ORLANDO, Fla. -- For years transportation in the supermarket industry has been viewed as a necessary expense required to move product to its destination -- not as a potential profit center. The rise of successful backhauling programs, however, is helping to change some distributors' perspective.
The potential savings from a backhauling program can be significant. According to Terry Imlay, traffic manager for Hillyard Co., St. Joseph, Mo., backhauling helped to reduce its overall fleet costs by 32 cents per mile last year, reduce empty miles traveled by its trucks by 21% and improve fleet revenues by 16%.
Imlay shared information on the pros and cons of backhauling at the Private Fleet Management Institute, held here Jan. 16 to 22.
Today, many supermarket retailers and wholesalers backhaul loads as a way to increase revenues and reduce transportation costs, increasing overall distribution efficiency. Representatives from Supervalu, Minneapolis, and a Northeast wholesaler that wished to remain anonymous, told SN they are leveraging their backhauling activities to increase revenue.
"Backhaul means the use of a back channel or bi-directional haul that returns your equipment back to your main source of freight while adding revenue for your fleet," Imlay explained.
In his presentation, Imlay cautioned attendees about some of the downsides and requirements of backhauling. Companies need to have the proper amount of equipment and personnel, and require extra time to search for backhaul opportunities as well as for loading and unloading. They also need additional time for communication with all levels of management, with their own dispatch team and with their backhaul customers.
Ronald Clark, transportation manager for Supervalu's Quincy, Fla., division, told attendees at a food-distribution workshop that even though the wholesaler does do backhauls, the competition to get the loads -- sometimes from a company's own customers -- is strong.
Imlay said Hillyard, a janitorial distribution company, acquires its backhauls through several methods, including transporting raw materials and establishing contracts to carry loads for local companies.