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The Future of Freight: Collaboration over competition

How USA Truck and Convoy developed a new solution for elastic capacity that benefits shippers, carriers and brokers

At the outset of the pandemic, USA Truck and Convoy met in Seattle to discuss two challenges facing the industry: the waste from underutilized assets and the imbalances between freight supply and demand. Through their conversations, the companies identified the need for a new solution that expands access to elastic capacity, and forged an unlikely partnership.

The freight industry is no stranger to competitor collaboration with trailer interchange agreements and 3PLs working together on behalf of a shipper customer, but this kind of partnership was different. While many would consider Convoy and USA Truck to be direct competitors due to their brokerage operations, they quickly realized their strengths complemented each other in a way that drove unique value for both customers and carriers.

“We are a technology integrator at our core, not a software developer,” said George Henry, senior vice president at USA Truck. “We are a transportation solutions organization. We have trucks, drivers, trailers and maintenance shops. We are much more ingrained in the physical movement of the freight, whereas Convoy’s strengths are in building systems, aggregating capacity and surfacing up valuable data. Efficiencies are going to be driven on data flows, not by making bigger trailers or enabling drivers to drive for 20 hours a day. Due to the number of variables and the sheer amount of transactions in this industry, we’re highly dependent on technology, but technology alone doesn’t move freight.”

Another reality the two teams firmly understood: the fragmented nature of the carrier market and the opportunity inherent in combining networks. But Henry was frank about the challenges the companies faced navigating the new territory of working with each other. 

“How do you collaborate with a competitor without degrading one another’s business?” Henry asked. “We built a relationship over time and ensured that everybody knew one another’s objectives as the program started to develop. We got to know one another, we built trust, and then we galvanized that trust with contracts.”

The outcome of this ongoing collaboration ⁠— Convoy for Brokers ⁠— provides freight brokers with a technology platform and TMS integrations for efficient access to elastic capacity as well as expanded load opportunities for carriers.

“This program is the direct result of more than a year of hard work, including tight collaboration between Convoy and the forward-thinking team at USA Truck,” said Brooks McMahon, chief business development officer at Convoy. Our work together exemplifies how freight industry collaboration can benefit all parties — carriers, shippers and brokers alike.”

Through Convoy for Brokers, USA Truck can post loads to Convoy’s network of more than 300,000 trucks while maintaining ownership of the shipments as the broker of record. The platform automates carrier bids, includes GPS tracking and digital document management, and handles carrier payout, increasing the efficiency of the brokerage team so they can cover more loads. In turn, Convoy carriers benefit from the increase in load options provided by USA Truck.

“Shippers want reliable capacity at the market rate,” said Henry. “They also want visibility. Through the efficiency gains from Convoy for Brokers, we can get more capacity at competitive rates, and we get visibility into that freight. The service is exceptional with the carriers that we have access to through Convoy, which aligns with our core business.”

What Convoy for Brokers is providing USA Truck in this protracted market of rate volatility is a reliable capacity program, which is all about speed and frictionless interactions.

“In designing the core components of the program, we prioritized the features that mattered most — quick and efficient ways to post loads, automated carrier bidding, and rate confirmation with the click of a button,” said Shwetha Arya, senior program manager at Convoy. “We’re continuing to build around these core elements with additional features that automate the brokerage process, provide visibility and insights, and deliver a great experience for carriers.”

“It’s difficult using traditional ways of brokering to cover further than 48 hours out,” said Tyler Brendle, director of operations at USA Truck. “The Convoy app allows drivers to plan in weeks, and it only takes about four minutes from when a bid is accepted to when it’s confirmed. We’re getting competitive bids from carriers multiple days out, which allows us to pre-book loads at those rates.”

USA Truck is getting great feedback scores from carriers for loads booked through Convoy for Brokers. Instead of drivers having to call about warehouse wait times, the app tracks each load and communicates that data directly to the driver. “For Convoy to come in and provide gains in efficiencies is actually a big deal,” Brendle said. “Our carrier managers are able to reach a broader audience with less effort, which ultimately speeds up coverage time, increases the possible options for coverage, and brings more data to our team more quickly than before. In the future, we see opportunities for automation to provide an entirely touchless interaction.”

While not everyone on USA Truck’s carrier sales team is using Convoy for Brokers, the program has generated a lot of excitement within the team. In terms of recruiting and retaining employees, USA Truck has seen record numbers over the past 24 months due to the shift in culture resulting from innovation initiatives, including the Convoy partnership.

“What this partnership provided was an opportunity for team members on both sides to create something that hasn’t really been done before in the industry,” said Henry. “So much of employee morale is having a purpose. That means much more than just coming in and getting the job done. This initiative has given them leniency and the resources to go and work on projects and to create a legacy.”

Brendle added, “This is something that I’ll be talking about for the rest of my career.”

Learn more about the program at convoy.com/brokers, and get the latest on USA Truck at usa-truck.com/company-news.

This article is published jointly with our partners at Convoy. To view more Future of Freight content, click here.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes USA Truck (No. 51).

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.