ATS Transportation Blog

The Trucking Industry in December 2021: What you should know

heavy-haul-shipment-trailer

It’s been 11 months since you last experienced a December day, inhaled December air, felt December’s company. Have you missed its presence? In the grand scheme of existence, 11 months isn’t really that long. 

Sure, the weather transitioned from crisp and cold to warm and balmy, and back again. And, granted, your dentist is at least a few appointments better acquainted with your smile than a year ago (we’re supposed to go every 3 months. . . right?). 

But still, December is back again — without ever being too far gone. 

With its return, the 12th month of the year gives a cosmetic makeover to the trucking industry compared to months prior. Instead of offering an exciting, fast-paced transition though, December’s 31 days can more accurately be described as dull, lackluster and stodgy.  

As the end of quarter four approaches, and people worldwide plan for their next great New Year’s resolution (did you stick to yours?), December sees a downtick in transportation activities across many industries. But how will it impact you?

Here at ATS, we’ve been around for nearly 70 Decembers. Even though all these years have left us looking more like Santa Clause than we’d care to admit (those dang cookies!) we’ve also developed some core understandings about navigating December in the trucking world. 

This article will outline everything you’ll want to know when planning the movement of your products during December, including:

The information presented below has been compiled for your benefit and long-term success. After absorbing it, however, should you find yourself in need of kindling, these pages make great fire starters. Who are we to keep you from roasting those chestnuts?

How Does The Dry Van Trucking Market Change in December?

dry-van-freight-shipment

During the previous 11 months of the year, dry van trailers and their drivers handle a large portion of total freight movement around the United States. From national household goods season in June and July to the transport of Christmas trees beginning in the waning weeks of October, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a van trailer without work to do. 

This pattern holds true in December. All across our nation — from the Northwestern Redwoods to Southeastern shores — dry van trailers will be in high demand this month, as they always are. 

In preparation for the end of quarter four and the new year — pointedly separated by midnight on December 31 — businesses far and wide will need dry van space to position inventories appropriately. 

Additionally, as the holiday spirit creeps under American door jams and present-shopping increases, stores selling consumer goods — from big-box retailers to mom and pop shops — will soak up a massive portion of December’s dry van capacity. 

Although a lot of this will carry over from November, when the influx of inbound products began, increasingly more dry van trailers and power units will shift into the employ of retailers large and small.

Companies like FedEx, UPS and Amazon — charged with servicing e-commerce demands — turn to external trucking companies for support during this time as well. To ensure that those new boots are under the tree when your mom reaches for them, many companies with dry van fleets dedicate a portion of them to e-commerce, parcel-delivery, purposes.

But what does all of this mean for you?

Beginning right around Thanksgiving, many truck drivers — those who’ve reached their earning goals for the year — hang up their keys for the remainder of the annual cycle. 

Since these truckers have spent the last 11 (or so) months behind the wheel, away from their families and friends, this break is much deserved. Your ability to find a truck might be hindered by this decreased supply of available capacity though. 

And, even though many of the truckers that normally pull open-deck trailers switch over to dry vans (based on shifting market demands) your ability to find trailer space in December will be tough — especially without adequate planning. 

As such, expect your price to rise as you compete with retailers in your area, other shippers moving their inventories, the demands of parcel-delivery fleets and truck drivers around our nation taking a well-deserved break.

How Does The Open-Deck and Over-Dimensional Trucking Market Change in December?

Do you know what happens when the ground starts to freeze up north, contracted construction agreements reach their end, the holiday season begins and dry van freight needs more attention? The demand for open-deck trailer space subsides

To maximize their on-duty hours of service, truck drivers need to be heavily tuned in to the fluctuations between supply and demand. Often — as is the case in December — this balance changes by equipment type

As such, some truck drivers that would normally move step-deck, lowboy or flatbed freight, transition away from these trailers when their demand sinks. If you’re a shipper that will need to move open-deck commodities in December, the decreased demand for open-deck capacity in the final month of the year could be beneficial to this end. 

That said, to make the most of your budget, it’ll still be important to give your open-deck providers ample notice (24-72 hours before your freight needs to load) in December

strapped-down-step-deck-trailer

What About Over-Dimensional (OD) Freight Transportation?

Moving over-dimensional cargoes around the northern parts of the United States begins to get more complex in October and becomes progressively more so as the days shorten. 

In OD freight transportation, slick highways, little daylight and unpredictable weather are a recipe for disruption. All of these complexities accompany the arrival of winter in northern states. This will make it more difficult to stick to your timelines and meet tight deadlines in these areas. 

That said, daylight hours — to which the transport of OD loads is limited in many states — continue to shorten in all areas of our nation until Dec. 22. As such, without proper planning and communication between stakeholders, moving that oversized load might be more difficult than during other months of the year

Be sure to work with a transportation provider that has a measured history moving OD commodities during December — and that has references to back them up. 

