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The Expediter Lifestyle: What Makes It Different from Over-the-Road?
Perhaps you’ve been an over-the-road (OTR) driver for a few years now, and you’re curious about whether expedited trucking could give you the career growth opportunity you’ve been looking for. Or, maybe you’re new to trucking altogether and trying to decide which segment of the business is best for you.
But as you think through your options, you may be wondering: What exactly makes the expedited trucking different from OTR? And what should you expect from the expedite life?
Here are five key differences to consider as you evaluate whether the expedite lifestyle fits you--and your family.
Difference #1. Greater Uncertainty
“OTR is a much more scheduled product, with more consistent routes,” says John Elliott, chief executive officer for Load One LLC, an expedited trucking carrier headquartered in Taylor, Mich. “Expedited is much more of an on-demand kind of product. Rates are higher for that kind of premium service, but it’s not something where you have a consistent schedule.”
And that uncertainty with expediting can cause anxiety for some people when they have to sit and wait for their next load.
“When you think about the typical over-the-road trucker, many times they're dispatched at their regular drive and freight. In many cases, they may have their whole week planned out for them on Friday before their week starts,” says John Mueller, founder of The Transportation Station LLC, a Toledo, Ohio-based consulting firm that provides a full-range of regulatory and safety compliance services to trucking companies.
Expediting is also more seasonal in nature than OTR, says Mueller. “For expediters, generally January and February are slower months and July is typically slower for [automotive] plant shutdowns. Of course, that fluctuates a bit. With the automotive industry now, they don't always transition models in July. They may do it a different month, depending on the automaker.”
But, with the higher risk of expediting comes higher potential rewards. That’s because expedited trucking offers premium pay rates compared to OTR that make it a lucrative opportunity for smart professionals who are willing to do whatever it takes to learn--and master--the financial side of the business.
Difference #2. More Variety
Variety is the upside of “uncertainty.” As you talk with expediters, you’ll find that those who have been in the business for awhile love it precisely because of the variety--they aren’t always running the same routes.
“Expediting allows drivers to see a lot more of the country, unlike OTR where your run is a trip to Dallas, for example, and that's what you do every week, hitting the same highways and stopping at the same place to eat,” says Elliott. “The monotony with OTR is much greater. But expedite is much more of an adventure. Everyday you're going to go to different places, meet different customers, and deliver different freight.”
Difference #3. More Vehicle Options
With expediting, you also have more choices with the type and size of vehicle you drive.
That’s because over-the-road trucking primarily uses tractor-trailers. But in the expedited market, you have the option of running a tractor-trailer, straight truck, or cargo van, depending on your budget, driving qualifications, and the type of freight you’d like to haul.
“Although many expedite companies now incorporate tractor-trailers into it, you're going to find that the number of straight trucks and cargo vans outnumber tractors probably two or three to one in expedited trucking,” says Mueller.
Elliott says that the smaller vehicles used in expediting offer more flexibility to drivers who may be intimidated with trying to maneuver a tractor-trailer.
“A lot of times we will find that drivers, especially as they get a little bit older, prefer a smaller straight truck because it’s less strenuous vehicle to drive and there are more parking opportunities,” says Elliott. “It's easier to get straight trucks in and out of places--to stop at a Wal-Mart, go to the mall or go to the movies. But when you have a big trailer behind you, you’re much more restricted in terms of where you can go.”
And this has opened up more opportunities for husband and wife teams to get into the trucking business. “We’ve seen where a lot of the wives decide to get their CDL and drive with their husbands. A lot of them would not have made that decision to do that in a semi truck,” says Elliott.
Difference #4. Greater Need for Smart Financial Management
With OTR, you pretty much know how much revenue you’ll earn on any given week or month. But when you’re dealing with inconsistent loads in expedited trucking, then you need to prepare for uneven cash flow. Otherwise, you could put yourself out of business real quick.
This means you need to have a good handle on your expenses, says Elliott. “I think expediting is good for someone who really understands their numbers when it comes to operating their vehicle,” says Elliott. “It's good for someone who is able to look at the long game more than on a week-to-week basis. I think there's much more inconsistency in expediting, but when you look at year-over-year and those kind of longer range numbers, you’ll see that expediting can be more profitable for a driver than what over-the-road would be.”
But expediting isn’t for everybody, says Elliott. “I think you have to be a good financial manager of your money because sometimes it's raining, sometimes it's dry. I believe it’s a good choice for the right person.”
Mueller agrees. “It takes more of a savvy business person to be a good expediter. Expediters are not typical truck drivers--and I'm not saying anything against truck drivers when I say that. It's just that an expediter has to have that true owner-operator mentality and business savvy to be successful.”
Difference #5. Greater Need for Patience
To be an expediter means that you’ll often have to sit and wait between loads--and that requires patience.
“If the person is not a patient person then expediting may not be a good choice,” says Elliott. “But, for some people, the downtime can present opportunities. A lot of the drivers have different hobbies and things that they'll do on the road. And if they’re waiting somewhere interesting for the weekend, they enjoy going sightseeing and doing other things.”
The Bottom Line
So...OTR or expedited trucking--which is right for you?
It depends. Evaluate the differences and determine what best fits you. Does the prospect of inconsistent loads scare you? Then expedited trucking may not be a good fit. But if you love variety, want to see the country (while getting paid to do it), and are willing to invest the time and energy it takes to master the financial side of the business, then take a closer look at the expedite life.