Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bid More Frequently, Not Less

I am not sure how I totally missed this great article in DC Velocity entitled "Go Short" however I am glad I ran into it now.  I think it is spot on and a great contrarian view from today's prevailing wisdom which is you need to be a "partner" in times of tight capacity.  Partner generally is a euphemism for a trucking sales person asking you to give them above market rates to secure some nebulous and not guaranteed insurance policy for capacity in the future.

As this article rightfully points out, this guarantee is anything but that and generally will not stand even after you paid that insurance policy cost.  The article states:
"At the heart of the study's findings is a fact that most who ship and haul for a living already know: that no truckload contract, regardless of duration, can force a shipper to honor a volume commitment, or a carrier to honor a capacity commitment. Because trucking is considered "derived demand"—meaning supply doesn't react unless demands are put on it—a carrier can easily change capacity, and the rate it charges, if it doesn't secure enough high-yield freight on a lane and finds better opportunities elsewhere. In many cases, it will stop accepting freight on a lane altogether."
As prices in the market change and as your rates become "stale" the carrier can just stop accepting tenders. They will say to you their "network has changed" and they can no longer support this lane.  It happens all the time and it happens with the best and most ethical carriers.  I am not accusing them of malpractice but rather I am just accepting what is and this article articulates it well.

This article advocates going shorter on your bid cycle, perhaps one year, and ensuring rates and lanes do not "get stale".  Interestingly enough, despite all the discussion from the carrier base about "long term partnerships" this appears to be in their best interest as well.

It is important to outline another extreme which is highlighted in the article.  Grough Grubbs, SVP of Distribution and Logistics for Stage Stores says:
"Our rating is dynamic based on competitive bidding, rather than an annual volume bid. This removes the dilemma of 'stale' bids," said Gough Grubbs, Stage's senior vice president, distribution/logistics. "As more competitive bids come in for certain lanes, incumbent carriers are given the opportunity to revise their rates in our system if they choose to. If not, they drop down in the pecking order for future loads."
This certainly looks and feels like every day is a new day and the bid cycle essentially never stops.  While this ensures market prices every day you would need to identify the trade off of this strategy with the benefits of some sort of stability.  That trade off equation would be different for each company and you would have to look at it in the context of your own competitive environment.  

One of the concerns I have written about many times is the fear the coordinated industry effort to "scare" shippers by talking about capacity shortfalls and rising prices (a week does not go by where a CEO of a trucking company feels a need to "remind" us that lowering capacity will result in higher prices) would result in the industry actually reinforcing to shippers that this is a commodity business.  Again, I do not believe it is a commodity however if all you talk about is the commodity behavior of the pricing scheme then you are essentially educating your customers to treat you as a commodity.

This article, and certainly Mr. Grubbs has taken it to the fullest measure.

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