Whether you’re shipping freight full truckload (FT) or less-than-truckload (LTL), you have a lot of choices when it comes to selecting a carrier to transport your goods. There are more than 700,000 freight carriers in the U.S. alone, the vast majority operating with six or fewer trucks. What kind of carrier is right for you?
Understanding the Difference Between Local, Regional and National Carriers
The freight delivery market can be divided into three sectors:
- Local carriers typically have a range of 80 to 100 miles, often in and around a major metropolitan area or within a single state. They may operate within a specified commercial zone as defined by the Surface Transportation Board. Local carriers may have anywhere from one to several dozen trucks that make multiple stops within their designated commercial zone each day. Local carriers get to know their delivery area well and are great for last-mile delivery or same-day delivery of goods between a local network of warehouses, parts suppliers, factories or retail stores.
- Regional haulers operate within a larger geographic area, such as the Eastern Seaboard, the Great Lakes region or the Pacific Northwest. These companies tend to have larger fleets, on average, than local carriers. Regional carriers can transport goods between a widely distributed network of manufacturing, warehouse and retail centers within a region. In addition to a larger delivery area, regional haulers may also have more service options and truck types available to meet a variety of needs. Many regional carriers offer next-day delivery within their region.
- National carriers—also known as over-the-road (OTC) haulers—are able to transport freight anywhere within the lower 48 states of the U.S. These companies tend to be the largest and most sophisticated in the trucking industry, operating fleets that range from several dozen to hundreds of trucks. Truckers may be on the road for a week at a time to get loads across the country. National carriers may specialize in certain freight types or offer a broad array of truck types, service options and delivery speeds.
The Benefits of a Regional Carrier
Each of these types of carriers fills an important niche in the trucking industry. Sometimes, the choice of carrier is clear. If you need to get goods from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, a national carrier may be your best or only option. While some trans-regional routes can be crossed by coordinating between two or more regional haulers, when going coast-to-coast it usually makes sense to minimize the number of stops and transfers your goods will have to make along the way. On the other hand, if you are making short daily runs between a supplier and a manufacturing plant located in the same metro area, a local carrier may be just the ticket for personal service and reliable same-day delivery.
However, a lot of commerce happens on a regional scale, especially for small to mid-sized companies. Regional carriers offer a number of advantages for companies who need to move goods further than across the street but not so far as the opposite coast.
- Regional carriers do not have to pay delivery area surcharges and have the fewest accessorial costs, making them more cost effective than national carriers when operating within their delivery region.
- They tend to be more responsive to customer needs than large national companies. While customer service is automated at the largest companies, many regional haulers still pride themselves on live customer support and problem solving.
- Because they specialize within their region, they may offer more direct routes and more flexible pickup and delivery schedules than the large nationals.
- They offer more same-day and next-day delivery options within their region than most national carriers, reducing express delivery costs.
- Regional carriers, as a group, have the lowest damage claim rates in the industry. That's because they offer simplified networks with less material handling than large national chains, and make better use of mechanized equipment for sorting and handling than local mom-and-pop carriers.
- As a group, they have high on-time delivery rates, too—averaging 99%.
Of course, there is no single solution that is right for every company, and there will always be plenty of business for local and national haulers. Many companies use a tiered strategy that takes advantage of all three classes of freight carriers for different types of deliveries.
No matter what kind of carrier you select, make sure your load is properly packaged and bundled for the ride. Pantero can help you select the right cartons, void fill materials, and bundling or palletizing options to keep your cargo safe on the road. Give us a call to see how we can help!