Every month of the year can bring different pressures and challenges to the trucking industry — an industry that’s intricate, sensitive to change and deeply driven by supply and demand.
Without understanding these changes and adjusting accordingly, though, your supply chain might be at a severe disadvantage; running into issues that could’ve been avoided.
March, like months prior, has a unique impact on the transportation world as the rules governing northern roads change, produce season has the chance to commence in some southern states and Q1 comes to a close.
But what else should you keep in mind as we head into the first month of spring and the last of Q1? Are there ways for you to move cargo more efficiently? And, most importantly, is it possible to shave some dollars off of your freight rates as March marches onward?
Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we’ve been in the transportation business for more than 66 years. During this time we’ve seen shippers and transportation companies from all over North America approach March in different ways.
Time and again, though, the core differentiating factors — between the companies that thrive in March and those that struggle — are knowledge and the experience to utilize that knowledge correctly.
In this article, we’ll give you some of the insights you’ll need to get the most from your supply chain during March’s madness in the trucking industry. And, to make it easier, below we’ve sectioned information into the following buckets:
- How March impacts national dry van and reefer markets.
- What March means for open-deck transportation.
- How oversized, permitted freight sees a shift in March.
- Three things to prioritize when managing your shipments in March.
How March Impacts Dry Van and Reefer Freight Movement
Both in the United States and around the world, dry van trailers are constantly moving. Whether it’s the uptick in retail freight movement — brought on by December’s holiday rush — or household goods season in June and July, there’s never a shortage of dry van cargo to move. And, though reefer trailers are universally in shorter supply, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one without temperature-sensitive freight to move.
March’s 31 days are no exception to this rule.
You see, produce harvest in southern states begins to ramp up in March, raising the demand for dry van and reefers in the process.
The perishable nature of commodities like oranges, grapefruit, radishes and peas (to name a few) that are pulled from the fields in states like Florida, Georgia and Alabama during March necessitates quick and reliable transportation capacity. Capacity supplied by dry van and reefer trailers.
In recognition of the demand that accompanies harvest seasons, a disproportionate number of van and reefer drivers congregate in southern areas of our nation during March.
As a result, securing capacity in other regions, like the upper Midwest or Northeast, could require a bit more lead time this month.
That said, this change in the national dry van market can benefit the companies that take advantage of it.
Pay attention to weekly market updates and as southern portions of the U.S. become increasingly hot for dry van demand, plan out your loads into these areas accordingly.
If your transportation provider knows that their next load will be easy to find at your endpoint — an endpoint that’s ripe with demand in March — the more likely they are to price your shipment at a relaxed rate.
On the flip side, however, if your supply chain utilizes van or reefer trailers in and around produce hotbeds, securing capacity could start getting a bit more expensive during the third month of the year.
Either way, you’ll want to pay attention to the inevitable shift in the national van and reefer marketplace a shift we see every spring.
What March Means for Open-Deck Transportation
Unpredictable weather, cold temperatures and slick roads dissuade open-deck truck drivers from servicing northern supply chains during winter. Plain and simple.
Tarping open-deck loads is time-consuming and labor-intensive at the best of times. Add in the blistering cold and stiff winds that grace northern climates in March, and attempting to tarp a load can quickly turn into a dangerous, more-trouble-than-it’s-worth affair.
Making this effort worthy of a driver’s time — time that could be spent hauling freight without tarping requirements — will take commitment. For this reason, you may end up paying more to move open-deck commodities that require tarping than you would at other times of the year.
To save some money on these shipments, consider making other arrangements for any freight that requires protection from the elements in transit — tarping isn’t your only option.
For example, using high-quality shrink wrap to keep freight safe is a common way shippers remove tarp-related price hikes from their balance sheets.
Over time, the up-front expense and labor costs associated with shrink-wrapping freight will very likely pay for themselves. When factoring in the cost increases that accompany tarping, the significant drop-off in the time each driver spends taking up space at your facility and the potential to avoid tarping-related load damage and cargo claims, shrink wrapping can often pay off.
Additionally, March is usually the time of year when open-deck capacities begin to be secured by shippers in the construction and engineering industries. You see, accomplishing infrastructure and construction projects requires a steady stream of freight movement.
And, depending on the timing of the spring thaw, a large portion of this capacity could be called in, adding to demand and limiting the overall market supply of open-deck trailers to other shippers.
To ensure that your open-deck shipments are reliably moved in as cost-effective a manner as possible, be sure to plan for this shift. Prioritize lead time on each load you line up. Work with your transportation provider to pre-book capacity. And be flexible on your pick-up and drop time windows.
The easier you can make it for truck drivers and their operations teams to service your freight — to fit your needs onto their overcrowded schedules — the better off you’ll be this March.
How Over-Dimensional (OD), Permitted Freight Transportation Shifts in March
Through many months of the year – and particularly during the winter — over-dimensional freight movement is stunted by changes in the weather.
Be it a lack of daylight hours in northern states from October through April or travel restrictions through heavily populated areas during commuter hours, getting OD freight transported takes a high-level of oversight and planning.
