very familiar routes that they may drive every day. “It’s a win-win-win for shippers, trucking companies, and receivers,” says Herb Schmidt, president of Con-way Truckload.

Big boys in the game

The biggest names in dedicated are also among the biggest names in trucking. The dedicated part of J.B. Hunt’s business was $907 billion in 2010, according to trucking industry analyst firm SJ Consulting. That was nearly a 20 percent jump over the previous years. Werner Enterprises’ dedicated business was $744 billion that year, a 14.5 percent jump. In total, the top 10 dedicated carriers did $5.7 billion in business in 2010, a 12.3 percent jump from the previous year, according to SJ Consulting.

This push for dedicated trucking actually began in 2008 and 2009 when the economy took a nosedive and a lot of one-way truckload companies were forced out of business, industry insiders say. The industry had a lot of idle capacity in the form of trucks parked along the fence.

Most for-hire carriers charge accessorial fees for “high touch” freight—those moves that require multiple stops, nighttime deliveries, lift gates, or highly complicated deliveries.

Previously, much of that freight was moved by leasing companies or the logistics arms of other trucking companies.

Then, about three years ago, asset-based companies with trucks just sitting around began to move into dedicated one- and two-stop deliveries to grow accounts with healthy profit margins—as much as 6 percent to 12 percent margin—through long-term contracts that ran as long as three years.

“You get out of the one-way long haul and you keep your drivers happy because they’re not on the road for weeks on end,” says UPS Freight spokesman Ira Rosenfeld. “As a result, your asset-based carriers are now in the business of providing dedicated truckload business.”

With capacity tightening and increasing federal regulations threatening to exacerbate the driver shortage, dedicated trucking is a growing option for many shippers.

“It’s growing because shippers are worried about capacity,” says Dan England, chairman of C.R. England, a carrier that will soon have about 1,600 trucks out of its total of 4,600 power units in its dedicated unit. “It’s also better for our business.”

Dedicated operations allow carriers to “take advantage of the benefits of a carrier and shipper working together,” says England. “There are so many positives to it.”

Other industry executives agree. “It allows carriers to maximize their drivers’ hours of service if you can work with multiple customers to create a continuous loop of freight, says Con-way’s Schmidt. “Everybody’s costs go down.”

Let’s take a look at three key market issues—drivers, regulations, and service levels—and see how they’re re-invigorating the growth of dedicated trucking.

About the Author

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John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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