• ITVI.USA
    10,801.870
    -158.520
    -1.4%
  • OTRI.USA
    15.130
    -0.230
    -1.5%
  • OTVI.USA
    10,791.160
    -152.250
    -1.4%
  • TLT.USA
    2.870
    -0.010
    -0.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.630
    0.110
    4.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    1.910
    0.050
    2.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.250
    -0.060
    -4.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    2.390
    0.130
    5.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    1.330
    0.070
    5.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    2.750
    0.020
    0.7%
  • WAIT.USA
    103.000
    -17.000
    -14.2%
  • ITVI.USA
    10,801.870
    -158.520
    -1.4%
  • OTRI.USA
    15.130
    -0.230
    -1.5%
  • OTVI.USA
    10,791.160
    -152.250
    -1.4%
  • TLT.USA
    2.870
    -0.010
    -0.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.630
    0.110
    4.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    1.910
    0.050
    2.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.250
    -0.060
    -4.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    2.390
    0.130
    5.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    1.330
    0.070
    5.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    2.750
    0.020
    0.7%
  • WAIT.USA
    103.000
    -17.000
    -14.2%
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How shippers should manage their bids

Transportation bids, which are sometimes called requests for proposal/pricing (RFP) or requests for quotation (RFQ), are requests from shippers to transportation service providers such as carriers or third-party logistics companies (3PL/brokers) to provide prices and service standards for transporting goods. This process can be extremely time-consuming and difficult to manage – especially since transportation management is not the main focus of the requesting company’s business. Here are a few tips to help make this process as smooth as possible. 

There are many services that shippers can outsource, including warehouse operations, and doing so can provide added value to the shipper through expertise that 3PLs can provide. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

Target your providers carefully

This should go without saying, but many companies simply spam a number of carriers and 3PLs with potential bids without doing much research on the companies and what they do. Many carriers have specialties, meaning they focus on transporting a specific type of good or delivering to certain customer types. For example, a shipper that ships perishable goods should not request a proposal – or hire – a carrier that transports mostly hazardous materials. Avoid sending bids out to too many providers; this makes the process cumbersome and some will not put as much effort into the bid knowing they have little chance of winning. Selecting a choice few at the beginning of the process should provide the right level of competition while keeping the process manageable.

Size matters

Shippers should also check the size of the companies with whom they decide to partner. Carriers with only a few trucks will not be able to handle large volumes. Figuring out how much capacity you need at your busiest time of year will allow you to target the right size carrier(s) to handle your demand, understanding they will have other customers as well. 

Trucks in a parking lot
(Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Financial strength

Financial health matters. The cheapest carrier is not always the best option. A carrier may give you the cheapest rates because it is struggling financially, and in a few months you will have to find another provider if it goes out of business. A carrier that is struggling financially could have a struggling operation, which leads to inconsistent service and other relational issues. Ask for basic numbers like operating and debt to asset ratios. A carrier does not have to provide these figures, but the healthy entities will be more willing. 

3PL or direct-to-carrier

The first question you need to ask yourself when considering a logistics provider that owns no trucks or assets compared to going directly to a carrier is how comfortable are you making all of the above evaluations in terms of size, financial health and understanding your specific needs. If your company does not have a transportation manager position, that is probably your first sign you need to consider a 3PL to take on the responsibility of managing your transportation. You will pay more for this service, but it may be worth it to save overhead costs and the problems that can come with choosing the wrong carrier. On the other hand, partnering with a carrier and developing a strong relationship will provide the most control and lowest cost over time if managed correctly.  

(Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Timing

Pick the right time if you can help it. For most years this means having carriers bid during their least busy time. Pricing departments get overwhelmed with bids in the fall, but capacity tends to be tightest in the spring. January is traditionally the slowest month for freight and subsequently the loosest in terms of capacity. If your bid process is longer, send it out in December with a deadline in January. The back office is less stressed and general market demand is soft, making this the ideal time for evaluation for a carrier or 3PL. Budgets may not allow for this, however, so knowing general freight market conditions can help you time your bids for optimal prices.

Provide clean and accurate information

Once you have decided on which companies you are targeting, you will need to provide the candidates with the pertinent information and right level of detail. Put all your information in a clean and legible format, which will generate the fewest questions from the providers. The main questions you should answer are:

  • How much are you shipping? (i.e. how many truckloads per week/for less-than-truckload, provide size/pieces and weight)
  • When/how often are you shipping? (annual volumes by week or month)
  • Where is it shipping from and where is it going? (origin and destination 5-digit zip codes are preferable to avoid any potential issues)
  • What are you shipping? (i.e. does the freight need any special handling or consideration?)

The more accurate and detailed you are with this information, the more accurate the bid will be. Once chosen, the better your relationship will be with your provider, which will lower problems throughout the year. Carriers and 3PLs alike take management difficulty into consideration each year when bids typically renew. This will keep costs lower and help you avoid any potential mid-cycle problems.

