• ITVI.USA
    11,024.960
    -148.680
    -1.3%
  • OTRI.USA
    5.290
    0.170
    3.3%
  • OTVI.USA
    11,008.210
    -142.250
    -1.3%
  • TLT.USA
    2.530
    -0.030
    -1.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.380
    -0.030
    -2.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    1.140
    0.040
    3.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    1.590
    0.110
    7.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    2.390
    0.030
    1.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    1.930
    0.070
    3.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.020
    0.120
    6.3%
  • WAIT.USA
    120.000
    -19.000
    -13.7%
  • ITVI.USA
    11,024.960
    -148.680
    -1.3%
  • OTRI.USA
    5.290
    0.170
    3.3%
  • OTVI.USA
    11,008.210
    -142.250
    -1.3%
  • TLT.USA
    2.530
    -0.030
    -1.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.380
    -0.030
    -2.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    1.140
    0.040
    3.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    1.590
    0.110
    7.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    2.390
    0.030
    1.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    1.930
    0.070
    3.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.020
    0.120
    6.3%
  • WAIT.USA
    120.000
    -19.000
    -13.7%
NewsTruckingTruckload

Commentary: Asset-based trucking during and after the COVID-19 pandemic

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

At the end of the last century, when I owned and operated trucking companies, we used to daydream about how great it would be if some sort of capacity constraining event occurred and there were fewer trucking companies, and thereby trucks (capacity), available to the shipping public. We would finally find common ground with the shippers who held our rates down for so many years, pay the drivers what they were worth, and see big financial results. We could never have imagined – or wished for – the current circumstances we are experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the world is reeling, trucking has been recognized as an essential business and is on the front lines of delivering much needed medical supplies, food, and other necessities. There is little traffic, so transit times are compressed and, as a result, velocity has increased. Many trucking companies are running at or near capacity.

It is necessary for carriers to recognize that volume generates revenue and thereby cash; not necessarily margin and profit. The current rate environment is depressed as shippers have spent most of the last 18 months reducing rates. Reputable shippers are compensating carriers for operational costs such as deadhead pay and trailer rental for increased direct operating costs in an inefficient and disrupted supply chain. Carriers need not be shy in communicating with their shippers.

Truck drivers are showing up to work with a common sentiment that it is their patriotic duty to keep the goods flowing. Consequently, drivers are getting the praise and press they deserve for putting themselves at risk so the population as a whole can better manage these tough times. Carriers need to over communicate with drivers using all available platforms (including personal calls) to celebrate wins, address issues, and provide support.

Our belief is that carriers need to do the tried and true: prepare for the worst and hope for the best. In the current environment, carriers must adjust from “revenue is vanity and profit is sanity” to “profit is vanity and cash is sanity.” Our firm has partnered with the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and the Truckload Profitability Program (TPP) to provide actionable advice to carriers during the COVID-19 crisis. Regular updates on important COVID-19-related information are posted daily on our website.

One of the biggest questions facing our economy is when will the COVID-19 bump end? When will the supply chains be full and the millions of people who are out of work be able to return to the workforce? Will the economy suffer a major hit or bounce back quickly based on the trillions of dollars in stimulus money being awarded by the government? The predictions are fluid and change weekly, daily, hourly. The bottom line is nobody knows, but one thing is almost certain: the carriers with strong balance sheets will have more opportunities than ever to gain market share and improve margins.

Before discussing the opportunities for financially stable carriers, let’s discuss the carriers that have been on the margin for years, or at least since the break of the 2018 freight bubble. Our view is that there will be a number of carriers in this category that will exit the industry; however, there will not be a wholesale exodus of this group. Many will fight to stay in business as financing, vendor, and government grants and loans help these carriers build cash reserves or stave off creditors. The world is in flux and the commotion and uncertainty provides a “fog of COVID-19” that protects these carriers. This being said, these carriers will struggle to survive, crisis or no crisis.

