Fuel for Thought


By Greg Huggins
Posted Nov 12th 2023 5:23AM

Truckers talk about backhauls all the time. Some older drivers will also talk about fronthauls or headhauls, but these terms are becoming more obsolete as time goes by. These are being replaced with just a general term - loads.

In all my years as an owner operator, I have always found it odd that these terms exist at all for small business owner operators. Large carriers can recoup costs over a wide range of drivers, but for the small carrier, the owner operator, this way of thinking never made sense to me. I understand the origin of the terms, they go way back before my time in trucking and, most likely, beyond any truck driver still driving today. We will not get into the origins of these terms, but they are directly related to a previous blog I wrote - Truck Lines.

You have a good paying customer. This customer regularly ships from Point A to Point B. Your base of operations is near Point A so this works well for you. Upon reaching Point B, you have a few options. Find a quick, cheap “backhaul” to return to Point A, wait for a good paying load going back towards where you started or deadhead back to serve the customer at Point A. Do you see the problem? A backhaul is generally a load paying less than the load which brought you to Point B that is going back towards Point A. This is why it is called a backhaul, just a quick, cheap load that helps cover overhead costs to return you to your origin. You could wait for a better paying load, but your customer at Point A will be underserved in your absence. You could absorb the cost of returning empty and deadhead back to origin.

Now here is the conundrum. If I have a good paying customer, but my base of operations is near your Point B, everything is now reversed. You and I may travel nearly the same routes yet my “backhaul” is your money load and my money load is your “backhaul”. Different customers, of course, but the nearly same trips, similar expenses and similar timeframes.

Why would I be expected to take a lower paying load just because it gets me back near my home base? This is the thought process behind backhauls. That I should accept lower pay to return than the load that brought me here. This is what I never agreed with. 

I expect my business to earn a profit, Every trip. Every load. Every time. If you accept “backhaul” pay just to return to a better paying customer, you have to now average the return load pay with the good paying customer’s pay. While this can certainly be feasible and profitable, make sure the numbers still add up to revenue gained that is equal to the amount of time, miles and/or work you put in for the entire round trip, this also applies to deadheading back..

Why should a backhaul pay any less? Cultivate customers in both markets to make your entire trip earn the most revenue. Yes, I can hear all the Negative Nancys and Downer Dans saying “in a perfect world…” . Well, it doesn’t take a perfect world to create this scenario. It does however require that you put in the work to build that customer base. It can be done. It has been done before. It is being done right now. It will be done in the future. 

Once you became a business owner, an owner operator, you might have also become an accountant, a mechanic, a planner, a navigator, a manager and a salesperson. It is this last one that too many owner operators fail to develop to grow their business. Driving the truck is the easiest part of owning one, and the salesperson part of your duties may be the most important as well as the most difficult. Without the sales portion, no customers, you have nowhere to go and no revenue.

Let’s try to forget the antiquated term “backhaul” and make all loads a fronthaul or headhaul. 

Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman - not the attitude of the prospect. 

- W. Clement Stone

See you down the road,