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DG&A's Transportation Consulting Blog

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Driving a transport truck is one of the most prevalent jobs in North America and throughout the world. There are about 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States; the comparable number for Canada would be in the range of 350,000 people. Truck drivers are mostly men who like a life on the open road, crisscrossing the freeways and city streets of America. These are folks who are away from home for long stretches of time, as they go from state to state, province to province, sleeping in cheap motels or in their sleeper cabs, eating unhealthy meals in Truck Stops and spending long, lonely hours driving their rigs.

Young people seeking to enter the profession need to take a set of courses so they learn safe driving techniques and how to manage their rigs. For those individuals who wish to run their own businesses, they can become owner-operators. They can work for themselves or for one of the thousands of trucking companies throughout North America. This can include working for a for-hire fleet or for the private fleet of a manufacturer or retailer.

Despite the relative ease of entry into the profession, there is a shortage of truck drivers in North America. Driving a truck is a tough job. Bad weather, traffic, and road conditions create difficulties on a daily basis. A lack of investment in infrastructure throughout North America creates congestion and impedes productivity. Driving a tractor-trailer unit with a 45,000-pound payload requires full concentration throughout the period they are on the road.

For many people, being away from home for blocks of time is not glamorous or fun. For someone with a young family, missing family occasions and their kids’ baseball or soccer games does not help maintain positive personal relationships.  While much has been done to raise the quality of the profession, truck driving does not command the respect it deserves; it remains a relatively poorly paid job.

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Freight matching services or “freight exchanges” have become one of the hottest topics in Freight Transportation over the past few years. Venture capital funds, private investors and others have poured at least $200 million — and potentially substantially more — into dozens of on-demand freight start-ups, including Flexport, Transfix, Loadsmart, Convoy, Doft, Cargo Chief, TugForce, HaulHound, Parade, Ship Lync, Load Surfer, FreightCenter, Freight Finder, Freightera, Freightcom, Pickmyload and others. There are new companies entering this space on a nearly daily basis.

Uber, the controversial but successful online taxi app, has recently announced that it is entering the freight matching arena. What is the attraction?

A brief history of freight matching services

DAT (which is an abbreviation for Dial-A-Truck) was the original load board in North America that was created in 1978. TruckersEdge was founded after DAT and was acquired by TransCore in 1992, another internet pioneer in load board services. Truckstop.com and Getloaded.com were launched in the early 2000s. In 2001, DAT was purchased by TransCore. In 2004, TransCore was acquired by Roper Technologies. In 2014, TransCore DAT became DAT Solutions. For four decades, this group of companies has been offering, for a fee, a process for shippers and brokers to post loads that need to be moved and for carriers to highlight available capacity.

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The Basics

Freight Transportation is typically the single largest cost component of Supply Chain Management. Data from Logistics Management’s Annual Study of Logistics and Transportation Trends highlights that an average transportation spend is in the range of 10 to 11 percent of revenue for companies with less than $250 million in Sales and it is in the range of 2 to 3 percent for companies with revenues in excess of $9 billion. As a result, my colleagues and I are often amazed that freight expenses are undermanaged in so many companies.

Freight Expenses are Controllable, Manageable and Negotiable Costs

Regardless of mode, freight costs are typically comprised of three elements

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Much of the work we do at Dan Goodwill & Associates starts with a phone call or e-mail from a President, CFO or Vice President of Logistics or Transportation. One of the first questions that we are asked is can your firm help us reduce our freight costs.

The answer is usually yes. Unfortunately, we are not able to wave a magic wand. Effective freight cost management comes from taking some concrete steps. Here they are.

Centralized Command and Control

Many of our clients have grown through acquisition and/or organically. They have manufacturing and distribution facilities in multiple locations. These sites are often managed individually by local logistics managers who each use a set of preferred carriers. By not consolidating shipments, by moving LTL freight daily and by using a variety of carriers, they sub-optimize on freight cost management.

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Last week I wrote about the consolidation that is taking place in the freight transportation industry in Canada. Thank you for the many positive comments and feedback. I hope the blog has stimulated some thought about the level of competition in the industry, in view of its domination by some very large players.

One of my longstanding colleagues in the industry, who runs an independent transportation operation in Canada, reminded me that there are a range of very fine companies that compete with the industry giants. As a follow-up to last week’s blog, I thought I would provide an overview of the competition in each sector.

As a starting point, I went back over the top 100 for hire fleets in 2016 as published in Today’s Trucking. They range from Canada’s largest trucking fleet, TFI (TransForce International) with over 26,000 pieces of equipment and almost 25,000 employees to the 100th largest company, Transport Matte, with 321 pieces of equipment and 135 employees. It should be noted that there is a steep falloff after you go from TFI to even the second-place carrier, Mullen Group, that has 13, 645 pieces of equipment and 4410 employees. Clearly, TFI is in a class by itself with not just the most trucks but with by far the largest number of fleets under one roof.

The other big fleets highlighted in the previous blog (i.e. Manitoulin, Day & Ross, Mullen) have also grown disproportionately large through a combination of organic growth and/or acquisition. A glance through the top 100 list displays a range of companies, large and small. So let’s take a look at the major freight transport sectors in Canada.

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