Why Carriers Hate Difficult Freight and How to Fix It
02/18/2022 — Jen Deming
Have you ever thought about whether your LTL freight loads are worthwhile for the carrier? Your freight shipments must be worth the amount of effort that’s invested in moving them. If the payoff isn’t there, your loads will be regarded as “difficult freight”. This can lead to declined loads, infrequent pick-ups, or a tense relationship with your carrier. To get your freight prioritized, the first step is determining whether you have difficult freight, then taking the steps needed to become a shipper of choice.
Reason 1: Your pick-up or delivery location is tough to access
One way to determine whether your freight is cringeworthy can be as simple as walking through the door of your business and scanning the surrounding lot. Ask yourself, are my freight pick-ups a pain to complete? Maybe you don’t even have a lot, but your business is located on a side street or an alley in the city. A standard LTL dry van being dispatched by the carrier is 52 feet long, which definitely takes skill to maneuver safely. If your business location is in a challenging place, such as a cramped area that restricts maneuverability or doesn’t have a dock, pick-up is tough for the driver to complete.
On the other hand, maybe you have the space to maneuver, but it’s such a rural location that the carrier only services the area infrequently. If you’re in an isolated region that doesn’t have many other local businesses moving freight, the work to payoff ratio is pretty unbalanced. Either way, carriers have a term for these hard-to-reach locations. High-traffic metropolitan areas, remote construction zones, and extremely rural regions all fall within the definition of limited access.
The best thing you can do to avoid this particular pitfall is to create as much flexibility as possible for the carrier. You might not be able to move your business, but if the physical location of your pick-up has some structural challenges, you need to communicate that to the carrier beforehand. Informing the carrier allows them to plan for the proper equipment, such as dispatching a smaller box truck for arrival. If you can swing it with your warehouse team, consider shipping to or from a freight terminal, rather than your business. Busy freight terminals are located in desirable geographic areas that you know the carrier will visit regularly. This helps ensure your shipment gets moving and will spare you extra limited access fees.
Reason 2: Your freight is a prohibited commodity
Want to know another reason that your shipment may be marked as “difficult freight”? The commodity you are shipping may be prohibited by the carrier. This is usually due to liability, governmental regulations, or company policy. The act of prohibiting certain items exists for two main reasons:
High risk/high value - These types of products can be difficult to put an exact value on, or may be easily damaged or stolen. Commodities include bank bills, credit cards, gold or precious stones, currency, original artwork, furs, or other high-value items. Your chosen carrier may be willing to accept certain items, but you must prove you have the appropriate insurance coverage.
Regulated – These shipments may be excluded due to government regulation or may be hazardous in nature. This may also include perishable items that require controlled storage requirements. Items in this category include aerosols, chemicals, assembled guns, alcohol, combustible materials, hazardous materials, and live plants and animals.
So, since this type of “difficult freight” can include so many different commodities, what can you do? Your first goal should be to learn just how your carrier views these products. Evaluate your carrier’s terms and conditions before you even start planning your pick-up. Restricted or prohibited items will be listed there, as well as any liability and claims information. Inspections regularly occur during transit, so if you aren’t sure if you’re safe, call the carrier and find out their policy.
If you are consistently moving these types of risky shipments, make sure that you are working with carriers that are properly certified. Many carriers specialize in these types of loads, so you can ensure your shipments are moving safely and legally. For some types of cargo there may be state-mandated regulations, as in the case of transporting alcohol. Be sure to have the proper permits and to adhere to the necessary policies. Any type of shipment that has restrictions will likely have very specific packaging requirements and requisite paperwork.
Reason 3: Your warehouse hours don’t mesh with the carrier
Maybe the location of your business isn’t the thing preventing a carrier’s arrival, but your facility’s operating hours are what create further problems. Due to the nature of certain establishments, arrival times may be heavily policed or limited. Places like schools, prisons, or storage facilities often have restricted hours for arrival and loading – and sometimes they’re after a carrier’s business hours.
All a driver wants to do is arrive onsite, get loaded quickly, and then to get back on the road. Having to work around odd hours can complicate the daily schedule. To make matters worse, some locations may require an appointment for arrival. If you have a small loading window that requires the driver to stick to a very fixed schedule, this is going to present some issues. Traffic issues or detours can throw off an entire day’s work. If a driver arrives just short of the appointment time, the shipment may need to be put back on the board for the next day.
