Furniture haulers continue to catch up
HIGHLIGHT – Increased consumer demand for furniture put more pressure on motor carriers serving the industry, carriers who were already facing a shortage of drivers and stricter hours-of-service regulations hampering operations long before the pandemic hit last year.
Furniture Today met with Shelba D. Johnson Trucking National Sales Manager Richard Tucker for an update on the carrier situation. Tucker is also president of the Specialized Furniture Carriers division of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, which includes trucking companies that particularly focus on the intricacies of furniture transportation. His conversations with other carriers in the group and his own experience do not indicate any short-term solutions to the lengthy shipping delays on the road.
The current carrier environment reflects restrictions affecting the entire furniture supply chain, from raw materials to ocean freight to labor. Tucker said overall SFC member activity has grown by at least 30% this year, and that a limited number of drivers afflicting trucking in general in recent years is hitting furniture haulers particularly hard.
“It’s a competition for the pilots every day; I could hire 15 right now, ”Tucker said, noting that extended unemployment benefits affecting manufacturers’ workforces are not much of a problem. “There just aren’t enough engines for the market. We were in trouble before, and the increase in business made this need even more relevant. “
Compete with other sectors
Tucker thinks furniture haulers as a whole do “a little worse” than freight and truck haulers when it comes to attracting drivers.
“Many industries have not seen an increase in business with specialist furniture carriers,” he said. “We have to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to compensation to compete with the truck carriers. Before that, full-load carriers were paying the same price as we did for less work, so we had to increase mileage pay, stop rates, and recruit bonuses to compete.
In addition to a shortage of drivers, the market for trucking equipment is extremely tight, with long wait times.
“It’s hard to increase transportation when business increases,” Tucker said. “You can’t just create new pilots; you can’t just create trucks and trailers. Currently, new trucks are on order for one year and new trailers for up to two years. There are no rental trailers available on the East Coast at this time.
Shippers and furniture retailers know about delays on, well, just about everything. Tucker said carriers are doing their best to meet demand, but besides meeting delivery appointments and speeding up turnaround times, the only thing their customers can do at this point is to be patient.
“No one can do anything to alleviate the (transportation) situation without selling less furniture, which nobody wants to do,” Tucker said. “When a custom order takes twice as long to make, I think the majority of manufacturers and retailers have an understanding of what’s going on across the supply chain. “
There are a number of exceptions to this understanding, he added.
“It’s not your regular customer base,” Tucker said. “It’s the small businesses that bombard us on a daily basis. I know they constantly insult our customer service. It’s across the specialty carrier industry, not just Shelba.