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Creating a niche creates owner-operator success

Apr 25, 2018

Success comes from hard work, and some of the hardest work -- and biggest success -- in trucking happens when people become owner-operators. I suspect that most truckers at some point consider becoming their own bosses -- if so, you should begin thinking about it early in your trucking career.

In this case, “early” means during your first week at your CDL training school in Tacoma -- or wherever you live. While being an owner of a small business -- which is what an OO is -- is not for everyone, if you think you might want to follow that route, you have to start early.

Don’t hesitate to ask your instructors about being an owner-operator. Include the information in your memory bank, and use what you learn to keep your eyes open during your first years of your trucking career -- you won’t move to owner-operator for some time.

During those first years, also, keep an eye open for potential niches for your trucking business when you open it. Niche markets and business are the clear, fast road to success.

What is a niche trucking market?

A niche market is simply a specialized market. People in niche markets have very specific needs and expectations, and frequently there’s not a high demand for the niche.

Many industries have niche markets. In every mall or downtown, you’ll see a variety of retail stores catering to niche markets. If you walk by “Country Florist”, you won’t expect to see children’s toys in the window.  They’re in a niche market.

Trucking niche markets are generally created, not found. You will have to find what seems to be an underserved speciality to make it happen.

One example of a niche truck market is delivering logs from a logging company in one state to a port in another. Assuming you and your vehicle are cleared for port access, you might be able to make multiple deliveries in this niche each week, and spend most of the nights at home.

How can I find my trucking niche?

As I said, you’ll probably need to create your market -- you don’t want to be “all things to all people”.  It’s just not possible. So you should think through the following ideas as you observe the trucking industry while planning your move to owner-operator.  They’ll guide you into your niche.

  • Geographic Range -- how far from home to you want to go?  If you want to stay close to family, short-haul is probably what you should look for. Long-haul truckers can make excellent money, especially as owner-operators, but they can get into difficult personal situations..
  • Type of customer -- what type of customer do you want to deal with? Shipping liquids requires tankers. Shipping produce requires a reefer.
  • Define the business you want closely -- look at the example of the wood hauler. He works for one customer and delivers wood on time to another port. If you’re going long-haul, make sure you can transport goods both ways.
  • Look at things from your customer’s point of view -- customers have expectations which you will have to meet. Think through what they want, and make sure that you can meet them comfortably.
  • Put it all together -- can you make money with the niche you’ve come up with?  Research is important here as you’re creating, in essence, a business plan. Can you make what you want/need in this niche, or do you need to create another -- or add another.
  • Get on the road with the niche -- if you’ve found one shipper, you may be in great shape already. All the planning in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t try it -- get out there and drum up business in the niche. If you’ve already found people in it, great!  But don’t be afraid to market yourself.

What are some other considerations as I think about my trucking niches?

Having port access to the ports near you is important. Each port will have its own rules, but if you are able to deliver and load at the port, you have access to more possible niches. Remember they need you as much as you need them -- perhaps more. Having the ability to cross the border into Canada  opens up opportunities to create niches. Your broker will be able to find you more loads, in both directions -- as will you if you’re operating under your own authority. Add endorsements to your CDL. HazMat, tanker, and double/triple combinations are all endorsements which increase your flexibility and therefore the niches in which you can find success. Locating the significant rail yards and the shippers who work with those yards can bring you success. Many, of course, are served by many truckers, but they can provide a lot of business if you impress them with your diligence and effort.

What are some examples of trucking niches?

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box as you’re developing your business plan. Here are some ideas for you to ponder.

  • Agricultural equipment needs hauling year-round -- and is a valuable long-haul niche
  • Dedicated or specialized tanker shipping is a lucrative, strong niche. While the cleaning process may be more intense, it’s part of the niche, and might be worth the trouble for you.
  • Paper mills produce lignin as a by-product. They need the lignin shipped to a processing plant. This niche may let you be home at night and all weekends.
  • Oil, gasoline, and diesel transportation are all in high demand year-round.
  • Your area may have a strong agricultural or food products industry. Setting up long-haul deliveries, as well as pick-ups in the destination area, will provide you with regular business.

Trucking specialists are successful truckers

You can’t be all things for all people. I know that during your early years, you’ll be hauling for anyone, to anywhere. But during this time, you should keep your eyes open -- find possible niches whether you want to be an owner-operator or not, but especially if you do. Your training for your CDL should help you

Even if you don’t want to be an owner-operator, looking for niches can work for you. Some companies may be in a niche which works for you, and you’ll get many of the same benefits a niche market brings you.

Your niche can lead you into a very happy and successful career in trucking. Finding a niche is crucial for owner-operators, and as you’re developing your plan to become one, think through the niche you can create for yourself.