Effective LTL Freight Strategies

May 10, 2023

Businesses frequently find themselves shipping products that don’t fill a full truckload. Rather than waste resources on a full-length 53″ truck to deliver what might just be a handful of pallets, many shippers opt instead to utilize less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping. LTL shipments allow carriers to combine freight from multiple customers into one truck for more efficient delivery.

While LTL shipping is undoubtedly a more strategic use of resources, it’s not without its challenges. Carriers don’t like to send trucks out for delivery loaded with just a few small items, which means products are occasionally stranded on docks or in the back of trucks for longer than the shipper can manage.

Brock Hubble, one of First Call’s seasoned experts in rescuing LTL freight, was kind enough to share some of what he’s learned about successful LTL recovery and how businesses can get the most out of LTL shipments.

Handling LTL Capacity Pressure

The logistics environment has evolved dramatically over the last few years; the ecommerce boom continues to reshape shipping in all its many forms, more shippers are using LTL freight for deliveries to fulfillment and distribution centers (as opposed to brick-and-mortar retailers), and many 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, several big-name carriers are restructuring their LTL services in favor of more efficient carrier models.

For customers considering using LTL freight in this climate, Brock offers some advice.

“Trucking companies are focused on filling trucks, not moving quickly,” Brock says. “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. 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 help determine if expedited shipping is the right option in these cases.

“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.”

Rescuing Stranded LTL Freight

Brock has had to rescue more than one customer whose LTL carrier wasn’t getting freight to its destination as quickly as promised. One such customer, a food manufacturer, was set to shut down their factory due to a delay in receiving a dry ingredient.

“We had one rescue where a dry ingredient had to be expedited and delivered by a certain time or 20,000 lbs of meat was going to go bad,” Brock recalls. “Carriers want to fill trucks before they start making deliveries — if they have a truck with only 3-4 pallets on it, they’re probably not going to get out and do regional deliveries. It’s just not efficient. So products can sit on the dock at the terminal for an extra day or two, and if that’s a product that needs to be delivered to sustain a customer’s production, we need to get in and pick it up so the customer’s production doesn’t shut down.”

LTL rescues require quick action and the ability to work with carriers to get products released through the proper channels — and to ensure nobody is crossing over any red tape.

“Most of the time it’s just a short run, maybe 50-75 miles,” Brock says. “With our LTL recovery team doing such a good job, we can usually get a truck or a van to the rescue within 30 minutes. It takes time to get a product released from the LTL carrier — the carrier has a responsibility to confirm they’re releasing the right product to somebody — but with our team, we can get moving fairly quickly.”

Navigating Specific LTL Challenges

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. Here are a few challenges shippers should be aware of as they navigate the complex logistical web:

Unforeseen Fees

“Customers need to make sure to provide all the correct information (weight, dimensions and commodity) for booking,” Brock says. “Once the product is picked up, LTL carriers may reweigh or reclass which can rack up their bill. We recently had a customer hit with an added fee because the reported weight was off. That’s pretty much where any unforeseen costs come from; the wrong weights and dimensions.”

Unpredictable 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. A full truckload can travel approximately 500 miles in a day, but since LTL involves more stops it’s more realistic to expect drivers to travel 300-400 miles in a day.

First Call Logistics is unique among 3PLs in that it works with teams of LTL carriers to cut down on delivery times. “Teams move faster and with fewer transit days,” Brock explains. “That’s a service you don’t see often.”

Risk of Cargo Damage or Loss

Unlike FTL shipments, LTL shipments usually involve consolidating goods from multiple shippers into a single trailer, which can result in multiple loading and unloading processes at different terminals. These handling processes increase the chances of cargo damage, loss or misplacement, which can cause significant financial losses for shippers.

Additionally, LTL shippers may face difficulties in tracking their shipments’ movements and ensuring timely delivery due to the complex and fragmented nature of the LTL shipping network, which can involve multiple carriers, terminals, and warehouses. These challenges require LTL shippers to adopt robust packaging and labeling practices, track their shipments closely, and work closely with carriers to ensure the safe and timely delivery of their goods.

Efficient LTL Shipping with First Call

First Call Logistics combines industry-best tech with the expertise of a team well-versed in rescuing LTL shipments to get freight delivered on time and eliminate the headaches typically involved with LTL management. Real-time shipment tracking through First Call’s Transportation Management System (TMS) and a self-service platform for shippers interested in handling all details of their LTL shipments allows our partners to 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.”

Partnering with FCL also grants access to an entire team of logistics experts; and often, the business of LTL shipping and rescuing is a full team effort.

“We can pull a sprinter van, box truck or straight truck out of our network within minutes,” Brock says. “We can have it covered within 15-20 minutes, and if there’s no waiting on release from the LTL carrier we can have those products delivered in under an hour. I don’t know too many companies with access to a nationwide group of sprinter vans and trucks and the ability to get them booked and released in that short a time. In a matter of minutes we can have a truck moving.”

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.

Simplify Your Next Shipment with First Call Logistics

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for business partners with a wide range of shipping needs.

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