OTR fleets could be losing more drivers to opportunities in e-commerce

Elizabeth Orton started a furniture home delivery business last year and is keeping her trucks full with freight from the uShip marketplace.Elizabeth Orton started a furniture home delivery business last year and is keeping her trucks full with freight from the uShip marketplace.

One of the factors contributing to the shortage of over-the-road truck drivers is increased demand for labor and capital to fulfill orders in e-commerce.

With more items moving through online channels, drivers have more options to start their own businesses and stay closer to home. Furniture deliveries is a growing market niche.

Estimates show consumers will spend $20 billion this year on furniture items. The top 50 retailers, which include online sellers Wayfair and Restoration Hardware (RH), are expected to account for $9 billion of this sales pie. The remaining $11 billion will go through independent brick-and-mortar retailers, many of whom are looking to expand their online presence.

A furniture retailer may not necessarily think of using XPO Logistics, C.H. Robinson or J.B. Hunt for transporting specialty or vintage items they want to have picked up and delivered by the same driver and vehicle who also provides in-home delivery service.

“They want to blanket wrap it once and drive it all the way to a person’s home,” says Mike Williams, chief executive of uShip. “That is why we win against moving companies that have a distributed network.”

uShip has been working with specialty transporters for 15 years and has an active network of 31,000 companies in the United States and 41,000 globally. Some of the business owners in its network spent years as drivers and owner-operators working for over-the-road trucking companies before starting their own companies, he says.

Recent surveys done by uShip to better understand its carrier network show:

  • 96% operate less than 5 trucks and 46 percent operate one vehicle.
  • 66% are In-Home Delivery carriers. These drivers typically work in a regional area.
  • 95% have a box truck, enclosed trailer or transit/sprinter van
  • 37% of In-Home Delivery carriers have been driving for 15 or more years

uShip’s e-commerce business has been growing rapidly. Two of its largest customers specialize in vintage furniture items: Everything But The House (EBTH) and Chairish. Williams says uShip’s technology gives online retailers instant shipping prices in their checkout process through integration with their point-of-sale applications like Shopify and Magento. The shipping prices are shared with uShip’s transporter base to accept or decline.

“We are in the very early innings of large and bulky items,” he says. “We are catching this at the right time.”

Elizabeth Orton launched a furniture shipping business in July 2018. She purchased a single cargo truck. By December, her company Find A Way (FAW) Shipping had grown to five vehicles that include a 5×10 trailer and a 26’ box truck.

Before starting her business, Orton worked at a factory where she met truck drivers on a daily basis to file their paperwork. Her conversations evolved from “How’s your day going?” to “Tell me more about the trucking industry.”

“Being able to talk to the core of the trucking industry allowed me to truly discover the pros and cons within the business,” she says. “Many of the truck drivers felt as though they were underpaid and worked for a boss that did not care for them.”

She wanted to change the work dynamic for drivers and provide good-paying jobs and make them feel like part of a trucking family. A former collegiate basketball athlete, Orton is using her natural size and strength to make in-home furniture deliveries for customers.

FAW Shipping is getting most of its business volume through uShip’s online marketplace. The uShip website and mobile app gives carriers instant access to available freight that comes directly from shippers.

uShip’s e-commerce home delivery business is gaining ground on the company’s established car-hauling business. In the automotive sector, transportation brokers often use uShip’s marketplace to aggregate demand for people who need to ship vehicles. The e-commerce business is direct between retailers and transporters, however, Williams says.

Like any transportation company, driver retention has become top-of-mind for uShip to continue to grow its business and capacity in the e-commerce sector.

“We have to provide great value to these transporters,” Williams says. “The number-one thing we do is build technology that makes it easy to find shipments. Transporters do not have time to wait.”