Truckers stay ahead of tough times with niche services

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Just ahead of the recession, Ashwaubenon-based Valley Transfer Storage, LLC made the leap from providing general freight services to working primarily with transporting pulp for the region’s paper industry.

It meant a potentially risky capital outlay in 2008 for new equipment and special permits to service those customers, but it’s a move owner Jeff Trudell said has paid off through the past few years of a rocky economy.

“At the time it was a pretty risky investment, but it paid off and we’ve expanded our customer base since we made that decision,” he said. “It’s helped us out by focusing on specialty product.”

Trudell said Valley Transfer continues to look at the potential to expand and will tailor its trucking to the needs of its customers.

While general freight still makes up the bulk of the nation’s trucking industry, niche operations have found their spot in the industry, said Bob Costello, chief economist with the American Trucking Associations.

“All types of (tanker) freight are up significantly year over year,” he said Thursday. “There are some areas doing quite well.”

While niche markets can offer a bonus to carriers, freight can be limited and there can be more demands on the carrier.

“But if you get a niche, you’re good at it and you get a customer base, they rely on you more” Costello said.

Freight moves ‘sideways’

Trudell said the move to serving a specific segment of the market was a mix of businesses sense and survival.

“We got out of over-the-road at the right time,” he said. “It did not look great on where it was going at the time or where prices were going at the time… We thought about buying new equipment and doing what we could to make it go, but made the decision to get out.”

Valley Transfer operates 10 tractor units and has more than 70 trailers. It also started a warehousing division to serve its customers, most of which are in the Green Bay area, but service extends as far away as Duluth, Minn.

“I think the smaller carriers, 1,000 trucks or less, are going to have to focus on their specialty freight and get those niche markets to really survive long term,” Trudell said. “We’re really trying to grow that and focusing on service to the customer … and specialty product hauling.”

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