Search me: Load board strategies for owner-operators

In September, load board operator DAT Solutions, which powers OOIDA’s MembersEdge load board, reported that out of its U.S. database of 65,000 lanes, 53 percent of the 18,225 moves with round trips of 500 miles or more were head-haul moves. Head-haul is defined as the better paying leg in a pair of moves, usually outbound and then back home.

In fact, this year, about 45 percent of spot market rates on North American lanes have been higher than contract rates because truck capacity has been so tight.

In other words, it’s time to park the notion that load boards are just for backhaul freight.

At any given time there are millions of available van, reefer, and flatbed loads that are not under contract. A factory ramping up, a bumper crop, a congested port – any of these things can generate “exception” freight that a shipper or broker will post to a load board.

“The challenge is to quickly and confidently find the right load,” said Mark Montague, industry pricing analyst at DAT. “By that I mean a load that will help you accomplish whatever it is you want to do, whether it’s to maximize revenue, get home, or work with a particular shipper or broker.”

Here are four strategies you can use:

Post your truck
Whether you need to go from Point A to Point B and back again or you’re simply looking for your next job, post your truck to the load board and answer your phone when the brokers call.

“I know people who don’t want to be bothered by the phone calls,” said OOIDA Member Chad Boblett of Boblett Brothers in Lexington, Ky. “The way I see it, whoever receives the call is in the best position to negotiate the rate. If you’re a broker begging me for my service, then I get to name my terms. The only time I phone a broker is when I’m desperate. Or I want to go home.”

Boblett is one of the founders of the Rate Per Mile Masters group on Facebook, which has more than 1,400 members.

Focus on demand
“I always want to go from head-haul market to head-haul market,” says OOIDA Senior Member Bryan Spoon of Spoon Trucking, based in Grandy, N.C. He moves heavy machinery from Missouri to the East Coast and uses MembersEdge to find flatbed loads on the return.

Spoon’s dispatcher, Anna Lowdermilk with Lowdermilk Carrier Services, stays a step ahead. If Spoon says he wants to haul to Chicago, “I want to make sure he can get a good rate on the outbound before I book a load to send him there,” she said.

Balance is the key. For example, search the load board for freight coming out of a 100-mile radius of Chicago, then search for loads posted going to Chicago. If there’s an imbalance – say there are 509 loads inbound and 226 loads leaving – you know the broker will have an advantage on the rate. Looking for loads to Indianapolis or Peoria might be a better option.

Quote the ‘ugly load’
Boblett quotes every job that’s offered to him. He describes taking a call about a load of rain barrels to be picked up in Winchester, Ky., on a Thursday and offloaded at three separate stops in Delaware, a tough place to find an outbound load on a Friday evening. Boblett could hear the desperation in the broker’s voice.

“I said, ‘If you give me $4,300, it’d be worth doing.’ This wasn’t a negotiation. He didn’t ask if I’d do it for $4,000 or $4,100,” Boblett recalls. “He just said, ‘Done.’”

Quoting the “ugly load” tells the broker that you’re available if the price is right – in Boblett’s case, being compensated for the miles he figured he’d have to deadhead out of Delaware.

Learn the features
A reputable load board will have an array of tools you can use to find a load, review rate histories, and check the creditworthiness, stability, and reputation of a broker or shipper.

Dedicate time to learn how these features work. If you think a broker is low-balling you, it helps your cause when you can come back with a rate history on that lane and know how it was calculated. Are you looking at a seven-day average or a 90-day average rate? Are rate histories based on actual transactions or something else?

“Part of what you pay for today is all of this market intelligence and customer service,” Boblett says. “Take advantage of it.” LL