Small is big, for now

Blogs Avery Vise June 20, 2013

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.

Avery Vise is executive director, trucking research and analysis for Randall-Reilly Business Media and also serves as senior editor, industry analysis for Commercial Carrier Journal. Previously, he was editorial director of Randall-Reilly’s Fleet/Dealer/Aftermarket group and had served as chief editor of CCJ for 10 years. From 1985 to 1998, Vise worked for McGraw-Hill’s Aviation Week Group, covering Congress and the Department of Transportation for publications about the commercial aviation industry. He has received numerous awards from American Business Media and the American Society of Business Publication Editors for his coverage of the trucking industry. Vise is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with degrees in government and history.

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