In March, the onset of spring thaw — and the progressive weakening of roadways caused by continuous melting and freezing — slows things down once more in northern portions of the United States.
To keep county, state, and federal roadways safe from the extreme pressure of oversized and overweight freight, frost laws are usually effectuated during the waning weeks of March.
Frost laws, also called seasonal road restrictions, aren’t universally mandated, however. Instead, setting rules and regulations for every grouping of roadways impacted by thawing snow and ice is left up to each jurisdiction individually.
This fact also means that there are no universal guidelines for how long frost laws last across our nation — meaning they may be active in some jurisdictions and clear of them in others.
As you can imagine this can be hard on the supply chains of under-prepared shippers that fail to take area frost laws into consideration.
For this reason, it’s important that you consult a trusted transportation provider when moving your OD freight within March. If you have questions about when areas have active load restrictions — which don’t solely apply to overweight loads — make sure they’re thoroughly answered.
The last thing you want is to have a shipment re-routed due to a lapse in planning or because you relied on an under-informed transportation provider.
Where securing OD truck capacity is concerned, lead time will be important in March as agriculture machinery and construction equipment begin to be transported with greater regularity. Preparing fields for planting, roadways for updates and construction sights for building soaks up a lot of over-dimensional truck capacity during spring.
3 Ways To Get The Most From Your Transportation Processes This Month
Now that you understand, at a high level, some of the transportation market’s driving forces during March, let’s talk about making the most of your budget this month. Honestly, preparation, planning and knowledge will go a long way where your transportation dollars are concerned.
In the spirit of maximizing your transportation savings, here are three of the most impactful things to prioritize during the third month of the year.
- Avoid rigid pick-up and drop appointments.
- Plan around the month and quarter-end surge.
- Stay informed on current market conditions and plan accordingly.
#1: Avoid Rigid Pick-Up and Drop Appointments
As we head into March this year, the weather across the middle to upper United States will continue to be harsh. And, although a little flexibility goes a long way during most every time of year, it will be all the more important over the weeks to come.
Truck drivers are subject to a strict set of regulations governing the time they’re allowed to be actively on duty within a 24 hour period. These rules, known as their hours of service (HOS), limit drivers to 14 hours of “on-duty” time per day.
And, since drivers only make money while they’re moving freight and moving freight is the only way their company turns a profit, it’s important that their 14 hours (of which only 11 can be used for driving) are efficiently allocated.
Asking a driver to arrive promptly for a set 8 a.m. Monday morning loading will affect your freight rates during March — especially when harsh weather conditions make this more difficult.
Instead, you’ll be better served by allowing a wider window — for instance, between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. — during which a driver can arrive.
By doing so, you’ve given your transportation provider the flexibility to plan out their truck’s journey to your door (and the remaining HOS they have upon arrival) more freely.
And, in an industry where time is money, your budget will be better off for it.
#2: Plan Around the Month-End and Quarter-End Surge
The final week of any given month is a busy time for businesses. Add in the fact that March also marks a quarter-end and it’s off to the races for many companies.
With shipper inventories needing to move — in pursuit of their goals and customer demands — it’s not uncommon for the trucking industry to experience short-term capacity crunches in the waning days of March.
This uptick, and the vigor with which companies (especially larger ones) source for transportation solutions only increases at the end of each month and quarter.
As the final month of Q1, you can expect the end of March to be full of activity.
Don’t let this surge take you by surprise. Let your transportation providers know your end-of-month/quarter needs as far in advance as possible so they can plan accordingly. Doing so will position you to avoid the price hikes that tend to accompany a last-second end-of-quarter scramble for truck capacity.
#3: Stay Informed On Current Market Conditions and Plan Accordingly
There are a laundry list of market update and analysis tools available for shippers to use throughout the year. And, as the market fluctuates, rates change and various seasonality surges begin, it’s important that you leverage this information.
Although you’ll be able to get updates from your transportation providers directly upon request, many shippers find value in the insights provided by companies like DAT Freight & Analytics and FreightWaves.
Subscribe to the updates these, and companies like these, produce and frame your strategy around them. Often, jostling for transportation capacity in a fierce market — particularly on short notice — drives a shipper’s rate sky high. Making educated planning decisions by using insights provided by industry experts will help you make the most of your supply chain in March.
Position Your Network For Success This March!
Look, it doesn’t matter how much research you do or how well you plan if, when it’s time for the rubber to meet the road, your transportation network cannot execute.
Too many great companies see their supply chains falter due to shoddy service from a transportation company that never had the tools necessary to get the job done.
But these shippers aren’t to blame.
It can be really difficult to pick a solid transportation provider from such a large field, especially without understanding the markings of a great provider.
Here at ATS, we’re looking to give you this information by providing you with a 30-question checklist for vetting your next carrier. Download the Carrier Vetting Guide for free today and make sure that your network is full of companies you can rely on, turn to and trust.
Finally, if you have any questions about how ATS can help you stick to your timelines and maximize your budget this March, don’t hesitate to reach out. Become the supplier that always delivers with a provider that won’t let you down.