Red Book Credit Services
Red Book Credit Services watched produce truckers experience a pretty tough year in 1998. We saw many bankruptcies in the industry and many old-time firms called it quits. We watched quite a few produce truckers say, "enough is enough." The big question is what will 1999 bring for produce truckers? I've dusted off my crystal ball and I'm ready to provide you with my thoughts on what 1999 will bring to the produce industry.
The produce industry has experienced this for the last two or three years. The industry is shrinking. There are more buyouts and larger buying groups with more clout than ever before. Fresh cut produce has come on like gangbusters in the last few years. I think this trend will continue in 1999. What does this mean to produce truckers? I think it means that shippers and receivers will become more quality conscious than ever before. Consolidation doesn't mean that there will be less produce to haul. It means that there will be fewer companies controlling it. Big buying groups will expect the produce carriers to perform to the utmost standards. That means the days of running without a trip recorder are gone. It means that you carry a pulp thermometer and use it religiously. These big buyers and shippers are going to be looking for carriers and brokers who perform. When they find them, there will be plenty of freight available on a regular basis.
The new technology available to carriers and brokers is rapidly expanding. Many owner-operators now carry a laptop in their truck. Truckstops are making the Internet available to their patrons across the country. Load posting services are becoming more high tech. Red Book relies on computerized delivery of information now more than ever. We will be introducing a CD-ROM version of Red Book in conjunction with our sister company, The Packer, in early 1999. We feel that this CD will be about the biggest thing that we've done since we made the first Red Book available in 1925. Those who are afraid of computers, the Internet, or technology in general had better take the time to become educated. Those who don't may find themselves left in the dust in the new millennium.
There are more educational tools available to help the produce trucker learn how to do a better job and ultimately, how to make more money. The Allen Lund Company, Inc., a Los Angeles-based broker, introduced a class called Certified Refrigerator Transporter in 1998. It is a course that I recommend (after having taken it myself with the Red Book sales staff) to anyone hauling produce. Classes like this discuss the very basics of becoming a good produce hauler and as such, eliminating many of the claims and headaches that produce carriers experience by lacking efficiency. I flew to Salt Lake City to meet with a group of people called the Truck Brokers Institute. They are attempting to form a school for truck brokers, which they hope to open early in 1999. I have done more hauling produce seminars in 1998 than any other year. I think that groups like OOIDA and Transportation Intermediaries Association do a great job of providing educational tools for their membership. Produce haulers should take advantage of these educational sessions and tools when they're made available.
I think it will be very interesting to see what the government, namely the PACA, will do in 1999 with regard to helping produce truckers. If you have read many of my columns, you know that I feel this is much needed. We at Red Book have seen too many good produce haulers getting out of the business because they were sick of the unwarranted, undocumented claims. I think the Perishable Carriers Conference, which is the produce division of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, has made great strides lobbying the PACA to handle problems with produce loads on behalf of the trucker. I am attending their annual convention in February 1999, and I'm told that Mike Clancy, head of licensing for PACA will be in attendance, addressing produce transportation related problems. I think that this is a huge step in the right direction. I feel like it is time the produce industry gave truckers a level playing field. The industry, in my opinion, would lose a lot fewer good drivers if this were the case.
These are a few of the things that I think will happen in 1999. I think the produce industry is a great one in which to work. Sure it has its downside, but it is always exciting. No two days are ever the same. I also think that even with all of the changes and consolidation, it can be very lucrative for produce haulers who do a good job and take advantage of all the tools that are available to them. Best wishes in 1999 from the RBCS staff. LL