It’s hard to believe fall is right around the corner. Kids are heading back to school, holiday season preparations are in full force, and shippers throughout the supply chain are getting ready for the inevitable freight capacity crunch that lasts from now until the end of the year.

When trucks are in high demand and capacity is tight, a strong logistics strategy can ensure fewer headaches and more on-time deliveries this season.

Without further ado, we’re sharing 10 tips for not only getting through the fall 2016 surge, but also growing your business and relationships during this critical time of year.

1. Pre-plan as much as possible.  Think proactively about capacity needs, work to recognize risk factors ahead of time, and provide ample lead time to your carriers when scheduling. The more lead time you provide, the more cost effective your service will be. To become a shipper of choice, avoid making last minute requests, scheduling changes, or cancellations. When exceptions do occur, it’s important to have a thorough communication process in place to keep things moving and retain capacity.

2. Choose your mix of carriers and brokers wisely. It’s imperative to choose the right mix of carriers and brokers—especially during peak shipping season. Rather than automatically selecting the biggest or cheapest carriers, it’s good to look for variety and select those with unique or specialty services that don’t overlap with what incumbents in your network can already provide. For example, while some may be experts in drop trailer programming, others may have extensive experience with retail delivery or temperature-controlled shipping. The same goes for your backup carriers. 3PLs can add value by providing scalable capacity from a large network of proven carriers, rather than relying on a finite number of assets.

3. Think long term. Working to build lasting relationships with 3PLs and carriers is a strategy that can help you procure reliable capacity and steady pricing before, during, and after a surge.  When evaluating a partnership, ask yourself this question: “Can this company commit to ongoing investment in resources or continuous improvement that will make us more effective?”  If you find that you’re repeatedly having trouble getting coverage on lanes—especially on regular runs, consider a dedicated lane management solution.  Agreeing to a fixed price for a consistent service or capacity commitment reduces the risks, costs, time, and headaches associated with supply chain disruptions or failures

4. Do your homework. Look at daily, monthly, and annual freight indexes to understand market fluctuations and seasonal pricing trends. Don’t be afraid to talk to your 3PLs and carriers about your upcoming capacity needs and get their thoughts on where the market is headed as well. To ensure your carriers can reliably meet your needs, assess their past on-time pickup/delivery percentages, OS&D counts, number of claims, etc. to determine their value. If you don’t keep an internal scorecard of these metrics, check to see if they do. Your logistics service providers should regularly assess how they’re performing and be able to provide this information to you when you need it

5. Let technology do the work. Manual processes are time-consuming and create opportunities for human error. Automated processes and technology like electronic data interchange (EDI) can expedite load tendering, provide real-time status updates, and help you resolve payment issues in a timely matter. To ensure a well-oiled automation machine across the board, hold your suppliers and transportation providers to the same standards you hold your own company to. If you’re a small or mid-sized shipper without EDI capabilities of your own, look for partners that can add value through technology integrations and automation services at no cost.

6. Understand your carriers’ networks. When carriers are in high demand, they have the luxury of choosing freight that’s most beneficial to them. For example, they may opt for longer hauls later in the week to allow for maximum driving time over the weekend. Analyzing where carriers have empty miles and thinking about how to help them drive more efficiently can help you secure cost-effective, dedicated capacity when you need it most.

7. Offer perks to drivers. Another way to attract carriers when capacity is tight is providing perks and amenities to drivers. Consider offering streamlined gate check-in procedures, efficient loading/unloading processes, 24/7 access to your facility, restrooms, vending, machines, etc. to keep them coming back.

8. Be flexible with appointment times. Minimizing dwell time is of utmost importance to carriers.  If a shipper has restrictive appointment times, drivers may get stuck waiting for gates to open.  Consider adjusting appointment times to nights or weekends when more drivers are available. It’s also critical to be realistic and transparent regarding average wait times to better manage carrier expectations.

9. Add short-term vendors with close proximity. During seasonal fluctuations, adding short-term vendors with close proximity gives you the ability to fill last-minute orders and ensure Just-in-Time (JIT) or production shipments flow seamlessly. The extra cost could offset the losses you would sustain from product shortages. Better to reduce your margins to maintain a profitable customer. Chalk up losses to experience and apply the lessons to next year’s forecast.

10. Think outside OTR. Shifting from over-the-road (OTR) to intermodal is another way to ensure coverage and keep costs down in a tight-capacity market. Sometimes it’s not about getting there sooner; it’s about getting there period, and switching modes can accomplish this. Partner with 3PLs that have strong relationships with Class I railroads as a way to gain access to surplus capacity.

Capstone understands the pressure of shipping during seasonal spikes in demand, as well as the total delivered cost of not meeting that demand. If something goes wrong, it could result in potentially losing a customer or sacrificing valuable product placement.  From drop trailer programming to expedited freight to dedicated lane management, we create custom, time-sensitive, and reliable solutions that keep your freight moving seamlessly.