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Three Hats Your Broker Should Be Wearing - Part 1: The Adviser

Some people are famous for the hats they wore during their lifetime.

Abraham Lincoln seemed to live in his stove pipe hat, Picasso made the beret famous, John Wayne sported quite a collection of cowboy hats, and Charlie Chaplin made the bowler famous.

There are notable women that also are known for their hat choices, among them Amelia Earhart in her leather helmet, Coco Chanel’s trend setting designer hats, and of course, how could we leave out Carmen Miranda and her fruitful and sometimes flamboyant headdresses?

Hats are definitely a matter of personal choice, they have varying levels of usefulness, and while some people look great in a hat, others should never even go there.

A long time friend of mine called me the other day and within a few minutes he was telling me about a recent experience when he had relied on a truck broker to cover a load. It was a painful few minutes, because honestly, from the very beginning of the story I could tell it was going to turn out bad.

So what does this have to do with hats?

This little story is one that happens all the time in the business of moving produce. The retelling of it is because brokers fail to wear the hats that are part of the job.

Sometimes truck brokers can actually be like hats: a matter of personal choice, varying levels of usefulness, and while some people really understand how to manage a produce shipment, many shouldn’t even think about it.

A truck broker is called upon to find a truck or book a load, and the transaction often boils down to a few basic details like location (truck, product origin and load destination) single or team drivers and of course, rate. In fact, many brokers think that if they handle these details, the work of is done. And I use the word ‘handle’ loosely.

The truth is, a truck broker committing to moving a produce load should be relied upon to do far more than the above bare essentials. There are ‘hats’ (responsibilities) that a broker should not only be able to wear well, but should offer and be prepared to do willingly for any customer that chooses to pay for the broker’s services.

The three roles that a both produce company and a carrier is correct in expecting from the brokers they work with are advisor, advocate and partner. Perhaps there are more, but generally, most of the skills and abilities that a broker should have will fall into one of these areas. And of course, depending on a company’s individual goals, some brokers are a better fit than others. You just have to try them on, sort of. Right?

Today let’s start with advisor. This is huge, especially going into the early stages of the implementation of the ELD (electronic log) and Sanitary Transportation regulations. But leaving these two issues aside, just a normal ‘run of the mill’ load can require a broker to assist in making decisions. Being prepared and able to advise should be part of a brokerage service.

Here are some examples.

Aly and I have had numerous situations arise where a customer was going to load product that was not compatible in some way. Sometimes pick up or destination locations do not work, either because of time or geographical areas.

Weight issues, and occasionally ‘wait’ problems, should factor in on whether a load is doomed to fail when it’s still a mere dispatch. Yikes, we have seen some interesting attempts at what is destined to be the ultimate failure!

Temperature monitoring devices? Did your broker make sure it was on the order? Did he or she remind you to note which pallet it was on? Not on the floor or wall, right? Or back up even further. Of course you were reminded to check product counts and make sure that what was loaded was actually on the dispatch. At the same time, did you make sure that the product was pulping at the right temperature? Do you know what the right temperature is?

The problem lies in the fact that, as in all industries, it’s easy to make assumptions, especially about people in the jobs and positions they may have. A dispatcher (and for that matter, at times even an owner) may have the power or the responsibility to book a load for a truck, but that does not translate to having the skills, knowledge or experience to handle a particular shipment.

On the produce side, all I can say is that we frequently encounter a buyer’s inexperience and lack of knowledge about a product’s unique characteristics. Temperature or ethylene sensitivities, weight limitations, wet/iced product ordered to ride close to or on top of dry cases, and so on.

Are you an owner operator? Have you had a question about something about your load and had the broker either ignore you or be act like YOU should know the answer? Given the costs of both the transportation and product on a produce shipment, there is no ‘stupid’ or inappropriate question.

This is just a short list of things that arise and that may require a broker to weigh in before the product is ordered, dispatch is sent and the truck is started. What we have noticed is that the more we choose to share our opinion, the more often we are asked to contribute to serious decisions. Hence, ‘advisor.’

Honestly, I have not always been willing to wear the advisor hat. There were reasons for this, and none of them were good. What I have learned over time is that people want to do a great job, and sometimes, this requires help from those most qualified or in the best position to be helpful. Often, that would be the truck broker.

One last point about this advisor role. Brokers are not perfect. There have been plenty of situations when Aly and I were not sure about what to do or say. So at that point, what I would advise, is honestly say just that, “I am not sure.” And then get to work and try to find the answer.

It actually can be quite fulfilling to have ideas and information that give our customers, produce and carrier, an opportunity to be successful.

For all you brokers out there, go ahead and put it on. Be the advisor you are paid to be. Experience the rewards of being helpful to those dependent on you.

And those of you working with a broker? Encourage them to advise you when you need it. Don’t assume you have to know everything. Leaning on this person for advice can build a great relationship!

Next post, the advocate hat.

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