Similar to dry van and reefer, flatbed rates have been dramatically impacted by COVID. After dropping notably through April and May 2020, they steadily climbed through the rest of 2020. Rates somewhat plateaued in early 2021, but have been further impacted by major weather disruptions.
According to Chilt Price, Senior Sales Executive at Comet National Shipping, flatbed rates remain elevated across much of the US. Capacity is particularly scarce outbound from the Midwest, and thus rates are highly elevated. The only lanes that seem normal are to/from Florida.
Chilt notes that some long-time customers with their own equipment are shifting it to the Midwest market if possible to help mitigate the pain. Others are delaying movement of loads until rates hopefully fall. That’s not always an option, and frankly there are no guarantees that rates will fall in the near-term. Fortunately, there are several other strategies and tactics that shippers can use to help deal with tight flatbed capacity and high rates.
“Carriers are not in the mood to negotiate right now”, says Chilt Price, and thus it definitely helps to have a good ballpark idea of your max spend up front. He further states that “Shippers should also consider the nature of their load and how much effort is required for loading/unloading. Minimizing the extra work and hassle for the driver improves the odds of finding capacity at the right price.“
Because freight opportunities for flatbeds are so abundant, many drivers are not posting their availability to loadboards as they then get bombarded with calls. They are simply scanning the loadboard opportunities and picking those most enticing. One excellent strategy for shippers is to ensure you have a solid broker partner with a robust carrier base who can help find you the right capacity needed at the right price.
Indications are that flatbed demand and prices will remain elevated for some time, perhaps through the rest of 2021. We are just now entering Spring, and demand could possibly rise as construction projects fire up. As COVID concerns abate, the US could see an additional rise in construction. And on the horizon, a recovering oil and gas industry could begin pulling capacity back to Texas, North Dakota, and other areas. 2020 was a wild ride, and 2021 could be just as interesting!