As I reflect on holiday seasons from my past, I remember the sounds of my uncles’ big rigs firing down on Christmas eve as they would show up at my grandparents' home in the country.

One by one my five uncles would pull in with their loads parked down the small country road. Five semi trucks turned off with their reefers running.

It pays to know who's transporting your produce

Josh Miller
Horizon Transportation    Services LLC

My uncles were long-haul truck drivers. The holidays would be filled with their stories from the past year. Gifts were handed out, most of them from “truck stop trades” conducted on their trips home to Grandma’s house.

My Uncle Jack would always bring his nieces and nephews 1 pound of Wrigley gum, which he had traded for chocolate he delivered on his route.

One thing I understand now was their communication to their dispatchers, customers, and truck brokers. My grandparents’ phone line would be filled with calls the first three hours my uncles returned. With my uncles checking in letting their customers know they were shut down for the next two days and giving their ETA’s on when they would deliver the product to their customer’s location.

My family has been in the transportation industry since the ‘30’s. My grandfather drove a truck, making deliveries through the Depression to support his family of nine. He drove through World War II, shipping supplies to the troops.

Each one of my uncles followed his lead and hopped in the pilot seat of a big rig, all of them together joining Miller Equipment Rental out of Nogales, Ariz., during the ’70’s, ’80’s and ’90’s.

Through all the stories and tall tales there is one message that always rang true — communication.

Whether it be good news or bad news, always let your customer know what is going on.

Let your customer know where the load is, an estimated time of arrival, how the condition of the product is and the average temperature.

My uncles knew every phone bank in the U.S. and Canada. They would always know how much time they had between phone banks.

A morning and an evening call were always given.

Today with all of those stories in my head, I sit as vice president of sales for a large third-party logistics company. Communication is still the key to this business, with the technology of cell phones, e-mail, texting and even Twitter. It is easier to communicate today than ever before.

Unfortunately, for many produce companies, the communication of where their load is every morning is still a mystery.

For peace of mind in the produce industry I would suggest you follow these five rules for your truck carrier:

  • Require a morning check in before 9 a.m.;
  • Verify if your broker has contingent cargo insurance;
  • Request that your company be placed as certificate holder on your brokers insurance;
  • Ensure your broker has your e-mail, night phone number or cell phone number.
  • Make sure your brokers are registered by checking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Web site.

Following these five easy steps can give you a lot more peace of mind when it comes to whom you choose to ship your produce.

Don’t trust your online shipping boards to actually check to see who is behind all these truck brokerages bidding on your loads. Many of the scams that happen today can be linked right back to these five steps not being followed by brokerages and produce companies.

Make sure your brokerage can afford to keep its doors open, so you don’t have truck drivers coming back to you for payment.

A great place to find a competent broker is at the many produce shows such as the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, United Fresh’s convention, ANTAD in Mexico and others. This shows they have capital to participate in these programs, especially if they are not in their own home state or country.

Stay away from “agents” who work out of their home. These brokers usually work for several transit brokers at one time and can easily shut down their offices and change their numbers within hours, leaving your load stranded somewhere without your knowledge.

Get to know your broker, find out what he or she are about. One possible solution is to call them at 7 p.m. on a week night. What are they doing? How is your load? Do they answer their phone?

One of the questions we ask at interviews for account executives is, “What is your average Wednesday night like?” Usually if they have kids it might be a Scout night or church event. Maybe they can list the television shows that are on that evening. Even though they are not at work, how are they representing your business?

Can you sleep with ease knowing your load is on the road with your broker if they are out partying in the middle of the week? How competent can they be if they don’t have an answer to your question within a limited amount of time?
Ask yourself, honestly, are you putting your business in the right hands?

Josh Miller is vice president of sales and marketing for Horizon Transportation Services LLC, Visalia, Calif., which ships produce from the San Joaquin Valley to 48 states, Canada and Mexico.