Additional services

Make sure you communicate any additional services in your bid package. Some examples are:

  • Temperature control
  • Liftgate
  • Lumper/driver assist unload
  • Expedited delivery 

Even if there are minimal amounts of any special services, knowing there is the potential for them will help your provider be upfront on what it can provide (because it may not offer some or all of those services). 

Selecting your provider

If you choose to use a 3PL, you do not have to make this decision, because it will take all of your information and manage the process at this point. If you choose to deal directly with a carrier, you now need to begin the selection process. Many shippers have multi-stage bids during which carriers submit rates and service standards. This can drag the process out longer, but can put downward pressure on rates in each subsequent stage. Lower volume shippers should keep things as simple as possible because this potentially damages the relationship with the carrier (by making the process longer and forcing the carrier to push rates even lower than it wants). 

Most of the selection should have already been made in the screening process outlined above. At this point, it is about deciding how many carriers you need and which one(s) you think will provide the best service at a desired rate. Any carrier can put price and service on paper in January, but leave you wanting in June. Pick a provider that you think has a strong understanding of your needs and general market conditions. If a carrier is offering you 20% lower rates in a time when the market is booming, take that as a red flag. 

Due diligence on the front-end and solid communication will make this process smoother and more fruitful. Good luck and happy bidding.

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Zach Strickland, FW Market Expert & Market Analyst

Zach Strickland, the “Sultan of SONAR,” curates the weekly market update. Zach is also one of FreightWaves’ Market Experts. With a degree in Finance, Strickland spent the early part of his career in banking before transitioning to transportation in various roles and segments, such as truckload and LTL. He has over 13 years of transportation experience, specializing in data, pricing, and analytics.

7 Comments

  1. There are instances where a few of the correct smaller carriers will be much more beneficial choice than a couple of mega carriers. Smaller carriers are more likely to provide pricing that will allow them to remain. The recent years’ closing of some transportation powerhouses are a small example of what can go wrong when one operates too closely to their costs.

    1. Diversity of carrier base is important, probably more than the relative size of the individual carriers. The average shipper deals with about 20 to 35 carriers across their network. Having the ability to lean on several carriers in a market as it changes but saying “Carrier XYZ gets 100% of my contract loads” on any given OD pair is asking for hurt.

  2. Quote :

    “If a carrier is offering you 20% lower rates in a time when the market is booming, take that as a red flag. ”

    ROTFLMAO !

    Perhaps that ‘carrier” see’s the market is about to shift and reverse in a cycle peak and is offering a rate reduction due to what that carrier knows compared to what you don’t ! A good “deal” is not always too good too be true !

    One should not jump to negative conclusions based on a “competitive” carrier’s rate being lower during “boom” times .

    The author suggests everyone should follow the herd otherwise it would be a red flag if one stands out and goes against it by offering a 20% reduction , LOL !

    In my humble opinion …………

  3. We do a sort of hybrid between true contract rates and spot rates and it works well. The carriers like ti also. We just use our TMS software (Ascend) and keep all the lane bids open ALL the time. They never close them. We simply award freight to whoever is the best price in our routing guide and usually rotate 3 or 4 carrier in per lane as the market changes. If anyone comes in lower they get put in the routing guide once they meet our carrier guidelines and they stay there until they aren’t competitive or their service falls. It’s pretty simple really.

  4. A couple of comments re past involvements as a 3PL.
    1). Be serious in considering each response. Don’t just use the process to leverage existing providers down in rate – often happens when existing providers are give the “2nd look” with guidance.
    2). Make sure the data is properly vetted – as a current provider we were often surprised to see the data on lanes we were key inaccurate and misleading.
    3) Be clear in what you want and make sure potential providers are given more than just a cost criteria. Service levels and other service benefits are also very critical
    4). Most importantly, be respectful – completing a serious RFP is a lot of work and chews up resources

    1. Freight waves is a great source for information on the world of trucking. Readers have been stunned over incidents involving Schneider Gaines and Swift over the years. However the news of the decade has been the inside story of what is taking place at J.B.Hunt transportation since the 2013 announcement of Towery Maurice Burris being the successor heir grandson of founder Johnny Bryan Hunt. The announcement came out of Shelby, Cleveland County NC. The acknowledgement came after executrix Annie Ruth HUNT Browner executed the testate estate will & trust of Johnny Bryan Hunt & John Lester Hunt naming Burris beneficiary of an incredible percentage of stock. He immediately made his presence felt at the company his grandfather started in the 50’s. He started with the trucking division converting & updating the trucks. He then focused on marketing using YouTube & Instagram as platforms. He also implemented new hiring practices focusing on diversity after travelling to Lowell Ark to speak with CEO Roberts in private meetings. He & his team made stops in Springdale to view millions in real estate property left to him by his grandad. City of Shelby NC Chief of Police Jeff Ledbetter & Chris Ledford acted as security advisors communicating with Ark Law Enforcement. Burris who took the nickname J.B.Hunt jr. shortly after has yet to speak on the acquisition of RDI.

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