Oversized loads are difficult to maneuver even in the best of times. Only trust your freight to the best in the business this month. 

How Does Reefer Freight Shipping Change in December?

Reefer freight is essential to our society. These trailers transport the nutrients our bodies need and the truckers pulling them make a pretty penny doing so. Although during December, the demand for reefer space across the United States doesn’t reach the levels of July and August’s produce harvest season, it doesn’t disappear either. 

The final round of Christmas trees are distributed around the nation and grocery stores stock up for the holiday meals that are sure to follow. 

Beyond this, products that require protect-from-freeze reefer services will need extra attention from providers in northern climates — increasing their price substantially. Keeping sensitive goods away from the reach of sub-freezing temperatures takes an active temperature-control unit, which increases prices through continued use

No matter what your product is, you’ll want to be sure to pre-book your reefer trailer, pre-cool your goods and pre-plan with consignees as thoroughly as possible in December. Doing so will help your products make it to their destination in one piece per your timelines. 

3 Ways to Plan For The Holiday Season This Year

If you’re anything like us here at ATS, you understand the importance of a well-thought-out transportation plan — particularly around a holiday

Year after year, the days leading up to, and immediately following, December 25 see our national supply chain stall. Workers across industries will take some time off as their companies shut down and their in-laws pull into town. To make the most of your transportation dollars and come through for your customers during this time will take planning. And plenty of it. 

Though the way you plan will change based on your needs, timelines, industry and products, here are three of the most major things that every shipper, yourself included, should prioritize in December:

  1. Communicate with stakeholders well in advance.
  2. Pre-book all the truck capacity you need.
  3. Be flexible with your timeframes.

1. Communicate With Stakeholders Well in Advance

If there’s one thing the holiday season brings, aside from joyous cheer and eggnog, of course, it’s schedule changes. Businesses close up shop and employees head home for a time during the waning days of December. Both of these outcomes are well and good — unless you’re looking to move some freight that is. 

Too often, miscommunication between a shipper, their transportation provider and a load’s endpoint consignee cause unnecessary delays during the holidays. 

To avoid potential accessorials when your truck shows up to a vacant building or damaged relationships when things go awry, you’ll want to coordinate with providers and receivers in advance of projected deadlines. 

Ensure that everything is ready to go by asking consignees about their holiday work schedules. Will they have employees around to offload on the 23rd? Would it be best to wait until the new year to schedule a delivery?

2. Pre-Book The Truck Capacity You Need

The health of a company’s supply chain usually comes down to the efficiency with which they can turn over, and distribute inventories. Doing so could be more difficult in December without proper planning. 

Work with your transportation providers to schedule shipments ​​in advance of their “go dates”. Knowing that your provider will have a truck ready to haul your inventories from A to B will help you maximize your supply chain even when increased demand makes it more difficult. 

Trucking companies need to get as much money and efficiency as possible out of their assets. To do so usually means these companies schedule their trucks out for days into the future. With your consignee’s schedule in mind, put your load onto their manifest a bit earlier this December and avoid inconvenience in the process. 

3. Be Flexible With Your Timeframes

Too often, shippers require trucking companies and their drivers to meet strict pick-up appointment times. Without realizing it, companies with these requirements are actually hindering their ability to find a truck. 

This year, get the most from your transportation budget and relationships by prioritizing flexibility. As capacity shrinks and truckers head home for the holidays, the easier you can make it for trucking companies to service your goods the better. 

As such, consider opening your pick-up window to a period of time; perhaps between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. rather than strictly at 9 a.m. 

Doing so will help you save money and find a truck faster during December’s 31 days. 

Make December The Best It Can Be

Now that you understand the inner workings of the December trucking market, and have those three tools for making your December a success, it’s time to start planning for next year. 

Here at ATS, we pride ourselves on helping each shipper get more from their transportation supply chain. And, with a little bit of guidance, we’re willing to bet that next year will be your best one yet! 

To help you reach your goals in the coming months, you’ll want to avoid wasted time. 

There’s simply too much at stake to spend time chasing down updates from stakeholders and planning on unrealistic commitments from providers. 

Check out this article on The 5 Biggest Time Wasters For Logistics Managers (And How To Avoid Them) for more information on how you can optimize your processes and set yourself up for success in the future. 

Finally, if you’d like any advice or assistance as December rolls along, reach out to us for transportation expertise and guidance. 

We’re always here to help you in any way you need. Heck, someone over here might even have some advice on how to achieve that New Year’s resolution of yours.

Tags: Seasonality, Monthly Updates

Scott Cromer

Written by Scott Cromer

Scott is the southeast regional office manager for ATS Logistics, where he oversees the Greenville, South Carolina sales and operations office, and the Charleston, South Carolina and Cincinnati, Ohio warehouses. Scott joined ATS 10 years ago to serve in his current role, but has been a part of the transportation industry for nearly four decades.

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