Having Multiple Carriers in an Area: Pros, Cons & How to Choose

Two trucks on a cyber blue background representing a network

Everyone likes convenience. Americans like it so much we named a whole genre of stores after it!

For shippers, working with a single transportation provider in each area may seem like the most convenient option. Everything’s rolling along as smoothly as a day-old hot dog on a 7-Eleven warming tray — until it isn’t.

What happens when your sole provider suddenly doesn’t have capacity? 

If you have a network of carriers in that area, you can pivot to another trusted partner. The day is saved! But how many carriers should you have in an area to maximize flexibility and minimize stress? And how do you choose which carriers make the cut?

As an industry-leading transportation company with nearly seven decades of experience behind us (Yep, we’re old — even older than that 7-Eleven hot dog,) the Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) team hears these types of questions from customers regularly. Shippers want reliable coverage, but not all are sold on working with multiple carriers to ship freight to/from one location. 

Trucker behind wheel talks to receiver through open window

We’ve gathered our thoughts on this complex topic to help you understand the pros and cons of using multiple carriers from one location.

In this article, we’ll discuss the right number of transportation options for sourcing capacity, the nuances of using multiple carriers, and give our expert advice on choosing the best carriers for your network in a given area. 

By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll have a better idea of whether working with several carriers is right for you.

You'll walk away with the knowledge and resources you’ll need to choose your providers with confidence. 

How Many Transportation Options Should Shippers Have For Sourcing Capacity Out Of One Area?

Like so much in the transportation industry, it depends. (Seriously, at this point, we should all be rocking “Trucking: It Depends! 🤷🏻” t-shirts.)

Each shipper will have a different “sweet spot” based on the geographic area and how tight it is for capacity.

Seasonality also plays a role here. The time of year and its weather conditions can impact capacity. Shippers should factor in these elements when weighing network size. 

Semi trucks parked at a truck stop in snowy winter

If your freight calls for a specific type of trailer — exclusively double drop, for example — plan on using more providers. Not every carrier will have these special trailer types available at any given time.

You’ll want to look for several capable providers in the area to ensure you’ll have the trailers you need when you need them. 

You’ll also want to be mindful of the types of providers in your network. When you work with an asset carrier, you're limited to its asset capacity in that area. This means you may have trouble securing capacity, depending on the region and time of year.

Including a freight broker in your network can help ease the stress of that scenario. Freight brokers can help you get coverage when your Plan A asset carrier comes up short.

Ultimately, YMMV (your mileage may vary) re: your perfect number of carriers. Some companies thrive with just two or three trusted carriers in an area. Others operating in the same region may need nine or ten to feel comfortable.

It all comes down to your specific needs, the area, and the external factors at play.

What Are The Advantages Of Using More Than One Provider For Capacity From One Location?

Is it better to have multiple carriers in an area? Generally, yes. The benefits of using more than one provider for capacity tend to far outweigh the disadvantages.

The single biggest advantage for shippers is greater flexibility. If one carrier can’t provide coverage on a load, no problem — other trusted providers in the area can step in to pick up the slack.

This allows shippers to plug-and-play resources as needed and sidestep potential slow-downs. The resulting stability and consistency can be a major benefit to your operations overall.

This tactic also allows you to shop around your network for the ideal balance of cost and service. Better pricing, better coverage, better stability within your network — sounds like a win, win, win to us! 

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using More Than One Provider From One Location?

Relationships matter in this business. Strong relationships are worthwhile investments for shippers and carriers alike. Unfortunately, there can sometimes be an inverse relationship between relationship quality and your quantity of carriers per area.

At a certain point, the more providers you use per location, the less likely it is you’ll have great personal relationships with all of them.

If your carriers and their drivers aren’t very familiar with you and your freight, it may make it tougher to provide the highest level of service possible; or easier for them to treat you poorly.

Think of it like this: Who are you more likely to go above and beyond for — your best friend since first grade, or an anonymous stranger?

