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DG&A's Transportation Consulting Blog

b2ap3_thumbnail_dreamstime_xl_66940210.jpgIt was just a few years ago that the airline industry appeared to be teetering on the abyss. During this tumultuous period, many airlines merged or went out of business. Passengers had the upper hand and played one carrier off against another to their best advantage. One of the tools that helped salvage the industry and significantly boost its financial results has been pricing.  The airlines have become very clever in monetizing every aspect of their business.

If you want food on a plane, you have to pay for it. If you wish to reserve a seat or obtain a seat with more legroom, you pay for it. On many airlines, you pay for every bag you check. If a passenger travels to a specific set of destinations on a repetitive basis, some airlines will create a package deal (i.e. offer a block of tickets at a preferred rate).

The size of a plane utilized is tailored to the volume of passengers on the route. Certain larger size planes are utilized on heavy volume routes during the day and then assigned to less frequent evening fights on lower volume routes. Smaller planes or small regional partner airlines are utilized for flights to remote locations.

Now, with dynamic pricing, airlines adjust their fares based on seat availability, time of day, day of the week and other variables. Low fares are available in the early stages to create critical mass. As a flight fills up, rates go up. Passengers are “manipulated” into taking flights at slower times of the day to balance loads and maximize profits.

The brokers of the freight industry, online travel agents such as Expedia, are also skilled at managing travel data and selling flights, hotel rooms and car rentals. The LTL freight industry is in the process of learning from the airline industry.

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As we approach the end of February, most truckers would acknowledge that this is a good year for the North American motor carrier industry. Business volumes remain strong, in fact stronger than they have been during the first few months of prior years. Supply and demand remain in pretty good balance. Capacity is tight as experienced drivers remain in short supply. Low diesel fuel costs are keeping this operating expense in a more manageable range than it has been in some time. For Canadian manufacturers, the eighty cent dollar is helping drive exports to the United States. Many shippers are receptive to rate increases to ensure they retain their core carriers. There hasn’t been a better time in years to improve yields.

In the past, truckers would go to their low margin accounts during the good times and seek a significant rate increase or de-market some accounts in the hope that new, more profitable accounts would be added. As economic conditions worsened and revenues declined, these same truckers would often go back to the accounts they de-marketed and then try to re-secure them. This feast or famine approach to yield management did not appreciably improve the business on a long term basis. Some companies have learned from experience that there is a better way. During these fairly buoyant times, the opportunity exists to make some significant and sustainable improvements to the bottom line of your trucking business. Here’s how.

Get an Accurate Reading on the Margins on all of your Accounts

If you haven’t invested in a good cost accounting system, now is the time to do so. As a starting point for any yield management initiative, it is critical that you don’t guess at the margins of your accounts. A good costing system will supply you with high quality estimates of the margins of your clients. The system should supply you with a list of your accounts in descending order by contribution margin by lane. There is a need to fully understand what is driving these numbers.

Which specific costs are contributing to the low margins on some accounts? Does a particular account incur too much waiting time? Is the freight difficult to load? Does the driver have to incur too many out of route miles to pick up or deliver the freight? Are the costs in line but the rates are non-compensatory? Do the rates not sufficiently cover fuel or accessorial charges or freight density? What are the factors that are producing an inadequate return on the account? Where do the rates have to be to achieve a satisfactory yield on the account? This will serve as a partial roadmap as to where improvements are required.

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This year, major freight carriers have been seeking general rate (GRI) increases, higher fuel surcharges (at a time when energy prices are at their lowest levels in years), accessorial charge rate hikes and the implementation of dimensional LTL pricing. In other words, shippers, particularly in the small parcel and LTL sectors are facing a barrage of rate increases in 2015.

This brought to mind some words of wisdom I heard from Jerry Hempstead, President of Hempstead Consulting during the Logistics Management 2015 Rate Outlook webinar. Jerry made the comment that when it comes to freight rates, shippers “don’t get what they deserve, they get what they negotiate.” This sage advice has stayed with me since the call and is the inspiration for this blog. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

Data is Power

Shippers without good freight data are virtually defenseless in rate discussions. If you don’t have accurate data on the density of your freight, you are at the mercy of freight companies, their scales and dimensioning devices. If you don’t have quality data on your volumes by lane and on the various components (e.g. line haul charges, fuel surcharge, accessorial charges) of your freight spend, you are not able to able to manage your freight and communicate effectively with your carriers.

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Freight costs have historically been calculated on the basis of gross weight in kilograms or pounds. By charging only by weight, lightweight, low density packages become unprofitable for freight carriers due to the amount of space they take up in a trailer or container in proportion to their actual weight.

Dimensional weight is also known as DIM weight, volumetric weight, cubed weight or density-based pricing. The concept of Dimensional or Cube Weight is gaining popularity in the LTL freight industry as a uniform means of establishing a minimum charge for the cubic space occupied by a carton or pallet. Three of the largest LTL freight carriers, UPS Freight, FedEx Freight and YRC introduced dimensional LTL freight pricing this year. Currently FedEx Ground only applies dimensional pricing to packages measuring three cubic feet or greater.  Effective January 1, FedEx and UPS will apply dimensional pricing to all packages.  

The implication of this change in pricing methodology has caught the attention of the media (see article in Wall Street Journal). Experts say the impact could result in increased shipping costs of 5 to as much as 25% - - - if shippers don't take action. This blog will provide shippers with a guide to prepare for the introduction of this LTL pricing methodology.

A Definition of Dimensional or Cube-Based Pricing

Dimensional weight is a calculation of a theoretical weight of a shipment. This theoretical weight is the weight of the package at a minimum density chosen by the freight carrier. If the shipment is below this minimum density, then the actual weight is irrelevant as the freight carrier will charge for the volume of the package as if it were of the chosen density (what the package would weigh at the minimum density). Furthermore, the volume used to calculate the Dimensional Weight may not be absolutely representative of the true volume of the shipment. The freight carrier will measure the longest dimension in each of the three axes (X, Y and Z) and use these measurements to determine the shipment volume. If the carton or pallet is a right-angled box, then this will be equal to the true volume of the package. However, if the package is of any other shape, then the calculation of volume will be more than the true volume of the package.

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A picture is worth a thousand words.  This certainly applies to LTL freight.  Shippers can be penalized financially if their LTL freight is priced incorrectly using the wrong class or density.  LTL carrier margins suffer when their trailers contain freight that has been priced incorrectly due to inaccurate dimensions and weight.  A new start-up venture has entered the LTL space to address this specific issue.

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FreightSnap (www.freightsnap.com) launched its business in January of 2013.  This technology-based business uses digital images to capture cubic dimensions, cubic pounds per foot, the anticipated freight class and the bumping weight.  These images are stored in a cloud database for easy access and enterprise reporting. The user can take either one or two digital images of the same piece of freight.  The key is to make sure to have something in the image to scale to ensure the readings are accurate.

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The user inputs the weight of the shipment and then uses the screen controls to indicate the end points of the freight.

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