How carriers can find success in any market with reefer freight

In a soft freight market with declining tender rejection rates, refrigerated or “reefer” freight can help you thrive even in difficult economic conditions. Reefer freight is often perishable and in non-cyclical categories like food, beverage, and pharmaceuticals, leading to steady demand throughout the year. Reefer freight also tends to be higher value than dry van freight, which translates to higher rates for you.

The advantages of hauling reefer loads are not without costs. Before entering the market, you’ll need to invest in specialized equipment, get additional insurance to protect yourself against spoilage, and train your staff to ensure dispatchers are making smart booking decisions and drivers have the skills needed to haul this specialized freight. 

We sat down with Shain Ferriss of Greenmiles, a transportation company founded in 2013 and based in Willard, Missouri. While Greenmiles does power-only loads and has a dry van trailer, 80-85% of their volume is reefer. Shain shared his insights on the market and tips on how carriers can get ahead with reefer freight. 

Why should carriers get into the reefer market? 

Reefer demand is more reliable and there is less competition. The products that move in reefer vans need to get moved no matter what’s happening in the economy. You know, nobody’s gonna stop eating chicken anytime soon, even if we were in a recession. So with reefer, a soft market might cause us to pull back a bit, but we know we’ve got a much better chance of survival than a carrier that does dry van loads.

What type of trailers and reefer units do you run at Greenmiles? 

We’re in the process of upgrading our entire fleet and at this point we’re mostly running 2022 and 2023 Wabash 53’ trailers with Carrier reefer units. The Wabash trailers have great build quality and we spec them out so they’re very efficient. For example, we have lift axles on the front so that we get better fuel efficiency when we’re running light.We also increased the insulation by about 50% to reduce the load on the reefer unit and give us more time in case of a breakdown. As far as the reefer unit, the carriers’ units are really fuel efficient and do a great job cooling. Some people say they’re a little loud, but it’s not something that’s going to affect my buying decision. We’ll probably use this set of trailers for 10 years.They’ll last a lot longer, but over time the insulation deteriorates and the cost of maintenance increases, so that cycle makes sense for our business.

Should carriers specialize on any specific type of reefer freight?

We don’t focus on any particular commodity at Greenmiles. With our equipment, we can do frozen, refrigerated, or heated. So as long as it’s not hazmat, we’ll haul it. Most of our fleet is running in the Midwest and South East, but really we go anywhere. I like to say we’ll deliver to the Statue of Liberty if you want us to. We have a few guys who like to chase produce, so they’ll go to California, Florida, or wherever the market’s hot. We get most of our loads on the spot market, probably close to 97%. We keep a few direct customers, mainly plant nurseries where we’ll dedicate a truck for a few days here and there, but by and large, we’re focused on finding loads on our favorite lanes that pay what we need them to pay.  

Besides the rate, what should carriers consider when looking at a specific load? 

Without question, facilities and their service levels. People think facilities will prioritize reefer trucks, but the reality is they prioritize whatever they need. Utilization is always important in trucking, but the cost of a reefer set up makes it even more important. Think about it. You’re looking at about 300 grand in equipment and it’s not making you any money when your driver is sitting at a facility. How much would you charge me if I wanted to borrow $300,000 for 24 hours? I tell my drivers and dispatchers to look at Convoy’s facility reviews, talk with other drivers, and use that information when they negotiate the rate. For example, we work with a grocery receiver here in Springfield on a regular basis, and I advise my drivers to add somewhere between $500 to $1,000 to whatever rate they come up with because I know they’re going to spend the whole day there.

What advice would you give a carrier that’s considering getting into the reefer market? 

Above all else, go to work for someone else who hauls reefer or hire someone who can teach you. Do not jump into the reefer business and try to wing it until you figure it out. This isn’t a niche business, but it is a very specialized part of trucking and even little mistakes can cost you dearly. With a dry van, you just need to make sure your load is blocked and braced properly. But with reefer, you need to understand the commodity you’re hauling. Let’s say you book a lettuce load from a freight broker. More than likely the freight broker probably got the lettuce from a produce broker. By the time you see that lettuce load on the board, you’re a few steps removed from the farmer and in a game of telephone with the requirements. So you may see they’re asking you to run that lettuce at 45 degrees, but you know that’s not going to work for lettuce. To succeed in reefer, you need to be able to spot inaccurate information and work across the shipper and receiver to get it fixed. Otherwise, you’ll be losing money and customers.

Why do you like to haul reefer loads with Convoy?

Convoy’s a great source for reefer loads, but what really sets them apart is the people. We don’t have issues often, but when we do, I know it’s going to be rectified and the time to resolve will be considered in the resolution. I’m spoiled when it comes to Convoy.

If you’d like to learn more about Greenmiles you can visit them on Facebook.

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Convoy Team
Convoy is the nation's leading digital freight network. We move thousands of truckloads around the country each day through our optimized, connected network of carriers, saving money for shippers, increasing earnings for drivers, and eliminating carbon waste for our planet. We use technology and data to solve problems of waste and inefficiency in the $800B trucking industry, which generates over 87 million metric tons of wasted CO2 emissions from empty trucks. Fortune 500 shippers like Anheuser-Busch, P&G, Niagara, and Unilever trust Convoy to lower costs, increase logistics efficiency, and achieve environmental sustainability targets.