What might a post COVID-19 crisis world look like for financially viable carriers that have managed through the uncertainty? Nobody knows for sure, as the shape and speed of the recovery are unknown. However, here are a few possible scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: The market is capacity-constrained but shippers need consistent and reliable capacity as a platform for their recovery buildout. The shippers turn to the strong carriers to fuel the buildout and provide rates and terms that are profitable for participating carriers. These carriers enjoy margins, operating efficiencies, and stability for the near and, hopefully, long term.
  • Scenario 2: Drivers reward the carriers that supported them during the crisis and those carriers have waiting lists, as drivers understand the benefit of working for strong carriers. This carrier-driven capacity surge then can be turned into a strategic advantage, as fleets grow based on actual drivers and shipper demand.
  • Scenario 3: Strong carriers grow by strategic acquisition of operationally sound, but financially challenged, carriers. This is a win for both sides as the acquiring target receives operationally rich resources and the seller receives financial support of operations or an exit path.

Having lived through many trucking economic cycles, the possible scenarios above are those that are most hoped for by carriers — that carriers and shippers get on the same page and support each other. Unfortunately, looking back historically, the reality has always been short lived as the fragmentation of the trucking industry drives tractor and trailer purchase and thereby added capacity, and the built-in adversarial objectives of shipper and carrier are manifested in the shippers forsaking the partnership formed during capacity constrained times for lower rates.  Maybe this time around, real lessons will be learned, and a more symbiotic relationship will emerge as carriers and shippers craft the post COVID-19 reality.

David Roush is president of KSM Transport Advisors, LLC, part of the Katz, Sapper & Miller Network. With 30-plus years of experience, David’s focus includes freight networks, financial management, operational metrics and optimization strategies. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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David Roush

David Roush is president of KSM Transport Advisors, LLC (KSMTA), where his focus includes clients' freight networks, financial management, operational metrics, and optimization strategies. He also has experience in providing merger and acquisition (M&A) services to his clients. David's industry experience spans more than 20 years of real-world analysis and implementation. He developed the tools and business practices utilized in KSMTA's freight network optimization practice while working as a trucking executive and owner. In addition to top-line revenue management and optimization, David has a thorough understanding of the trucking P&L and balance sheet and the functions supporting the various line items. Prior to joining KSMTA, David served as president and owner of a truckload carrier consulting practice that specialized in helping clients manage and optimize their revenue streams. He is the third generation in his family to have owned and managed a significant trucking company.

6 Comments

  1. The closest time I can compare currently with historically is deregulation. Big loss of large carriers. Small carriers running lean and mean growing up and becoming the Big carriers of today. Technology will have its impact. But I’m thinking it will probably be more of the guy in the garage building technology than a big corporate acquisition or buying of a system. See it’s the guy that fully understands the business and the needs of customers that succeeded in these times rather than the high vantage point decision maker.

  2. David,

    It seems likely this will be the same old story with a new twist… weak carriers enabled to carry on through bank forbearance and government stimulus causing continued excess capacity, depressed rates, and driver turnover.

  3. Most of the world has no idea what truckers do or how daunting the job is. I am a driver of 30 plus years and I seen economic downturn and economic surge. But through it all,my brothers in arms and I have pushed through the winter storms and high waters to get the freight where its going. Many of weathered hurricane Katrina to bring drinking water and food to a battered gulf coast. No one seems to remember those grim days. Drivers couldn’t find fuel or food, but we kept pulling. Let’s see if anyone remembers our efforts or sacrifices this time..

  4. We want to thank the Transportation Industry for moving goods across this great country to assist the American people. Sometimes we forget how important all of you are to keeping America running and food on our tables. All the drivers on the front line we appreciate your sacrifice to keep America going and our people fed and protected.

    Robert Casey
    Western Royal Inn
    Tillamook, Or.

  5. Merci pour le commentaire.
    Bien vu comme sujet. Je pense que vos analyses sont bien constructives en matière de référencement, je prend note!
    Merci en tout cas pour l’intervention constructive.
    Bonne journée!

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