Create flexibility in your loading hours whenever possible. If you must require delivery appointments, make sure your loading team is efficient and organized so that you don’t run over. Allowing weekend arrivals, extended hours for pick-ups, and having a team “on call” can greatly reduce the stress a driver will experience and boost the chances the carrier will work with you again.
Reason 4: Your reputation proceeds you
When you are auditing carriers, and measuring up how well they’re working out for you, realize that carriers are doing the same thing. With capacity as limited as it is, freight carriers want to work with customers who have their shipping processes down pat and are pleasant to do business with. If you are anything but that, they will take their business elsewhere.
One major disruption for carriers is the subject of detention. Carriers usually allot two hours for loading, and any time it takes over that is considered detention. Detention holds up drivers, wasting time and preventing them from moving on to the next load. It’s pricey too, as most carriers will pass on a detention fee to offenders. Keep in mind, drivers are not going to help you load your cargo. Some may assist, but be warned, that will rack up some hefty fees too.
In order to avoid these fees and stay in good graces with the carrier, you need to have a well-trained and efficient warehouse team that also has the proper loading equipment. If you don’t have a dock for loading, that’s okay, but you should have a forklift or another alternative ready and working at pick-up.
Be helpful and accommodating to the driver. Amenities like accessible parking options, a comfortable resting area, and food and coffee will be greatly appreciated by the driver. Keep in mind, when it comes to difficult freight, your reputation is the one factor you can truly control. Becoming a shipper of choice takes planning and a little bit of thoughtfulness, but it goes a long way in helping the carrier look forward to your loads.
Reason 5: Your business has above average claim submissions
It probably seems pretty obvious, but if you’re submitting a lot of claims, the carrier is going to be wary of your cargo. Freight claims cause headaches for everyone involved. While the burden of proof is on the shipper to prove carrier negligence, claims submissions take a lot of time, research, and possibly loss of revenue for the carrier. Whether you win the claim or not, damage and loss claims mean the carrier will think twice about moving your shipments.
If your company has a history of damages, your freight carrier is going to evaluate a few risk factors. It may be possible that you are shipping extraordinarily fragile, or perishable, commodities that create a lot of risk. For example, a landscaping business shipping live plants may want to use LTL services for smaller freight loads. While possible, doing so is hazardous. Any delays in shipments or extra handling may cause an above-average risk to the integrity of the product.
The other issue may be with your packaging. A business that is shipping built furniture may experience increased risk of damage to their product. Custom crating your product can help avoid some damages, but the risk may still be too high, and standard carriers may decline to move your loads at all.
If you are shipping any sort of fragile or high-risk shipment, your first step should be to perfect your packaging procedures. It may be costly to invest in custom packaging, but using standard pallets and shrink wrap is not going to be enough to protect your freight. It’s more important to consider whether specialty shipping services may be the right option for your cargo. White glove shipping services can be pricey, but they prioritize safe handling and security. Refrigerated options or even using dedicated truckload services will limit the handling of your product, and may speed up transit as an added benefit.
Reason 6: Seasonality is shifting carrier priorities
During certain times of the year, there are huge spikes in available freight shipments for carriers to move. Depending on the industry, these periods vary by region and season, and sometimes there may be some cross-over. Some examples include produce season in places like Florida, the Midwest, and California, construction season in the spring, or nationwide during the winter holiday season. Because there are so many available loads to choose from, carriers will prioritize the loads that, you guessed it, have the highest payoff for minimal effort.
If you’re shipping during these busy seasons, you need to be flexible. LTL rates will go up and transit times will increase. You should always be practical about your budget, but consider the long-term goal. It’s not the time to tighten the belt on your budget during busy seasons - aim to lower costs year-round so that you have room when you need it. Since transit times will be longer, consolidating loads whenever possible will decrease your overall risk for late deliveries. Expanding your pool of carriers by working with a freight broker will increase the likelihood your shipment gets moved. As always, make your freight as appealing as possible so that when carriers are frazzled by the seasonal onslaught, they can count on your shipments to be fast and easy.
Make difficult freight a thing of the past
Nobody wants to be seen as a “problem shipper”, but the good news is that with time, and a little foresight, you can turn the situation around. It all starts with putting yourself in the carrier’s shoes. Would you want to work with your business? It’s your responsibility to make your cargo desirable, and encourage a strong relationship with your carrier. PartnerShip can help, by guiding your business to make the right choices for your loads, and connecting you with the right carriers who want to move your freight.