Fleets can provide a safe haven for owner-operators and build their own capacity at the same time


With opportunities plentiful and spot rates abounding, new entrant owner-operators and small fleets entered the market in droves in 2020 and 2021. The U.S. DOT granted operating authority to some 180,000 new carriers in those two years, according to analysis from FTR — far exceeding historical trends and more than double any other two-year period on record. And 90% or more of those new carriers operate just a single truck.

Over the past three months, however, the previously favorable winds have shifted for those small carriers chasing hot spot freight. Fuel costs have climbed dramatically, squeezing those small carriers’ cash flow, while spot market activity has cooled considerably, causing rates to dip as freight has hit a normalization pattern and as more freight has been moved back under contract and away from the spot market.

Now, many owner-operators are looking for shelter working under the authority of a larger motor carrier as an independent contractor.

At the same time, many mid-sized and larger motor carriers still eager to grow their driver count to meet demand of their shipper and broker customers, so now is the time for carriers to consider ways to attract and build relationships with this new large pool of owner-operators, many of whom now need the support simply to keep their businesses afloat.

Owner-operators are looking for stability and consistency. That means consistency with their expenses (like fuel and insurance), consistency in their loads and freight volume, and consistency with their rate per-mile — all of which fleets can offer within their existing IC programs.

Here’s how you can forge relationships with owner-operators that can provide needed capacity and help relieve some of the pressure on your fleet’s need for drivers:

Perfect your pitch with your recruiters.
Take the time to make sure your recruiting team is brushed up on all that your company offers to enrich the owner-operator experience at your fleet, such as discounts on diesel purchases through your fuel program, access to more affordable liability insurance coverage, maintenance escrow accounts, and steady access to freight that pays enough for them to earn a profit. Basically, package your contractor program’s key benefits into a box with a nice bow on it and then communicate it effectively to interested owner-operators.

Likewise, make sure your recruiting team knows the equipment requirements and qualifications for owner-operators you’re recruiting.

Position your marketing correctly.
When utilizing marketing on platforms like Google and Facebook to generate recruiting leads, it’s not enough to simply change your ads to say “Owner-operators welcome.” You need to make sure your ads are in front of the right people — aka the owner-operators looking to work with carriers like you. That likely means adjusting your target audience on those platforms to diversify who your ads are served to.

Ensure you’re respecting owner-operators’ independent status.
Keep in mind that even though owner-operators are seeking shelter under your fleet’s authority, the best shelter you can provide will be respecting their independent status. Fleets must ensure their recruiters and their operations personnel understand the difference between working with an independent contractor and a company driver — and to ensure you’re not blurring the line between the two, so your ICs feel independent in their routes, loads, and decision making, and to protect your company legally.

Need expert guidance with your driver programs or have questions about owner-operator compensation and benefits packages? Schedule a meeting with the NTI team to learn more.

Are you a member of the press and working on an article, video, podcast, webinar, or other content for which you’d like to reference NTI data or interview a source from The National Transportation Institute?
Email us at press@driverwages.com.


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