5 Tips for Choosing a Flatbed Broker
Most flatbed loads are covered by direct contracts between shippers and their asset-based carriers, but sometimes shippers are left without a truck when surges in shipping volume suck up available capacity. It’s critical, especially for business continuity, to have back-up capacity immediately available. Flatbed brokers can, and do, play a strategic role here. However, brokers come in all shapes, sizes, and capabilities. You want specialized flatbed brokers with the resources and know-how to safely manage your flatbed shipments. Here are 5 key factors to consider when choosing reliable flatbed brokers.
1. Knowledge of safety requirements.
Let’s face it, many shippers don’t trust that brokers understand the equipment, permitting, loading, and other requirements that come with flatbed shipments. But it’s not true! In fact, specialized flatbed brokers are well versed on these requirements. How can you spot the experts from the imposters? One way is to ask to see the documentation provided to the driver from a recent load. Flatbed specialists will have this detailed information in their system and won’t have to recreate it.
2. Size of carrier network.
Most flatbed capacity in the U.S. is not with large, national carriers. It can be found with the 15- to 20-truck carriers who operate regionally or serve specific lanes. You want a broker partner that can connect you to these carriers. Put your potential broker on the spot. Choose a specific lane or geography where you need coverage and ask them to check their database and immediately tell you how many carriers they have serving that lane or region. If they can’t do it, this may indicate that the broker does not have the right carrier relationships in place.
3. Sophisticated systems.
There are few barriers to entry in the freight brokerage business, so there’s many brokers whose only assets are a desk, a phone and a rolodex. That doesn’t cut it in 2015! It takes advanced technology systems to quickly match freight with available capacity and to manage shipments from pick-up to delivery. High-end brokers will have their carriers’ static lanes already in their system. Again, put the broker on the spot. Select a difficult lane – one you have had trouble covering. The right freight broker should be able to quickly reference their system and tell you which of its carriers delivers into that market regularly and is looking for backhauls.
4. Experienced people.
Watch out for lean operations where your contact wears many hats. One person can’t have the expertise needed to be a customer service representative, operations and a dispatcher. You want a broker that has dedicated flatbed representatives who are focused on your business. But don’t just trust the organization chart. Talk to the customer service representatives with whom you would be working. Ask them tough questions and see how they respond. You’ll quickly be able to tell if they understand the safety issues and other nuances related to flatbed freight.
5. Market intelligence.
As your business expands, you need the market knowledge to respond quickly to the growing demands of your customers. Is there adequate flatbed capacity in a certain market? How about rates for specific lanes – what will it cost you to serve a new customer or new market? High-end flatbed brokers monitor the market and should be able to advise you on these and other questions related to flatbed capacity. They can even spot check your existing rates against other carriers serving that lane to determine if you’re paying too much, or if they can get you a better deal.
Flatbed Brokers: Making the Right Choice
Lots of freight brokers say they handle flatbed loads, but do your homework and put them to the test. There’s simply too much risk in choosing an inexperienced broker who is not well-versed in the flatbed industry’s strict safety protocols. Don’t get stuck scrambling for capacity – now is the time to form a partnership with a broker that specializes in flatbed freight.