How to Manage Peak Season with Reefer Rentals

Fleet Management, Rental
April 12, 2016

ReeferWant to get a quick idea of some of the challenges and opportunities facing businesses in refrigerated trucking today? Look no further than the fresh produce industry.

With the big Global Cold Chain Expo 2016 set for Chicago in June, one major participant framed the situation perfectly.

“Increasingly, the fresh produce industry is being challenged to compete with locally grown, short haul fruits and vegetables that are picked closer to ripeness,” said Tom Stenzel, President & CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association.

So, what’s the solution?

“We believe the only way we can enhance quality control in our supply chain,” said Stenzel, “is a deep dive into the cold chain and technologies that bring our growers, packers, and wholesalers closer to the consumer.”

Bringing perishable goods “closer to the consumer” is where truckers enter the picture. It’s the last link in the chain, and every bit as important as the first. And, for the most part, being ready for peak-season, refrigerated trucking often comes down to one crucial element: having the right reefer rentals at your disposal.

Growing and Going

Of course, the timing of peak season can vary by industry. But let’s focus on flowers and produce, as they tend to drive summer high-season demand.

Late winter into early spring is peak growing season in major agricultural states like California, Florida, and Texas. There’s also the vast Mexico-Latin America import market to consider, much of which passes through Arizona and New Mexico. It’s a lot of potential seasonal business—if you’re ready for it. By May, load-to-truck posting ratios (the key predictor of seasonal freight) begin to steadily rise.

This is the point at which you need to make decisions in seasonal rental agreements —that is, before the supply of top-notch rental equipment begins to constrict in early June.

On a broader level, BusinessFleet.com’s article When Renting is a Good Idea offers pointers on the times and issues that should trigger having a chat with your rental fleet provider, all of which are applicable to reefers:

  • Peak Needs: Peak times can range from yearly holiday deliveries to weekly use. For example, a florist may need a few extra vehicles for Valentine’s Day, or a drink supplier delivering every Friday may need them as well.
  • Seasonal Use: Some companies have higher use during certain seasons. Garden supply stores, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, get inventory into their stores before the spring, while package delivery companies request more rentals toward Christmas.
  • Vehicle Breakdown: When fleet utilization is high, one non-functioning vehicle can mean unfinished projects or undelivered products. Rental is a solution until fleet vehicles can be repaired.

Keeping it Cool This Summer

So, as we begin to march through spring into warmer summer months, what’s demand looking like this year for the calendar’s hottest period?

Through the month of March, reefer load-to-truck ratios were “all over the place” and rising—along with shipping rates—according to TruckersEdge Report. Markets from California to the Southwest to the Midwest have been experiencing slow but steady rises. Market watchers see it as the sign of a busy summer to come.

Ultimately, being ready for upcoming peak-season reefer truck demand comes down to one golden rule: if your business relies on reefer rentals, then it must be done early. If you fall into that camp, what should you look for in a rental partner?

According to BusinessFleet.com, “The basic tenet of a business program for commercial truck rental is flexibility and ease of transaction. Programs facilitate this to varying degrees with a national contract, uniform pricing, centralized billing and a single point of contact. Account specialists can coordinate rentals in various parts of the country and one-way rentals, as well as create custom rental programs.”

What’s more, you also want a partner with a large enough inventory that can meet your unique, and possibly changing needs. To keep temperature-sensitive cargo cool in box trucks, city vans or semis, here are some of the reefer options you should keep in mind:

  • Wide temperature range
  • Cargo space (square footage)
  • Load capacity
  • Increased power with electronic standby or automatic start-stop features of refrigeration unit for convenience, fuel savings and lower emissions
  • Automatic transmission and power steering for easy driving
  • Side doors for easier loading/unloading
  • E-track to secure loads
  • Hydraulic lift gates

At the end of the day, a little advance planning can help make sure your business does not get left out in the cold during peak-season, refrigerated trucking in your industry.

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