April 30, 2017

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Small broker needs personal touch to compete, says panel

WOODBRIDGE, ON — The relationship between the freight broker and the carrier is one that’s complex and evolving very quickly, says Mike McCarron of Left Lane Associates, who moderated an expert panel Wednesday on the unique dynamic.

The broker panel, hosted by TransCore LinkLogistics at The Country Club in Woodbridge, ON, explored how the role of the broker is changing — particularly the smaller broker — especially in a sector climate where the lines have blurred between brokers and carriers.

“Well, they sort of work together, but they sort of don’t. They sort of like each other, sometimes, but not all the time,” McCarron said of the broker-carrier relationship.

McCarron sold his business three years ago. Due diligence was done, he explained, but he never had a single contract with for the some 120,000 loads he moved each year. Now, contracts are happening every day in the industry.

“Companies are inundated with contracts now, and have a whole legal team looking at them,” says Mike Fontaine, general manager of C.H. Robinson Worldwide’s Toronto office. “We’ve had carrier contracts, but up until recently we’ve had zero customer contracts,” he added.

Fontaine says the pace of the industry is getting faster every year. “It seems every load is expedited now,” he said, while acknowledging the growing crossover between brokers and carriers. “I laugh when I hear carriers call us their competitor because we don’t have any trucks,” he said.

For Michelle Arseneau, managing partner at GX Transportation, brokering used to be about getting past the company secretary, who acted as a kind of gatekeeper. So much has changed, she said. Business has moved online and become much more complex, with the industry having grown to the point where it’s been challenging for the smaller broker who can’t afford to invest in customer relations management systems, or other business technologies. While the art of the cold call isn’t quite dead yet, said Arseneau, smaller brokers need to get up close and personal.

“Meet the face behind that email address,” recommends Arseneau, who says good brokers give good info, while bad brokers don’t. “There are games some brokers play that make it difficult to operate.”

Jon Saunders, vice-president of finance at Polaris Transportation Group, echoed Arseneau’s point about smaller brokers needing to have the personal touch. “You might not win on breadth of IT, or services offered, but you might win on customer experience,” offered Saunders.

Bob Cascagnette, vice-president of sales at Highlight Motor Freight, told the panel that it’s wise for the small broker to specialize, whether it’s geographically or through some other niche. It’s the only way for them to survive as the industry shifts, he said.

“Become that name in Buffalo, then maybe move it to Rochester, or wherever,” said Cascagnette. “We spent the first five years of our business just pounding away at the eastern seaboard. Pick an area, and service it.”

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