The amount freight shippers need to move during this time of year is staggering. But the competition from other carriers is intense as well, everyone with a fleet or even a single truck knows that rates tend to be highest when capacity is stretched, and time is of the essence.
You can’t just be an average performer and still expect to thrive during peak season. You need to build strong relationships year-round and really stand out.
What can you do to access all the loads you want to haul during peak season? By making sure shippers know you are proactive, communicative, and of course, reliable. Here are several ways you can build the right reputation.
1. Keep your eyes peeled for peak season bids
Many shippers will open up peak season bids as early as Q2. They’ll circulate a request for quotes (RFQ) and then work through multiple rounds before awarding lanes for the season. Their goal in running these is to build a routing guide for the specific peak window. So make sure you get your name in contention from the outset to give yourself the best chance of making the cut.
If you work with a third-party logistics provider, there’s a good chance they’ll reach out during the year to gauge your interest in moving peak freight and to see if you are open to participating in bids. Raising your hand early to ensure you’re in the loop when concrete opportunities start to appear in the run-up to peak season.
2. Know which shippers in your network might have peak needs
Review your current customers in order to identify any retail shippers who will likely see volume surges during peak season. Don’t see any? Then make a concerted effort to participate in a request for proposals during the year so you can start building those relationships.
Think about casting a wider net beyond retail shippers as well. Home goods, apparel and consumer electronics shippers have needs that ramp up in advance of the holidays. Many food and beverage shippers will see an end-of-year surge associated with family gatherings and corporate holiday events.
3. Understand your capabilities and don’t overpromise
It doesn’t do anyone any favors to simply tell shippers what they want to hear if you can’t follow through. When you submit your bid for a peak season RFQ, be realistic about your team, equipment and service footprint. Shippers don’t want you to promise them the world. They want you to deliver on the agreement you make with them.
This is especially important to keep in mind because it can impact long-term relationships with shippers. If you drop the ball during peak season, your KPI performance will reflect this and you may find yourself tendered less freight year-round as a result.
4. Prepare to be flexible.
Volumes, destinations, pick-up times, delivery times and other factors can change in an instant during peak season. Volatility is a given and the biggest step to demonstrate your reliability is to be willing to roll with it. If you can’t respond to dynamic needs during this most important time of the year, shippers will choose someone else who can.
Also keep in mind the full range of hauling opportunities associated with peak season. In addition to expedited truckload freight, you may encounter power-only opportunities, paid bobtail runs and trailer repositioning needs before, during and after peak season itself. The latter of these can be quite lucrative after New Year’s Day. Shippers who own trailers will often find their asset networks out of alignment at the end of the holidays and will provide many opportunities for you to help them reset. The more different types of work you’re willing to take on, the more chance you’ll have to book loads and earn revenue.
5. Prioritize proactive communication.
Because peak season holds such outsized importance to many shipper's annual revenue, they are more concerned than ever with tracking and visibility during this time. They want to know where their freight is, how fast it’s moving and when they can expect it to be delivered. They don’t want to have to ask for this information and they certainly don’t expect to wait for an answer if they do ask.
To stay on your shippers’ good sides and maintain their confidence in you as a reliable peak season performer, always be proactive with communication. Participate in digital tracking and get in touch as soon as possible if any issues or delays arise while moving a load. Shippers will always prefer to work with a transparent carrier.
All in all, remember that while peak may technically only last 4-5 weeks, it’s a year-round job to make sure it’s a success. With the proper plans and relationships in place, you should be able to keep your trailers full and drivers on the move during the busy holiday season.