Tim Higham, president & CEO of third-party logistics specialist Interstate Transport, St. Petersburg, FL, wants more carriers interested in hauling plants, trees and foliage. Typically viewed as dirty, difficult freight by truckers, it will take creating consistent backhauls and year-round freight to make this niche more attractive financially.
“We have three main challenges in the ‘live goods’ market,” Higham told Fleet Owner. “Most large fleets don’t want to ship plant material because it’s dirty and requires them to clean their trailers. Second, the seasonality of the plant business causes volume to dip and peak in extremes – for example, 65% of our yearly plant business takes place between March and May. Finally, backhauls can be difficult to acquire heading back into Florida, which is where all of our live goods originate from.”
Higham is addressing those issues in some new ways at Interstate, all in an effort to keep vitally needed capacity locked into the live-goods market as demand on trucking capacity overall continue to increase.
First, the company recently sealed a deal with EZ Shipper Racks Inc., also in St. Petersburg, which builds reusable racking systems for plant shipment and retail display for nurseries across the U.S. – giving truckers almost guaranteed backhauls to help make live goods transport a more profitable roundtrip proposition. “By coordinating the collection and return of hundreds of thousands of racks, we ensure lower operational costs for both growers and retailers, as well as help thousands of our drivers return to pick up their next load,” Higham said.
Interstate collects the empty racks for return to the growers for re-use. The patented EZ Shipper Racks (which are rented) break down in minutes at the retailer and can efficiently be used again. This efficiency reduces the cost to growers and retail outlets by not having to purchase their own racks, Higham said.
Next, through Interstate’s home-grown freight management system, payments are sped up to carriers and independents hauling live goods for them – a five-day flat payment window that appeals to the bottom line of any carrier, large or small. “We’ve found that if you are willing to pay people fast, they are even willing to go to a lower rate,” Higham explained. “They tend to be willing to go through the trouble of dirtying their trailers and washing them out if they are paid quickly.’
Finally, though freight management contracts with large retailers such as The Home Depot, Interstate is able to offer year-round freight to its network of 22 core carriers – keeping that capacity on hand and ready for the peak season.
“Having freight year round is critical,” Higham said. “We have to keep that capacity because the market is so tight now; carriers have many more options. So our goal is to build around the shipments we need to make – those difficult plant transports – a range of attractive characteristics to keep our carriers with us. It’s how we plan to keep growing our business into the future.”