Shippers often find themselves needing to send freight that doesn’t occupy a full truckload. Less-than-truckload (LTL) freight allows carriers to put freight from multiple customers into one truck. The carriers then determine the optimal route for delivering all of the freight. Because they’re not sending a full truckload, shippers save money.
Even though LTL brings shippers monetary savings on the front end, there are some places where challenges can arise. Those routes that deliver freight to multiple locations can actually take longer than conventional full truckload shipments. LTL may be cheaper, but it lacks guarantees on time of delivery.
At First Call Logistics, this is where Brock Hubble comes in. Brock is seasoned at LTL freight recovery. He first ventured into recovering LTL freight when a food manufacturing customer needed a product to avoid a factory shutdown. Since this initial experience, Brock has become a pro at managing LTL freight recovery. He sat down to share some of what he’s learned about using LTL successfully—and what to do when something goes wrong.
Navigating LTL Capacity Pressure
The logistics landscape has changed in so many ways over the last few years that shippers and carriers are constantly adjusting their practices to compensate. The e-commerce boom has affected the LTL industry in ways that no one could have imagined. More shippers are using LTL freight for middle-mile deliveries to fulfillment and distribution centers as opposed to brick-and-mortar retailers. LTL carriers aren’t able to add capacity quickly enough to keep up with consumer demand. As a result, costs for shippers are on the rise. Moreover, big-name carriers are managing the high demand by limiting, and sometimes even suspending, service to many customers.
For customers considering using LTL freight in this climate, Brock offers some advice. “Trucking companies are focused on filling trucks, not moving quickly. They will wait until the truck is full to move it no matter what you pay for guaranteed delivery.”
In other words, LTL is the cost-effective option for freight with flexible delivery dates, but there are no guarantees on time. Trucking companies won’t move a truck until it is full no matter what shippers pay for guaranteed delivery. For time-sensitive freight, it’s better to take advantage of more reliable options such as straight trucks and sprinter vans. A good third-party logistics (3PL) company can also help determine if expedited shipping is the right option in these cases.
Inevitably, shippers in the globalized economy will have to determine whether they’ll use a multi-modal approach for LTL freight. “It comes down to product, time, and budget,” Brock says. “I want to get the best price for customers, but I also want to get freight [to its destination] the safest way possible.”
LTL shipping does pose potential risks to freight, after all. Every time freight is loaded, warehoused, or unloaded, there is a risk that it could be damaged. Any time a product has to be repalletized or repackaged, shippers could have to pay more fees and find ways to manage delays.
Brock has had to come to the rescue of more than one customer whose LTL carrier wasn’t getting freight to its destination as quickly as promised. One customer, a food manufacturer, was set to shut down their factory due to a delay in receiving a dry ingredient. Brock got the ingredients on a sprinter van, and the manufacturer avoided the disruption. It was a hard lesson in choosing cost savings over timely delivery.
Managing LTL Efficiencies with Technology
Fortunately, there are a number of technologies available to manage LTL efficiency. Technology is invaluable in determining every stage of LTL logistics from pricing to visibility. Even in the face of pandemic-induced unpredictability, machine learning and artificial intelligence make managing LTL efficiencies easier than ever. For those interested in streamlining shipping processes and reducing costs, Brock recommends leveraging the following technologies:
Transportation Management System (TMS)
The single most important tool for managing LTL efficiencies is a transportation management system (TMS). A TMS is a platform that tracks freight movements in real time. At any time, a shipper or receiver can find out where freight is on its route. Using a TMS, shippers can troubleshoot delays and unexpected issues.
LTL Self-Service Platforms
To manage LTL freight efficiencies, First Call Logistics has implemented a self-service platform for shippers interested in handling all details of their LTL shipments. Once a shipper is set up on First Call Logistics’ portal, teams can easily quote, tender, and track LTL shipments.
“Customers can even choose their carriers,” Brock explains. “It does put the weight on the shoulders of the customer when they put in information, but it’s really hard to mess it up. The system asks for such specific information that it’s almost fail-proof.”
Digital Paperwork Supports Full Shipment Automation
Adopting digital paperwork and automating the LTL freight process have many benefits for shippers, carriers, and receivers. By reducing manual processes, technology increases shipping efficiencies. In addition to using First Call’s self-service platform, shippers have instant access to quotes and transit times and can keep paperwork in one place for all parties. Digital paperwork not only assists with document accuracy and faster settlement processes but also supports workflows for social distancing practices.
Expecting the Unexpected with LTL
According to Brock, LTL freight is not straightforward. LTL freight classification can be complex, routes are less direct, and freight can be loaded and unloaded into several different trucks en route to its final destination. Shippers must navigate “a big web” of logistics.
Unforeseen Fees Can Quickly Add Up
Miss a receiver’s delivery window? An LTL carrier may charge redelivery and rescheduling fees. Similarly, knowing the exact dimensions of freight helps avoid surprise charges. Many LTL carriers are trying to simplify their loading, and oddly shaped freight may cost extra. To avoid racking up fees, it’s best to give 3PLs and carriers as much information as possible about delivery times, freight dimensions, and classifications at booking.
LTL Transit Times
To set realistic expectations for LTL freight, it’s important to understand transit times. The Department of Transportation sets Hours of Service that determine how far and for how many hours a truck driver may travel in a given number of days. Full truckload can travel approximately 500 miles in a day. Because LTL involves more stops, Brock explains that it’s more realistic to expect drivers to travel 300 to 400 miles in a day.
First Call Logistics is unique among 3PLs in that it works with LTL carriers that work as teams. “Teams move faster with fewer transit days,” Brock explains. “That’s a service that you don’t see often.”
Communication is Key for LTL Success
Overall, Brock says that the best way to minimize delays is to communicate clearly and accurately upon booking. Shippers should know receivers’ exact delivery policies. “Does delivery require an appointment? Is it first come first serve? What are the delivery hours? If an LTL delivery doesn’t hit the right hours, everything could get pushed back a day. Receivers have to be ready for LTL because they’re delivering to multiple spots in one day.”
The right third-party logistics company can make all the difference in your LTL journey. At First Call, we’re committed to supporting your supply chain and optimizing freight spend year-round. To learn more about our technology and LTL services, contact our team today.