Hauling the holidays takes teamwork

Drivers, Our People, Shippers

The season of love and light only happens with heavy lifting by the folks who deliver everything from the groceries for family get-togethers to gifts for everyone on your list.      

What’s happening: The year-end surge in shipping and shopping typically begins in autumn with pumpkins and turkeys and lasts right up until the last jingle bell rings on Christmas Eve. Getting it all done takes creativity, collaboration, and plenty of planning.

Why it matters: When the winter holiday hauling season heats up, getting the basics right can make all the difference between a happy holiday and a mood fit for a Grinch. Prompt loading and unloading keep drivers rolling, and clearing out trailers quickly so they’re empty and ready to go makes moving goods easier on everyone.

The bottom line: No matter how you celebrate the season, a little bit of kindness goes a long way for the thousands of professional drivers who make the holidays happen.

While the eternal question of how Santa gets it all done in one night may never be answered, it’s no mystery how professional drivers and the operations teams who support them tackle the massive logistical challenges of the holiday season.

“It takes a lot of creativity, a ton of collaboration, and lots of planning,” said Jeremy Reed, senior director of load planning at U.S. Xpress. “We’ve all got to work in lockstep and put together a strategy to keep everything organized.”

The holiday-driven surge in shipping and shopping typically begins in autumn and heats up steadily until the last minute on Christmas Eve, said Daniel Hall, director of operations for Variant.

“Starting that last week of November and straight through December, you’ll run that four-to-five-week dash right up until Christmas,” Daniel said. “It’s the busiest time of the year, and drivers know they’re the focal point of delivering that freight on time.”

Even this year, when the normally massive holiday surge is somewhat muted, the National Retail Federation is reporting that retail sales during November and December will grow between 6% and 8% over 2021 to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion. Holiday retail sales have averaged an increase of 4.9% over the past 10 years, with pandemic spending driving big gains.

And that means a lot of holiday hauling.

“Whether we rush out to go shopping or buy things online, you’re only getting that stuff because people in this industry make it happen,” Daniel said.

In addition to the push to get holiday freight delivered, operations teams are focused on making sure over-the-road drivers are home to enjoy a little downtime with their families.

“Drivers are out right now working hard to get freight delivered and also looking to accrue some days off to spend at home,” said Dalton Dunbar, community leader for Variant. “When it comes up to Christmas and it’s time to get them home, that’s where our focus is – getting them home on time so they can be with their families.”

On the shipper and distributor side of that challenge, getting the basics right can make all the difference between a happy holiday and a mood fit for a Grinch. Some top tips for making the season brighter for professional drivers include:

  • Prompt loading and unloading keep drivers moving, and clearing out trailers quickly so they’re empty and ready to roll makes things easier on everyone.
  • Good lighting and clear signage at a receiver can make drivers feel safer on dark winter nights, and help them make their deliveries efficiently.
  • Allowing drivers to take breaks on site or providing them a designated parking area helps solve the constant challenge of finding a place to shut down.
  • Offering basic amenities including bathrooms and vending machines smooths the way any time of the year, but is particularly welcome during this high-intensity hauling season.

Some customers celebrate the season of giving by going the extra mile for the professional drivers who deliver for them every day, said Clayton Kibler, vice president of Dedicated operations for U.S. Xpress.

“We have some grocery customers that will do nice things for our drivers in terms of sharing food or helping us provide extras for our drivers,” he said. “The most important thing anyone can do is treat professional drivers with respect and courtesy.”  

That’s the easiest thing to do, and also one of the most meaningful, Jeremy added.

“A little bit of kindness goes a long way,” he said. “When a driver pulls up and has been on the road all night, seeing a smiling face at the receiving dock is a welcome sight.”

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