This article is part of a series about how six big fleets are planning for a hot freight market in 2022. Click here to view the entire package.
Schneider kicked off the new year with a big buy: Midwest Logistics Systems, an Ohio TL carrier it snapped up for $263 million.
But the acquisition wasn't a surprise. The truckload giant signaled new strategies for 2022 at a December "fireside chat" with Stephens managing director Jack Atkins, held in Nashville.
Mark Rourke, Schneider CEO, outlined several strategies the trucking firm plans to deploy to capitalize on what it projects to be a red-hot trucking market.
"Certainly, the first half [of 2022] seems pretty solid," said Rourke.
Lean into intermodal
A constant stream of containers arriving at West Coast ports has made intermodal an attractive segment. Atkins noted that Schneider is very bullish on intermodal, "a growth driver" for the Wisconsin-based TL company.
Intermodal will be lively in 2022, Rourke predicted, telling Atkins that the company will have "several thousand" intermodal boxes to use, while assets are adding to the intermodal segment.
Schneider, being one of the largest North American TL carriers, owns containers and chassis. That gives the fleet more control over the customer experience, Rourke said.
But the industry has problems with dwell time of intermodal assets, which Rourke called a "cholesterol" of the trucking sector. At the end of 2021, the company saw improvement with asset productivity, which Rourke said was encouraging.
Switch up driver-recruitment strategies
Atkins said another TL CEO saw slight improvement in driver recruitment. The CEO, which went unnamed, had told Atkins that August was a "10" in terms of recruitment difficulty, but that had eased to 9.5.
Rourke responded by saying that pay increases in the industry to get "some more inquiries from folks outside the industry."
"For the first time in a decade, we stood up our training academies in the second quarter," said Rourke.
That meant fresh people "off the street" would get their CDL.
"Previously, we would only take if you had your CDL," said Rourke.
"We're going to have more of a fixed paid structure for even those irregular route drivers, because we have to provide that level of stability."
Atkins asked if things will change in the next five years, specifically a redefinition of the role of drivers, giving them a more stable career, perhaps with change in pay structure, away from pay per mile.
"We're going to have more of a fixed paid structure for even those irregular route drivers, because we have to provide that level of stability," Rourke said. "We can't sustain a level of turnover in that non-dedicated and non-intermodal dray world."
Use M&A to add value
The freight environment is ripe for M&A, and Rourke said the company is looking at defensible and augmentation opportunities. Rourke said a good M&A strategy is grabbing something the client needs.
"Whether it be dedicated or specialty, something else that you are doing to provide value to the customer besides moving the product [from point] A to B," said Rourke, foreshadowing the Midwest Logistics Systems buy and other 2022 strategies.
Rourke said the M&A also should provide a buffer around the base business.
"Something that gives you a little bit of a 'moat' — like Warren Buffett likes to say — around your business," said Rourke.