Sure, you might help a stranger load groceries into their car or hold an elevator for them.

But a long weekend of babysitting? An hour's drive to the airport? That kind of commitment is only afforded to your very nearest and dearest. 

The best carriers will strive to achieve that "lifelong friend"-type status, working to be a partner you can rely on when things get tough. Using multiple providers to/from one location can make it difficult to foster those deep connections. 

Trucker and manager discuss fleet

Finally, the more you expand your network, the more you’ll have to manage it.

You didn't go into business for the thrill of paper-pushing (unless you did, in which case, don't let us yuck your yum!) More spreadsheets, more billing, more paperwork — that's nobody's idea of a perfect workday.

As you bring more carriers into the fold, you spend more time managing your network and less time doing what you do best.

Still, the trade-off may be worth it for the flexibility of resources and peace of mind.

How Many Providers Should Shippers Solicit For A Shipment Out Of An Area?

When shippers cast a wide net to capture the lowest cent, chances are they’ll end up full of regret. (Hey, poetry!)

We recommend limiting your list to 5-10 trustworthy, vetted providers

With too many cooks in the kitchen, things can devolve into a knock-down, drag-out race to the bottom.

Too often, bargain-basement deals are a Trojan horse for poor service. You’re better off paying a bit more for reliable service and accountability than scoring a cheap rate with a carrier that won’t have your back.

That’s why we suggest reaching out to a small but mighty range of top-tier providers. Give yourself options — but not so many that it drags down your selection process.

What Should Shippers Consider When Choosing Trucking Companies To Add To Their Network?

If you’re looking to add carriers to your network in a given area, start with the basics.

Does this company work with the type of freight you need to ship in this area? Does it have a reputation for safety, customer service, and financial stability? What equipment does it use? What's its truck count? Claims history? Driver and customer reviews?

These questions are critical to understanding whether a provider is a good fit.

Then. pay attention to how each company communicates. Think of the frequency, transparency, urgency, and tone as previews of your working relationship.

If the company reps listen more than they speak and make a consistent effort to build a rapport with you, they’re likely in this for the long haul. (Or, y’know, whatever type of hauling you need. 😉)

Finally, it’s important to understand a carrier’s overall network and how you’ll fit into it. 

Even long haul carriers tend to have common areas of strength (at ATS, we call them network lanes) that help ensure consistent, high-quality service and capacity. Your best-fit carriers will seamlessly slot you into their existing flow of lanes and loads. 

If your needs will zig against a carrier’s zag, there may not be much value in a partnership for either company. Be sure to ask about common lanes in your vetting process. 

Trucks and cars traveling on multiple interstate roads

How Many Carriers Should You Use for One of Your Locations?

Working with multiple carriers in an area offers flexibility if (okay, fine: when) the odd hiccup in coverage occurs.

It can also create greater consistency and stability for your business, as you’re less likely to have to scramble to find trucks and drivers. (The opportunity to shop around within your own network isn’t a bad perk, either.)

In this constantly-changing industry, these reassurances and peace of mind can be priceless.

Now that you have the rundown on choosing the right carriers in an area, you’re probably looking to take that next step toward expanding your network. If you’re a checklist type of person (I know I am,) we have a fantastic Freight Carrier Vetting Guide available for free online. It will set you on the right path by laying out the must-ask questions and must-have knowledge you’ll need to make the best decision for your business.

Tags: Transportation Solutions, Freight Brokerage, Asset-Based Carrier, Carrier Network, Supply Chain Tips

Justin Werner

Written by Justin Werner

Justin has been with ATS for over 13 years in varying roles. Following a five-year stint as Customer Service Representative with ATS Specialized, Justin began managing various sales and customer services teams where he prioritized putting the needs of customers first, day in and out. Today, as the Director of Regional Accounts & US/Mexico Operations for ATS Specialized, Justin's commitment to maintaining strong customer and professional relationships has only grown as he looks to provide a truly invaluable service at the highest possible level.

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