Choosing a Trucking Company: A Niche – Within a Niche – Within a Niche
The word niche may be a widely used word but it sometimes drags with it foggy understandings. The definition is “…subset of the market on which a specific product is focusing…” (Wikipedia). However, many people are not confident in defining their own application to the word. What niche (if any) do we serve?
The trucking industry can be described as a niche of the transportation industry. Nearly everyone in the trucking industry serves another niche: dry van, refer, flat deck, tanker, cube, livestock etc.
As a driver or operator choosing a trucking company usually starts with choosing your first niche. The talents and abilities of a flat deck operator requires a certain set of abilities and training (formal or informal). Training you may or may not have. The same goes for livestock, refer and tanker. Some of the training is transferable (moving from one flat deck to another flat deck company), but some abilities are specific to the company you may be considering.
Certain geographical areas may require a set of abilities others do not. For instance hauling in the mountains requires knowledge of chaining up tires in the winter whereas hauling central United States interstates may not.
Every company also accumulates a range of customers within their lanes and abilities, the larger the company the larger the pool of customers (usually). However, companies tend to aggressively search for specific types of loads within their area of expertise (or lanes). For example: over size/dimensional in the flat deck niche, or breeding stock in livestock, or fuel hauling in the tanking niche or even some Auto industry parts hauling. Each niche within a niche can have its own peculiar customer needs and even equipment requirements.
Choosing one employer over another is rarely comparing apples to apples.
Becoming and remaining a successful operator requires more than just choosing a good niche within a niche. Once a company is chosen settling down within the company requires vigilant determination and effort. The operator must develop their own niche within the niche-niche.
An operator is in business to serve their customer. In order to survive and thrive they must serve them in the most efficient and effective way. The primary customer of the operator is the trucking company the secondary is the trucking company’s customer.
The operator must get to know the needs of their primary and secondary customer… then meet those needs. Become an “expert” at meeting the needs of each customer. A good operator doesn’t just “do what their told” but sees what needs to be done, and does it while avoiding the costly obstacles.
It’s all about reliability, responsibility and trust. Operators should find and cut a niche within the trucking company and specifically meet those niche needs. Operators must become the “go to guy” when a certain set demands are presented.
If it’s done right, an operator niche will provide a more respectable margin than the company average. They have more predictable costs by developing very specific habits and procedures specific to their niche. Their expertise allows them to lower their overall risks and costs.
There is also an added benefit. When the economy turns upside down, they have a higher probability of retaining their positions in the company.
I am a believer that everyone can be replaced (both up and down the food chain). Company’s regularly loose contracts no matter how well they serve. Nobody is indispensable (at least not long term). I don’t believe in perfect job security so developing a niche isn’t a cure all, but it is a great business model.
Ultimately though the best business model is to become an “expert” in as many niche’s as you practically can. Diversify your usefulness and be flexible without compromising your own business interests. But the key is developing your first niche within a niche-niche.