July 2006 | How-To | Ten Tips

Selecting a Regional LTL Carrier

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Partnering with the right regional less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier can be challenging, especially for companies that utilize just-in-time delivery.

LTL carriers that provide expert technology capabilities and service flexibility make ideal partners, according to Richard Low, president of Cle Elum, Wash.-based Shoemaker Manufacturing. Shoemaker provides residential and commercial heating grills, registers, and diffusers for just-in-time delivery to wholesalers and contractors in the construction industry.

To help determine the right regional LTL carrier for your company, Low offers these 10 tips.

1. Look for competitive transit times. Compare each carrier's service maps to see how many of your shipments they can deliver via next-day and second-day service. If, for example, the majority of your shipments move from Denver to the West Coast, determine what percentage of those shipments will be delivered overnight. Also check to see what lane improvements each carrier has in the works. Choose a carrier that can speed your delivery cycle as much as possible—and will stand behind its service commitment by offering a money-back guarantee.

2. Evaluate flexibility. Transit times are important, but a carrier's ability to accommodate change is also essential. If you require late pickups or early delivery times, find out if the potential carrier can accommodate those requests.It also helps to prepare a list of questions about flexibility, such as: Can the trucker's workforce handle extraordinary requests? Can the carrier quickly assign staff and equipment to handle additional capacity?

3. Make sure customer service options are a priority. Ideally, carriers should offer more than one way for you to reach their customer service agents. Look for a carrier that offers several methods to contact their customer service department—through local service centers or a toll-free number, for example. In addition, find out if the LTL carrier offers specially trained customer service agents who can answer questions about international shipping or special services you might require, such as distribution, consolidation, and truckload shipments.

4. Investigate carriers' online capabilities. Look for a carrier that can accommodate your needs via the Internet. Does the carrier, for instance, offer the ability to arrange pickups, track shipments, request billing adjustments, file claims, and print reports through a secure web portal?Also look for the carrier's ability to customize online tools to make shipping LTL freight easier and more efficient.

5. Explore real-time technology. Real-time data is essential. Make sure the carrier you select offers real-time tracking technology and can provide shipment notification. Ask carriers to outline the technology they employ for every facet of their operation—from the dock to dispatch operations to drivers. In addition, find out how quickly they make pickup and delivery information available for each shipment.

6. Ask about proactive notification.Knowing ahead of time where your products are and when they will arrive is imperative. In many industries, one missed delivery can skew a whole project. In construction, for example, an ill-timed shipment may affect an entire construction site. Therefore, it is essential to find out if a potential carrier is capable of letting you know ahead of time if your shipments will arrive late. Knowing in advance where your products are and when they will arrive is priceless. Partnering with a carrier that offers proactive notification allows you to determine if you will miss a service commitment, then advise your customers to plan accordingly.

7. Investigate the availability of additional shipping options. In addition to regional LTL freight, find out if the carrier offers other transportation modes that may be a better fit for certain shipments. For instance, can the company accommodate your package needs or airfreight deliveries? It's always more convenient to make one phone call to handle all your transportation needs.

8. Find out how the carrier manages performance. Ask the carrier to document its process for measuring overall performance and providing accountability. Is the carrier willing and able to share timely information on factors such as on-time pickups and deliveries, damage-free ratio, and proper invoicing? Determine your key performance metrics, then ask your carrier to explain how it measures and reports each one.

9. Expect a true collaboration. Find a regional LTL carrier that is willing to collaborate with you on improving your transportation efficiencies and identifying new opportunities. This is key even for small businesses—carriers should offer small businesses the same options and capabilities. Ensure that the carrier's entire team, from sales reps to drivers to the local service center operations staff, provides personalized attention when you need it and quickly resolves any issues that arise.

10. Compare overall value, not just price. Although competitive pricing is one factor that should be part of your regional LTL carrier selection process, be sure to measure price in concert with the tips outlined above to help determine a carrier's overall value. Choosing the optimal regional LTL carrier for your company helps you gain a competitive advantage, so it is imperative to examine the total value proposition each potential carrier offers.

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