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September 29, 2021 10:45 AM, EDT

Loadsmart, Home Depot Launch Supply-Led Platform for Flatbed

flatbed distribution center A Home Depot flatbed distribution center. (Home Depot)

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Loadsmart launched a platform in partnership with The Home Depot that helps facilitate flatbed backhauls by focusing on supply, the companies announced Sept. 29.

Flatbed Messenger is an automated supply-led flatbed platform that pairs capacity and price to a shipment instead of the reverse.

The partnership helps to overcome obstacles in this approach by providing dedicated flatbed capacity to other shippers at lower rates.

Jim Nicholson

Nicholson

“We are really excited to launch this and tackle this problem with our freight partner at Home Depot,” Jim Nicholson, Loadsmart vice president of operations, told Transport Topics. “The general truckload market is very fragmented, and there has been a lack of technology that really optimizes the ability for both carriers and shippers to be able to transact more effectively. Now going directly into flatbed and open deck, it’s even further fragmented.”

Loadsmart launched its digital flatbed capability platform early last year. But to overcome challenges in the digital flatbed space, such as empty miles on the return journey, dedicated capacity was needed. The Home Depot partnership provided that capacity alongside demand from its vendor network.

“What’s so unique is we have all of the pieces here that are going to make this marketplace truly effective and able to accelerate really quickly,” Nicholson said. “But the key here that we want to home in on is that this is absolutely focused on being supply-led. It’s not where others have ventured, which is aggregating a bunch of demand and then trying to find that capacity.”

Shippers can access flatbed capacity that previously was earmarked for a dedicated shipper and which may be at a lower cost. At the same time, carriers in dedicated fleets can fill their backhauls to reduce empty miles. Loadsmart also is in discussions with other shippers to add dedicated capacity to the platform.

“One of the differentiators of the way that we’re doing things is that we’re leveraging Home Depot’s network footprint,” Loadsmart CEO Felipe Capella told TT. “They’re probably one of the largest flatbed shippers in the United States. Therefore, they have really deep relationships with transportation providers.”

Home Depot has invited its transportation providers to share their capacity within the technology framework provided by the platform. The home improvement retailer is hoping to bolster its customer experience, reduce empty miles, lower its carbon footprint and help other shippers and carriers do the same by sharing truck capacity.

Loadsmart logo

“Flatbeds are an essential transportation mode, yet the flatbed industry remains highly fragmented,” said Robin Baggs, director of transportation for Home Depot. “This platform presents shippers and carriers a unique opportunity to increase communication and collaboration to move freight in an easy, user-friendly way that’s more affordable, efficient and environmentally friendly than traditional methods.”

Home Depot also helped develop the concept by designing the framework and rolling out the platform.

“Their plan is to become even larger with this project of insourcing procurement,” Capella said. “They are starting to be responsible for higher capacities from their vendor network. So there again, they’re becoming larger and larger.”

Nicholson noted the platform also provides opportunities for small and midsize carriers that often are tied to a single shipper or a small group of shippers — a problem, he noted, that is especially true for flatbed.

“This gives an outlet for small and midsize carriers to now be introduced to quality shippers such as Home Depot,” Nicholson said. “So, it’s a huge value-added for the small and midsize carriers to interact with this network to both limit their empty miles but also get access to quality shippers.”

Nicholson noted the platform’s foundation is based on technology that has been developed over years. Like other services, it tracks the location of the truck, expected destination, load availability and scheduled times to filter through an algorithm that facilitates shipments and backhauls. But the difference is it has been updated to be specific to flatbed, supply-led and include a dedicated shipper.

“Nothing like this currently exists specifically in the flatbed space,” Nicholson said. “This is truly unique and absolutely anchored with Home Depot’s demand and supply, but can expand to other flatbed shippers and bring on other carriers outside of that carrier network that would create a critical mass to scale this rapidly.”

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