Are you looking to steer your truck driving career in a more challenging—and possibly fulfilling—direction? If so, flatbed trucking might be right for you, but how do you choose a company that’s a good fit?
Being a flatbed truck driver isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Flatbed drivers are a unique brand of trucker who prefer a more taxing form of transportation. They’re a tough, tightly knit crew who relish a little adversity and consider themselves part of an elite unit. As it turns out, flatbedders don’t mind being labeled the Navy SEALs of the trucking world.
Generally speaking, flatbed truck drivers are a discerning bunch who want to work for a company that understands, respects and rewards them. The best flatbed trucking companies deliver on all fronts. They offer competitive pay and benefits. They have strong training and safety programs. They build a trust-based culture by focusing on communication and setting clear expectations.
If you’re interested in making the move to flatbed trucking—or are an experienced flatbedder looking to change carriers—you’ll want to evaluate companies based on five telling criteria. So what should you look for in a flatbed trucking company? Here’s our checklist to help you find a good match.
Drivers who say culture doesn’t matter probably haven’t worked for the right trucking company. In the transportation and logistics industry, culture can make a drastic difference. Experienced owner-operators and company drivers alike have seen what works and what doesn’t—and they tend to gravitate toward companies that weave best practices into their culture.
The best flatbed trucking companies, whether they’re regional or national, exude an air of accountability, performance and integrity. They understand drivers want results and need support. They listen to their flatbedders and continuously improve their processes for better outcomes. They put drivers before profits, and the tone at the top reflects that commitment.
When choosing a flatbed carrier, check online reviews and forums to see if their reputation holds up. Are drivers giving a company high marks for culture? Do its values line up with reality? If possible, talk with current drivers to see if the company walks the walk.
And remember, the business side is only part of the picture. If the company has more of a family feel, that indicates there’s a level of comfort and mutual respect among drivers that can be hard to find.
Communication breakdowns are often the source of workplace woes, and in flatbed trucking, they can be costly and lead to chaos. Seek out a company that explicitly endorses strong communication with owner-operators and company drivers, makes it the centerpiece of day-to-day operations and always closes the loop.
Preplanning is vital for flatbed truckers to be successful. Does the company preplan the majority of daily loads? Is there an assigned driver manager relaying specifics about pickup and delivery times? Like elite military troops, flatbedders want to know the mission parameters and when they change. They appreciate precise schedules and take pride in keeping them.
Excellent communication is a sign a flatbed company respects drivers and their time. When communication occurs, it’s purposeful. It’s meant to give drivers an advantage and limit hassles and headaches that could—and should—be avoided.
Does the trucking company have a system in place that promotes direct and frequent communication? Is there an established channel for drivers to effectively provide feedback on each load they haul? Is technology being used to track and discuss positive and negative trends related to key performance indicators?
This may be one of the more obvious items on the checklist, but it’s also one of the most important. The high demand for flatbed truck drivers works in your favor. The best paying flatbed trucking companies are constantly reviewing and revamping their pay and benefits to remain competitive. But the frenzy of facts and figures out there can be daunting.
Start with the basics. What will your take-home pay look like? How does it compare to other similarly sized flatbed companies? Will you be fairly and appropriately compensated for the work performed? The average flatbedder earns about $66,000 annually, but some companies have structured their packages to raise the salary ceiling. They’re offering a higher percentage of linehaul, as well as accessorial pay and performance-based incentives, to really up the ante.
When analyzing a pay-and-benefits package, don’t let large signing bonuses and other gimmicks distort your decision making. There’s a lot more to a flatbed trucking job than a nice check right out of the gate. What sort of extended pay programs does the company offer that you can tap into over time? Can you earn bonuses for hitting revenue goals, referring qualified drivers or doing your job safely and efficiently?
Company drivers can make $70,000 annually,< and the best of the best are making even more with special bonuses and rewards.
Don’t skimp on safety when selecting a flatbed carrier. A company’s record in this area says a lot about where its priorities lie and what it’s doing to keep drivers safe on the road.
Over-the-road trucking is dangerous, and flatbedding carries some special risks associated with loading, securing and tarping freight. While all flatbed companies have company driver safety programs to train drivers on proper techniques, some are superior to others. Look for companies with more rigorous training, safety features in their trucks and incentives for safe driving.
Mishaps and crashes are part of the trucking industry, but the safest flatbed trucking companies work diligently by training their drivers to avoid preventable incidents that can lead to injuries or even fatalities. Wondering if a company you’re considering puts flatbed trucking safety first? Be sure to check them out on the federal Safety Measurement System website.
Vet the safety team before you apply at a flatbed trucking company. Do they have knowledgeable instructors with plenty of on-the-job experience? What about the semi trucks themselves? Do they have built-in rollover stability and collision avoidance technology? How about SpeedGauge electronic monitoring and SmartDrive event recorders? Safety-minded companies invest in these state-of-the-art features to help protect their drivers and those around them.
The last item in our checklist is definitely not the least. In flatbed trucking—and in life—there’s an distinct upside to setting and managing expectations.
When you walk through the door, the first conversation should be about your expectations for pay, time home and on-the-job support. Each flatbed driver comes in with a different perspective and goals. If a trucking company doesn’t understand where they are in their career or what they’re working toward, the relationship will be bumpier than I-10 in Louisiana.
Find a flatbed company known for being open and honest with its drivers—one that routinely checks in with you to make sure your expectations are being met. JLE looks at the individual needs of each newly hired driver by completing a cash-flow worksheet and documenting their home time preferences. Drivers and their managers continually measure expectations during week-in-review meetings.
On top of all that, JLE has a Driver Retention Committee that meets daily to identify and address misaligned expectations. We’re committed to keeping hard-working, high-earning drivers. It’s all part of our Proudly Driven philosophy.
If JLE sounds like the best flatbed trucking company for you, apply today to become an elite driver. Follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn to learn more about why we're a finalist for the Truckload Carriers Association's "2021 Best Fleets to Drive For."