January 8, 2018

J.B. Hunt broadens last-mile service with launch of dedicated network

Service to support deliveries for high-volume retailers.

By Mark B. Solomon

J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. has assembled a large fleet and driver contractor network to provide dedicated final-mile services for U.S. retailers on a nationwide scale, a move designed to pose a significant challenge to XPO Logistics Inc. and other companies in the national last-mile segment.

For 10 years, Lowell, Ark.-based Hunt, using its own trucks and drivers, has offered last-mile deliveries by commingling manufacturer shipments staged in warehouses operated by Whirlpool Corp., the Benton Harbor, Mich.-based appliance giant that was the service's launch customer and remains its largest user. Last March, Hunt began a final-mile delivery program dedicated to four large retailers—whom Hunt wouldn't identify—covering 15 high-density markets. The program's success convinced Hunt executives to expand it nationally during the first half of 2018, according to a company source.

The new service will utilize thousands of box trucks that will not be painted with logos. The drivers, who will all be independent contractors, will offer a broad range of final-mile delivery and installation services, the source said. Orders will be picked up either at a local retail outlet or at a centralized warehouse, depending on the size and characteristics of the market, the source said. Drivers of box trucks often don't require a commercial driver's license (CDL) to operate.

The service is designed for retailers with shipment densities large enough to justify dedicated carrier support. The original last-mile operation, which continues to operate, focuses on smaller customers with less scale and density.

Greenwich, Conn.-based XPO vaulted to prominence in the last-mile market more than four years ago when it acquired Marietta, Ga.-based 3PD Inc., at the time the largest non-asset-based provider of last-mile delivery services. Over time, XPO has refined and expanded its last-mile operations, and plans to double its last-mile network to 85 service hubs by the end of this year.

Some experts predict significant demand for heavier, non-parcel shipment deliveries ordered online as manufacturers and retailers make more inventory available on the web. As of mid-2017, U.S. online sales of non-conveyable goods hit $30 billion, which would have been equal to about 10 percent of total e-commerce sales at the time, according to Omaha, Neb.-based truckload and logistics company Werner Enterprises, which launched a last-mile service in May. For-hire last-mile deliveries of heavy goods ordered online have grown at a nearly 9-percent compound annual rate since 2012 and are now a $7.6 billion-a-year business, said consultancy SJ Consulting in mid-2017.

Truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers have said they will expand into last-mile heavy-goods deliveries in lanes with sufficient density.

About the Author

Mark B. Solomon
Executive Editor - News
Mark Solomon joined DC VELOCITY as senior editor in August 2008, and was promoted to his current position on January 1, 2015. He has spent more than 30 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. He graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.

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