Small is big, for now
According to ATA figures, large truckload carriers have increased their total driver count — company and owner-operator equipment — by about 0.4 percent since the beginning of 2012. That reflects a 0.5 percent increase in company drivers and a 0.2 percent decrease in independent contractor drivers.
The breakdown for small truckload carriers is quite different. The overall increase in the driver force since January 2012 has been 0.1 percent (surprisingly below the 1 percent growth in tractors). But the number of company drivers is up 6.5 percent while the number of independent contractor drivers is down 6.3 percent.
Costello acknowledges these figures run counter to conventional wisdom. He believes that small carriers are having trouble competing with larger carriers for owner-operators — especially those who might be looking for assistance in financing a truck.
Large truckload carriers haven’t added owner-operators either on a net basis, but they have basically held steady by stealing them from small carriers.
Why does this matter to you?
It means that small fleets are, despite their challenges, increasingly rich targets for parts and repair sales. Not only are they operating older, non-warranty equipment, but they are increasingly operating company equipment — trucks they own and must maintain.
Meanwhile, many larger fleets are trying to shift capacity to independent contractors who make their own purchasing decisions. A big fleet is hardly a good customer if it doesn’t buy parts.