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How Small Trucking Companies Survive: Part One

We are in an era where operating a trucking company is becoming more complex, more expensive, and more difficult to navigate with all the regulation change. Some are beginning to wonder if the small guys can survive in this era of big mergers and fast acquisitions.

Is it true? Will for-hire carriers that count their fleets in double digits thrive in the trucking of tomorrow? In fact, many small trucking companies are finding creative ways to find and secure long term business contracts.

In this two-part series, we are going to look at a few ways small trucking outfits are measuring success in a changed landscape. First up is how the little guys are finding big openings.

Find a Niche

Many small for-hire trucking companies are starting to look for niches that only smaller, more flexible companies can fill. As competitors diversify into other services, focusing on just one job allows for a laser like focus. After all, if you excel at making pizza, why would you open a dog grooming company?

Some operators are finding that the flatbed is proving to be a lucrative niche. On over-length loads, such as steel beams and pipe, there’s still room for market growth.  The absence of the large carriers is some markets creates openings for smaller carriers.

In some regions, such as the frozen Northeast, many large carriers have almost entirely exited the scene. Food hauling on short-haul regional Northeast routes is some of the hardest trucking in the country. An average length might be 525 miles with multiple pickups and deliveries.

The only times large carriers may be seen in the region is if they are coming in with long-haul loads. These operations are less inclined to stick around, which creates openings for the small guys. The next area where small business trucking excels matches other industries, because when it comes to customer service, size matters.

Focus on the Customer

It’s no secret that smaller organizations are much better at addressing the needs of customers than larger ones. Smaller fleets are better able to build a reputation for excellence and trust. Having greater flexibility allows them to respond to a customer’s needs quickly and efficiently.

As a result, many smaller carriers are counting the calls they receive from customers looking for service after having problems with larger carriers. These calls amount to a steady business stream. In this way the growth of the company relies on level of service, attention to detail, and effective communication with its customers.

In some cases, small fleets depend on a single customer for a majority of their business. While this presents service rewards, it does come with survival risk. The key to success is to not be too reliant on any one customer.

Retain Talent

Finding and keeping the right people is a key aspect of running any successful company. For smaller trucking companies, this is a crucial strategy. When the leader is closer to the front line, they are more likely to know each face in the organization.

It’s not just about managers, it’s about truck drivers, mechanics, service managers, safety guys, and even janitors and clerks. The idea that a team makes up a whole is especially true for small trucking companies.

In what may be the ultimate way to make lemonade out of lemons, the recession put a lot of well-qualified people out of a job. The talent is out there. Luring and retaining it should be at the top of every fleet manager’s list.

While these may be the top three ways that small fleets are staying competitive, they aren’t the only. Join us again next week for part two of How Small Trucking Companies Survive!

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