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Freight quoting and matching – accelerated by the Covid pandemic – has long gone digital, but bulk material haulers seemingly were left behind.
Carriers for years have developed or sought out platforms that ease the process of load quoting and booking for their customers, but the complexities and requirements that come with hauling bulk made automating that process problematic.
“Whether it’s from a safety perspective, an operations perspective, there’s a lot more checks and puts and takes if you will that goes into executing a bulk load,” said Schneider Senior Vice President of Bulk Jason Howe. “It might be the right kind of tanker, the right prep for the tank, air unload, pump unload, how am I gonna get the commodity in or out of the tank? Certainly the safety data sheet – the commodity I’m hauling – what the safety is involved there. There’s a complexity that maybe has driven bulk in the past to remain more on the manual side.”
There’s also the consideration, Howe said, that the makeup of the bulk industry consists largely of private carriers and, beyond the top 10 for-hire players in the space, it “gets really small, really fast.”
Schneider (CCJ Top 250, No. 9), one of just a few large carriers with bulk capacity – which it has offered for more than 50 years – launched in August a first-of-its-kind digital marketplace and extending 24/7 visibility to bulk shippers.
Launched in 2020, Schneider’s FreightPower marketplace leverages the strength of the company’s pool of more than 11,000 trucks and 37,000 trailers to offer shippers access to capacity. To extend digital marketplace capabilities to its bulk customers, Schneider expanded its FreightPower technology and added “a few more steps that a shipper has to take, and a few more questions that they have to answer – or let’s say boxes they have to check” Howe said.
Registered shipper customers, via FreightPower, select product type and whether it’s van, intermodal or bulk. They then select the origin and destination starting with the zip code and then the aforementioned boxes need to be checked. “Is it a shipper load or unload? Is the driver doing the work? Is there heat in transit required? These are all just check boxes on a webpage or the app,” Howe said.
Once the load is quoted and booked, Green Bay, Wisconsin-based Schneider uploads the Safety Data Sheet and transmits it across its team “and we do one last cursory review,” Howe said. “So there’s still that initial check. There’s still that validation. So we would get the very specific commodity information that comes through there and as that flows into our system the shipper gets an email confirmation of the order.”
At this point the shipper can track the load through the process – through the assignment to a driver and as it moves along the route – and set up notification alters “not dissimilar from maybe ordering something online,” Howe said. “I want to get an alert when it picks up. I want get alert when it delivers or is in route. And then there’s also access that after it’s delivered to specific load documents or proof of delivery.”
“We know shippers are busy, and their time is valuable. With Schneider FreightPower, they can book a bulk load from their smartphone or computer,” said Howe. “We are giving shippers time, independence and solutions — all backed by Schneider’s trusted brand.”
With Schneider FreightPower shippers can instantly quote and book their freight. Once booked, customers use FreightPower to track the progress of their shipment from pickup to delivery — giving shippers complete freight management.
Extending digital quoting and booking, Howe said, also allows Schneider to go after a larger slice of some of their most diversified customers’ business.
“Many of our customers that are shipping on the bulk side, most of them have some business on the van and intermodal side as well,” Howe said, “so there’s an extension there.”
There’s also an opportunity, Howe said, to attract new business by creating some efficiencies in a previously mundane and manual process.
“I think of the example as me, as a consumer, and how I like to buy and how I like to operate and to be able to use an app to go online and make it all happen is convenient,” he said. “I do it on my schedule and my time. Being able to execute on an app is pretty easy. So it does, I think, meets the growing needs of our shippers and how they prefer to offer. Here’s a way for me to go in and it’s easy for me to get a quote and see, ‘Hey, how does that compare with what I’m paying elsewhere?'”
Bulk shippers often don’t have a high volume but often ship the same thing to and from the same places. Once a shipper has built a history of load consistency – where shippers move the same commodities repeatedly to the same place – the number of boxes they need to check to rebook a similar load is slashed, further expediting the process.
“To be able to pull up those order favorites, that convenience factor is really significant,” he said. “Back to the consumer side, it’s the automatic reorders. It’s just simple and it saves time that can be focused on the other priorities.”