The State of Freight

There’s no denying that the demand for shipping has changed in 2019. In recent years the trucking industry benefitted from strong freight levels—particularly last year. In fact, during a recent Facebook Live broadcast, our President and COO Tim Aschoff said 2018 was the best year for freight during his career in the trucking industry. Aschoff has also addressed the freight situation during recent appearances on Sirius XM and in his weekly videos and we’re using information and quotes from those sources for this post.

What’s changed in 2019?

External events have impacted the flow of freight this year. Winter storms and spring floods closed roads and generally slowed things down. Shipping of spring and summer goods was delayed because of lingering cold in much of the country. Tariffs and trade policy have impacted shipping demand in some areas—increasing demand at times for customers who were trying to ship more goods before tariffs took effect—and slowing down as tariffs are implemented. Normal patterns of freight have been disrupted in unpredictable ways.

In 2018 high demand for shipping meant carriers had more choices of loads. “We had all the freight options we needed it seemed,” said Aschoff. “Last year we had our pick of loads so you were always going to pick that 12-hundred mile drop and hook load that met your driver’s hours perfectly.” Aschoff says this year is a more normal freight environment. “There’s freight out there but we just have less options.”

Making adjustments.

As freight levels now appear to be settling into a more normal pattern, Crete Carrier and Shaffer trucking are actually gaining freight from major customers. But that can also require adjustments. Changes in freight lanes leads to imbalance in the network. Freight and drivers don’t always match up. Now the sales and operations teams are working to “repair” the network—and improve the situation for drivers. Aschoff says this isn’t unusual, but the abundance of freight in 2018 made it easier to pick up loads where necessary as those adjustments were made.

Aschoff says strong relationships with our major customers help smooth the ups and downs of freight demand. When trucks were hard to get last year we came through for those customers and now they’re sticking with us. “It’s those kinds of relationships you want with a customer—and they want with a carrier—that we think in the long run is best for our drivers,” Aschoff said. And it’s the service provided by our drivers that leads to more business from those key customers. “We are so proud that we have a lot of great drivers out there that offer consistent high quality service.”

The bottom line.

The first half of 2019 has presented some challenges but the picture may be improving. “The good thing is we have a lot of really good customers. Where we can bring on freight they want us to—and we’re doing that.”

And through it all Aschoff says the focus has been—and continues to be—on providing drivers with loads that keep them as productive as possible. “That’s one of my primary responsibilities—ensuring we’re taking care of all the drivers that we have out there. We are out there looking out for our drivers’ best interests. It doesn’t do us any good for them to get less miles.”