C.H. Robinson carriers say relationships more valuable than technology

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Updated May 6, 2019
The 2018 C.H. Robinson Contract Carrier of the Year award winners.The 2018 C.H. Robinson Contract Carrier of the Year award winners.

“Digital brokers” are trying to disrupt the $700 billion transportation industry by developing technology to automate freight transactions such as offering instant “book it now” options to shippers for trucks and carriers for loads.

Yet carriers are not ready to concede that new technology has lessened the value of relationships for business success.

This sentiment pervaded the awards banquet held by C.H. Robinson on Tuesday, May 1, in Minneapolis. As one of the world’s largest third-party logistics providers, C.H. Robinson recognized 12 companies in 10 different categories with 2018 Carrier of the Year awards.

The program, now in its second year, recognizes truckload carriers that go above and beyond by displaying the highest level of service with C.H. Robinson while embracing its technology and developing relationships.

At the start of the event, the audience burst into applause when Mac Pinkerton, president of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson, said digital brokers overestimate the ability of technology to replace people.

“We don’t see it that way. We understand how important relationships are in our business. They matter today more than they ever have and that’s not going to change,” he said.

C.H. Robinson does business with 76,000 carriers a year to move between 19,000 and 26,000 loads a day and 6.4 million loads a year.

“Our technology is cutting edge. It is second to none,” Pinkerton continued, but “we keep the customer, carriers and employees at the center of the technology we develop and deploy.”

‘They have our back’

Ben Hartman holds the award that Cheetah Transportation, an expedite flatbed carrier based in Houston, received as the Carrier of the Year in the Flatbed category.Ben Hartman holds the award that Cheetah Transportation, an expedite flatbed carrier based in Houston, received as the Carrier of the Year in the Flatbed category.

Cheetah Transportation Systems, a Houston-based expedite flatbed carrier, was the Carrier of the Year in the Flatbed category. In an interview with CCJ, Ben Hartman, chief executive, says Cheetah has done business with digital brokers who seem to discount the value of relationships.

“I love technology. I love it all, but there is something to be said about the personal touch,” he said.

The difference in working with C.H. Robinson is that “we have their back and they have ours. They understand nothing is perfect,” he continued.

When accepting the award on stage, Hartman added, “there is a lot to be said about how we’ve formed a personal friendship. None of us want to disappoint a customer, but I definitely don’t want to disappoint my friends — no way.”

That line garnered applause from the audience, as did this one from Ray Kaczar, owner of Avalon National in Cassadaga, N.Y., after he accepted his award:

“What you guys have done in my life is beyond amazing and the journey has just begun,” he said. “We are partners in everything. I give thanks to God. I asked Him to lead me to somebody good in this industry and he sure did.”

The chaining effect

In the past few years, C.H. Robinson has been developing new features for Navisphere Carrier, the technology platform it uses to interact digitally with carriers through a web portal, mobile app and by other means, explained Kevin Abbot, vice president of truckload.

C.H. Robinson has contract and dedicated relationships with carriers that offer more consistent freight opportunities than spot market transactions. In the dedicated arrangements, C.H. Robinson pays carriers for all miles and accessorial charges, he said.

“If (the carrier) is not productive, it is our responsibility,” Abbot says.

Audrey Ponsell, chief operating officer of Pope Trucking, holds the award for Carrier of the Year in the 51-100 truck category.Audrey Ponsell, chief operating officer of Pope Trucking, holds the award for Carrier of the Year in the 51-100 truck category.

One of the latest technologies, now in beta testing, is a new freight planning tool that carriers use to see the “chaining impact” of loads they select. If a carrier wants to create a round trip, for instance, they may string together four of five loads.

The new tool shows users the options for the next loads in a route sequence. As soon as they pick the first load going into a freight market, they see the options for loads going out of that market. The planning tool does the same for all subsequent loads carriers choose to create a round trip.

The technology uses forecasting and probabilities that were developed by the company’s data science team to predict the availability and pricing of loads in markets.

With the technology carriers are able to put together a “highly optimized route” several days in advance, he says.

For the past three years, Pope Trucking, a dry van and flatbed carrier with nearly 100 trucks based in Pearson, Ga., has been doing a dedicated run for C.H. Robinson between Georgia and Florida. The company is currently working with C.H. Robinson to get additional dedicated freight and create round trips that have more segments than an out-and-back run.

“We are definitely interested in anything they can bring to us,” said Audrey Ponsell, chief operating officer.

The technology is currently being used by carriers with dedicated contracts and C.H. Robinson plans to bring the technology to the spot market, Abbot said.

Another new development by C.H. Robinson aggregates bids from shipper customers with similar lanes, such as Chicago to Atlanta, and presents the opportunities once a month to carriers who participate in its Contract Corridor program.

Previously, the company managed bids for customers separately.

“We did 300 bids two years ago,” Abbot said. “This was diluting our ability to get good equipment in the door.”

Driver retention

With the driver shortage, more carriers are working with C.H. Robinson to find loads to meet home time commitments with drivers and get them in their preferred lanes.

In an interview with CCJ, Ponsell credited C.H. Robinson for helping the carrier with driver retention. The company gets flatbed drivers home every weekend, which has been instrumental in keeping turnover to 35 percent.

“Our company is honored and blessed to work with C.H. Robinson for over 20 years,” Ponsell said when accepting its award for the 51-100 truck category. “We trust each other, and we know C.H. Robinson is going to have our back. We really appreciate how they have helped us grow as a company.”

The C.H. Robinson 2018 Contract Carrier of the Year Award winners also included:

  • Truck owner/operator: Jose Sanchez, Maywood, Calif.
  • Truck owner/operator: StanTranz, Walkertown, N.C.
  • 2-10 trucks: Jeffrey D. Leyk, Burtrum, Minn.
  • 11-50 trucks: Jack Rust, Rogersville, Mo.
  • 101-299 trucks: A.N. Webber, Inc., Chebanse, Ill.
  • 300-999 trucks: Nussbaum Transportation, Hudson, Ill.
  • 1,000+ trucks: Covenant Transport, Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • Temperature Controlled: Orbitz Trans Inc., Riverside, Calif.
  • Rookie of the Year: DJP Trucking LLC, Trevor, Wis.

All of the winners are part of C.H. Robinson’s Carrier Advantage Program and were nominated by their carrier representatives. The program provides contract carriers earlier access to freight, a dedicated carrier representative, discounts with the QuickPay program, contractual freight opportunities and the ability to submit offers on available freight via Navisphere Carrier.