I was thinking the other day about what can help an owner-operator find success. Most truckers, after all, at least think about becoming OOs, and you should probably begin the process of thinking about it early in your trucking career.
And by early I mean start learning about being an owner-operator from your first class at your truck driver training school in New Brunswick — or wherever you live. If you think you have what it takes to be an owner-operator, learn all you can about it while you’re in class.
Ask your instructors. Add all this information into your memory bank. And be patient — the first years of your trucking career should not be spent as an owner operator.
As you develop your trucking skills and experience, pay attention to the potential niches out there for you. Keep your eyes open, and you may find one (or more) which will bring you success when you set out on your own.
What is a niche trucking market?
A niche market is simply a specialized market. It may not have high demand, but the people in the market have high and specific expectations.
Niche markets are in many industries. Walk downtown or go to a shopping mall, and you will see many different retail stores which cater to many different niches. If you walk by “Country Candles”, you won’t expect to see men’s suits in the window. They’re in a niche market.
Trucking markets can also be niche markets, and if you can create one, you will find your road to steady success.
One example of a niche truck market is delivering logs from a logging company in one province to a port in another. Assuming you and your vehicle are cleared for port access, you might be able to make multiple deliveries in this niche each week, and spend most of the nights at home.
How can I find my trucking niche?
Well, niches really aren’t found — they’re made. The purpose of a niche is to avoid being “all things to all people”. You can’t be that. So you should think through the following ideas as you consider how to build that niche for your owner-operator trucking days.
- Geographic Range — how far from home to you want to go? If you’re single, or your family situation allows it, maybe you’ll go long-haul. If you want to spend as much time with your family and friends as possible, then short-haul will limit your geography.
- Type of customer — what type of customer do you want to deal with? Do they ship produce — then you need a reefer. Do they
- ship hazardous materials? The type of customer and shipped goods you want will influence your niche.
- Define the business you want closely — look at the example of the wood hauler. He works for one customer and delivers wood on time to another port. You might also look at carrying construction equipment made near you long-haul, and then transporting food back.
- Look at things from your customer’s point of view — they want to ship their product at certain, specific times, and get it to the destination at another specific time. Know yourself (and the hours of service) well enough to know what customer mindsets you can work with, knowing they may have unrealistic expectations.
- Put it all together — can you make money with the niche you’ve come up with? Have you determined the costs involved, and does it make sense. Make sure you’ve found out information about the shipper’s needs to build them into your pricing.
- Get on the road with the niche — if you’ve found one shipper, you may be in great shape already. All you have to do is prove yourself to them. If your niche involves several, you may need to spend time demonstrating your ability to them. But get out there and work that niche.
What are some other considerations as I think about my trucking niches?
One valuable niche — or rather foundation for a niche — is to have port access at ports near you. This access will give you the ability to transport goods in and out of the port — and remember they need you as much as you need them — perhaps more.
Having the ability to cross the border into the United States also opens up opportunities to create niches. Your broker will be able to find you more loads, in both directions — as will you if you’re operating under your own authority.
Consider getting as many extra endorsements on your Class 1E license as possible — you will increase the number of niches you can create. HazMat, Tanker, and double/triple endorsements all are valuable (and are almost niches in and of themselves).
What are some examples of trucking niches?
Locating the significant rail yards and the shippers who work with those yards can bring you success. Many, of course, are served by many truckers, but they can provide a lot of business if you impress them with your diligence and effort.
- Agricultural equipment needs hauling most of the year — and can be especially lucrative on a long-haul basis.
- Shippers needing specialized or dedicated tankers can be a great niche for you also. While proper cleaning is always necessary, carrying just one product, especially if it is in demand, could be your niche
- If there’s a paper mill near you, you may be able to serve them by taking the lignin, a by-product of wood pulping, to a processing plant. In this sort of work, you’ll be home most nights and almost all weekends.
- Hauling gasoline and diesel is always in demand, and is a niche allowing you to be at home nightly.
- Look at the agricultural products and food produced in your area. Especially if you’re willing to drive long-haul trips, you may be able to transport these products to destination markets several provinces away, and then broker a return load with produce from the destination.
Being a trucking specialist makes your career go
It’s impossible to be all things for all people. While you may be hauling a wide variety of loads during the early years of your career, you should be looking for ways to create your niche — especially if you’re looking to become an owner-operator. Your training for your trucking license should help you
Looking for niches can work for you even if you don’t think you want to be an owner-operator. You can still sign on with a company which works a niche, and if you’ve created a great work reputation, you should have many of the same benefits a niche market brings you.
So be thinking about niches through your training and your first years of driving. You will find the place that’s best for you in the trucking industry.