When it comes to expedited freight, expect the unexpected
“Expedited” freight al-most defies description. For one thing, it has multiple monikers. At some carriers, it’s called “time-critical,” others call it “custom critical,” still others call it “premium,” “emergency” or “special handling” freight.
The word “expedited” implies elements of speed, time and urgency for the delivery – and that’s certainly true in many cases – but not all “expedited” freight is time-sensitive. Some “expedited” freight simply needs special handling.
A few years ago, expedited freight was dominated by the auto industry; today, expedited freight could be just about anything – from pharmaceuticals to food. Depending on the load, expedited freight can be transported in anything from a cargo van to a straight truck to a tractor-trailer.
There is, however, one thing that just about everyone involved in the expedited end of the trucking industry agrees on: not every driver is cut out to deliver expedited freight. If you’re looking for stability and a consistent routine, get yourself a dedicated run. If, on the other hand, you’re flexible, somewhat adventurous and dream of delivering freight to customers who actually treat you like a hero when you arrive, expedited might be the way to go.
“The drivers who do well with expedited freight are flexible,” says Jennifer Whitney, a driver recruiter for Towne Air Freight in South Bend, IN, and its subsidiary, Rocket Expedited Services. “There’s no such thing as a typical run. They could spend one day doing mini-runs in their area, and the next day they could be sent out to the East Coast. It’s very fast-paced.” David Hill, a communications specialist with Fed Ex Custom Critical, emphasizes the business side of driving expedited. “Our most successful contractors are businesspeople first,” he says. “They look at every expense, know their cost per mile and do whatever they can to improve their bottom line. Many of our most successful owner-operators are husband-and-wife teams. We also see a lot of people join FedEx Custom Critical as a second career. Quite a few of our owner-operators are former military or former business owners, but we also have retired teachers and accountants. It’s interesting to see the diverse backgrounds of our fleet.”
Depending on the type of vehicle (cargo van, straight truck or tractor-trailer), the type of freight, the length of haul and the company you contract with, owner-operators can earn $1.50 to $2 a mile delivering expedited freight, including fuel surcharges. That’s considerably more than what most over-the-road contractors make hauling conventional freight. In addition, an expedited load is generally much lighter than, say, a fully loaded dry van, which means less wear and tear on your engine and tires and better fuel mileage.
So what’s the downside to driving expedited? You never know when your next load will appear and where it might take you. Also, getting a back haul can be dicey, especially one that pays more than the cost of fuel.
“Every day we start at zero,” says Jeff Curry, president of Express-1 in Buchanan, MI. “It’s unscheduled freight, so it’s unpredictable freight. There’s uncertainty as to when the next load is coming and that can play on your mind, especially for someone
who is new to the industry.”
Curry has one simple rule when it comes to hiring drivers: “I want people who just love to drive and are always ready to go. Because the load is hot, they’re typically loaded right away, go from Point A to Point B without any stops, and then they’re ushered right in ahead of everyone else at the receiving end.”
Adam Walter, director of recruiting at Panther Expedited Services in Seville, OH, agrees that it takes a driver with a good business sense to handle the ups and downs inherent in expedited freight. “We’ll have a driver run the best week he’s ever had followed by his worst week, and that’s just the nature of the business. It requires somebody who has the ability to manage time and money during the peaks and valleys throughout the year.”
With 1,500 contractors leased on to it and more than 2,000 agents that partner with it in 48 states, Panther is one of the largest expedited freight companies in the country. “Being a big carrier, we have a more diverse freight base to where coming back empty or at a reduced rate happens less frequently,” Walter says. “In fact, if a contractor is in an area that isn’t pulling a lot of expedited freight, we allow them to broker their own freight through our channels. We also have a Web site that helps them find loads and gets them located in a better position.”
Expedited drivers may have to wait on occasion for their next load, but they rarely, if ever, have to wait to get unloaded. “We don’t hear too many complaints about loading docks,” Curry says. “On the contrary, what our drivers are hauling is very important and time-critical to the customer, so the gates are always open and sometimes the guys on the receiving dock are literally applauding when our drivers arrive.”
When’s the last time that happened to you?
This is the first of a two-part series on expedited freight. The second part will appear in the September issue of our sister publication, Pro Trucker.