Choosing a New Carrier

Now that spring is here, I like many of you are looking forward to the warm weather and the turning of things from grey to green. It is also a time when many of us get a little itchy to see if the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. As some of you may know, I have written in the past about the need to do your homework to determine if your carrier is really at fault for your lack of success or is it simply a case of you not looking after your own business? This article assumes that you have done this and have finally decided that it is time to start looking for a new position. So where do you begin? Here is a quick look at a proper carrier search, what it should look like and a few ideas on how to conduct your search.

Many things should be investigated before you commit to a new carrier. First and foremost, you should understand that for the most part, if you have clean equipment and a clean driving record, you are in the driver’s seat so to speak. Carriers are in dire need of good Owner Operators and Drivers so feel free to be bold with your demands for information. I believe that if you are looking for a long-term relationship with a progressive, successful carrier you need to know as much about them as they need to know about you.

As with all business decisions, I suggest that you start with a pen and pencil and write out a plan with a goal that includes the results you want. Many factors need to be contemplated like; how long do I want to be away from home? What part of the job do I like doing the most and least? Is it the driving part of the job that is my main interest? The least stops the better? Or is a good day determined when you have had multiple stops and met lots of different people over your shift? If so, maybe an LTL operation would fit your needs? Do you like a good mix of physical labor along with driving which might mean that flatbed work is where you want to be? Obviously there are as many types of operations as you can imagine so decide which sector of the industry best fits you and only focus on that group.

The ads that are in magazines such as this one are designed to catch your eye and have you consider them first. No secret here and many of them do the job well. But now that you’ve narrowed the field down to what you’re specifically looking for, it’s time to bring some detail into the search. Make a list of all the possibilities and put each company on a separate piece of paper. Then you can start to investigate each company and keep notes on each sheet so that you can compare them rationally. Next, contact these companies to get as much information as possible over the phone. Ask them to send you any information they have, including the contract you will be signing. When you have this information you should be able to narrow your search down to two or three candidates.

Each company will have different pay packages and various bells and whistles for you to consider. The common elements will be similar from company to company and they need to be tracked so on the top of each sheet, list the following items. There will be a revenue section that would list; rate of payment, if it is by the mile or percentage and list the average miles driven by their O/O fleet or the average gross if they pay by percentage along with the average miles driven. Also lists drops or pick up payments, waiting time rates of pay, safety bonus, layover payments and any other per diem payments that might apply such as tarping and un-tarping.

Below that you should list all the necessities that are either company paid or paid by yourself that need to be considered. These items would include things such as base plate, insurance (this area should also include some detail of what your deductibles are should you have an incident of any kind), tolls, permits, border crossing decals, HUVT (Heavy Vehicle Use Tax) along with any items the carrier might require you to have to work in your chosen sector such as a wet line for tank haulers or bulk carriers. Holdback amounts are your money but until they are paid they are an interruption to you of future cash flow so put this amount here for now – but ask if interest is paid on the amount and if so, when and what amount?

All the information you have collected so far are what I consider to be the hard facts and you should have had very little challenge in getting the information from your prospective new company. If you have gotten resistance in disclosure, this should tell you something of what the future might hold for you. Some carriers are very open with sharing information on the generic results of their Owner Operator fleet, so ask for it.

The next step once you have your facts on paper is the critical one; you have narrowed your search so now it’s time to get to work and find out the fine details. Remember not to be fooled by the numbers. Large gross numbers do not necessarily equate to money in your pocket and that’s why a visit to the carrier with your eyes wide open is the next step. Many carriers have developed infrastructures that are very Owner Operator user friendly and their infrastructure will allow you to take significant operating costs off your bottom line. Remember, it’s what’s left over that counts! For example, the carrier might offer preferred shop rates that are significantly below market rates. Depending on your individual situation, these factors may or may not be of importance to you. When I ran a small, three-truck fleet I did all my own oil changes and minor maintenance so this wouldn’t have been a big deal for me at the time. But for others who are not so inclined, this lowering of operating cost would flow right to your bottom line.

Finally ask, what is their turnover rate? They should be able to give you this answer quickly if they are concerned with the success of their contractors and drivers. Ask for the names of a couple of their Owner Operators so you can talk to these people about their experience with the carrier. When you are talking to these people you might want to also get the names of a couple of O/O’s who are not so happy so you can talk to them as well. What does the terminal look like? Is it neat and clean with a good driver’s room? Ask to meet the operations manager and one of the dispatchers for a quick chat and try to determine the culture of the company inside and outside the building. Is it a win/win professional climate or is it adversarial with tension in the air? Are the people in the company treated like professionals with respect?

Add up all the facts, both hard and soft items and make your decision. This is just a quick overview of how I would make a decision. This article could easily be 5 plus pages and still not cover every item. This decision is paramount to your future success so take your time and do it properly and at the end of the day, if you are left with two very close candidates, all I can say is trust your gut. Let your instincts take over as to where you might be most comfortable working.

One final thing when you make your decision. Go into the relationship with a positive attitude and a determination to succeed. Remember you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Let everyone know that you are a professional and do your part to get things off to a good start.

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.