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Check Call: Don’t fear the flatbed

Future of Supply Chain | Port of Mobile gets a glow up

Check Call the Show. News and Analysis for 3PLs and Freight Brokers.

Hot Take


It’s everyone’s favorite type of freight to watch get delivered: flatbed. I cannot tell you how many hours I have lost watching wind turbine propellers and massive I beams maneuver through tight turns with a driver that is quite literally made for this job.

Turns out flatbed moves are some of the more complicated freight moves. Every shipment is different, with its own set of rules and regulations, which means there is always one person in the office who handles the flatbed moves. 

2022 is the time to change that. I’m not saying everyone has to be a flatbed expert, but you shouldn’t shy away from any new opportunities to move flatbed freight. 

Of course, there are multiple different types of flatbed trailers. Figure out what your shipper wants to ship and the best trailer for hauling it. Carriers specialize in certain types of trailers so it’s all a matter of finding the right match, like a much less exciting Tinder for trucks. 

Ask questions every step of the way. If you are an individual broker, don’t be scared to take a flatbed load and take a whirl on it. My first flatbed load picked up in the middle of a field with just GPS coordinates, so I had a driver call when he got to the field and say, “Yes, there is a tractor here,” and then when he delivered. It took a lot of extra work on my end to get started. Once I did, though, it was so easy and fun and it was no more complicated than a full truckload. 

Until there’s a hurricane and FEMA takes all your trucks. No one can plan for that disruption of service. 

The thing is with flatbeds, more so than other types of shipments, when things go wrong, oh, buddy, are they wrong. It’s not always an “I delivered to the wrong location.” Oh no. Flatbed drivers have to take certain routes so their oversized equipment fits. 

Nothing puts fear into your heart faster than watching a video of your flatbed driver take the auger arm off of a shipper’s tractor, stop, and then just drive off, saying he didn’t notice anything. Flatbed claims are expensive, a pain and unfortunately tend to fall on the driver more than the shipper. 

But it’s no more scary than any other mode of transportation after you get started. If you’re an individual broker, don’t be shy when a shipper has to move a random flatbed load — go after it. If you’re a manager or supervisor, encourage some of those reps to try a flatbed load and see what happens. With big risk comes big rewards. 

Quick Hit

You might be tired of hearing about The Future of Supply Chain conference taking place in Northwest Arkansas and I promise to stop — eventually. Until then, I’m just going to lay out some things that might make it or break it (and, yes, the March Madness deal is still happening for a little longer).

We already knew about Arkansas Gov. Ava Hutchinson and Jonathan Hoffman, a former spokesman for the Department of Defense, but now we have two more keynote speakers, Billy Beane (The movie “Moneyball” was based on his book.) and Michael Schrage (an expert on all things innovation) joining the lineup. 

As if some fantastic speakers aren’t enough, there are supply chain opportunities aplenty — not just for networking and potentially landing a new shipper, but also for investments. The end of last year showed us countless mergers, acquisitions, investments, startups — you name it, the supply chain world became the next best investment opportunity. What a better way to do some research and see what’s going on in the hottest industry in the world. 

If all of that hasn’t sold you yet, well, stay tuned. I’m sure we’ll have something that makes it worth your while. 

Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Sweet Home Alabama has never been so sweet. The Port of Mobile will receive $265 million from the $1.5 trillion federal spending bill just passed by the U.S. Senate. With the $265 million, the Port of Mobile will construct docks, piers and wharves and acquire land. It will also be improving the intermodal rail infrastructure and dredging the port and other intracoastal waterways throughout the state of Alabama. 

The Port of Mobile saw a 17.5% year-over-year increase in volumes during just the month of January for a total of 47,768 twenty-foot equivalent units. As more and more shippers, cargo ship companies and importers are looking away from the congestion at the ports of LA and Long Beach, this money for massive improvements at the Port of Mobile could not have come at a better time. The country and consumers aren’t going to stop importing and with supply chain challenges all over the world, we have one more port that becomes a valid option to resolve some of those challenges. 

Market Check


Speaking of the Port of Mobile, let’s take a look at the import shipments for the last few years. Currently 2020-21 holds the highest volumes for March, but 2021-22 has certainly held the title for highest volumes for the last few months. The Port of Mobile has the volumes and the need for the infrastructure improvements. 

With that, outbound tender volumes in Mobile are low for the month, but high for the last few months. Tender volumes are up and tender rejections are headed down, but averaging about 26.07%, which is 10 basis points higher than the national average. If you have a load out of Mobile, it might be a good idea to prioritize it as capacity will only tighten as volumes continue to increase at the port. 

Who’s with whom


Hapag-Lloyd has acquired fellow German carrier Deutsche Afrika-Linien (DAL). Having spent the last year investing in modern vessels and new containers, Hapag-Lloyd decided to invest in a fellow carrier and expand its presence in the strategic growth market that is Africa. The acquisition of DAL is giving Hapag-Lloyd customers a strong network and additional coverage in South Africa. 

In a move a little less international, Pilot has decided to modernize and remodel more than 400 locations of Pilot J and Travel Centers in a $1 billion initiative. Over the course of the next three years, it is giving the people what they want. Clean restrooms, showers, new laundry facilities, store layouts — you name it, Pilot is giving it a glow up. Selfishly I’m very excited about this. As someone who stops at Pilot stores on road trips, I can’t wait to see the glow up. 

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Mary O'Connell

Former pricing analyst, supply chain planner, and broker/dispatcher turned creator of the newsletter and podcast Check Call. Which gives insights into the world around 3PLs and Freight brokers. She will talk your ear off about anything and everything if you let her. Expertise in operations, LTL pricing and procurement, flatbed operations, dry van, tracking and tracing, reality tv shows and how to turn a stranger into your new best friend.