Shipping on a Shoestring
Shipping Wars turns negotiating for loads into must-see TV
By Chuck Miller
Marc Springer felt he had a chance to secure the winning bid for a cross-country load. He’d factored in all the necessary costs and expenses, as well as a profit margin, and placed a bid on the uShip website.
Then, he saw fellow driver Jennifer Brennan submit a lowball bid for the same load. Springer now has to decide whether he can resubmit a lower bid for himself, while at the same time searching the shipping website for other loads he can pick up that are along the same travel route to increase his profit margin. “Those underbidders really are lacking experience,” says Springer. “When they come in and drop these bids by $400, $500 a crack, it’s ridiculous. Hopefully one of these days they’ll figure it out, if you want to underbid, just underbid by $10 or $20, you don’t need to go $500 at a whack.”
Meanwhile, Brennan is trying to win the load, increase her experience as an independent hauler, and still try to make money while keeping tabs on her own budget. “Marc carries bigger things than I can,” she says. “He’s not going to be moving a camel or a pig or livestock, which I can. Just like I’m not going to haul an Army tank, which he can.”
Whoever wins the bid, and the right to deliver the cargo — well, that’s when the rest of the fun begins.
Welcome to the second season of Shipping Wars. The show features independent shippers who are willing to haul loads no other courier will carry.
“Once we heard that there are people out there shipping the unshippable, and trying to do it for the lowest price they could afford, we just thought it sounded like a show right there,” says Jonathan Nowzaradan, one of the producers.
He was right. The show drew an audience, and turned Springer and Brennan, along with veteran hauler Roy Garber, young gun Jarrett Joyce, and the husband-wife team of Scott and Suzanne Bawcom, into TV stars just for doing what they do to make a living.
Brennan filled a different role. “The producers were looking for a really determined truck-and-trailer driver and found me,” she says. “I’ve been hauling for a year and a half, I’m fairly new, so last year I was considered a rookie on the show. I’ve stepped up my game for the second season.”
Figure it out
Throughout the show, an on-screen graphic gives audiences a running tally of how much money was spent by the transporter, including the cost of repairs, fines or the dreaded late penalties if an item doesn’t arrive at its destination in time. At the end of the episode, the final figures are tallied, showing whether the driver made a profit or, in some cases, took a major loss.
“I have to consider everything in my budget,” says Brennan. “I have to pay for my insurance, plus gas prices, I have to make sure I don’t go over DOT hours, I do pick up side loads if they’re on the way to my final destination. I have a three-quarter ton pickup truck with a bumper pull, so I have to try to pick up more items if I can.”
The graphics also show whether the transporter received positive or negative feedback for their delivery — and naturally every driver wants to achieve top feedback results. Especially since the cameras are there to capture every single moment of it.
Unlike other reality shows, where events are often staged or recreated, Shipping Wars is absolutely real.
“Those are actual loads on the show that I’m doing,” says Springer. “And half the time I have to figure out what’s going on when I get there to pick up the item. I’m not some big high-paid actor doing this. This is my living, this is how I put food on the table. If I’m in New York and there’s a load I want that’s in New Mexico, I gotta figure out how to get from New York to New Mexico without going broke to do it.”
Brennan, who specializes in animal transport, has to deal with freight that might fight back.
“I was kicked by a camel in one episode,” she says. “You can’t fake that. It really hurt, I’m not going to lie.”
In the end, the haulers are proud of what they’ve accomplished personally and professionally, both on the TV show and in their role in interstate commerce.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Brennan. “Even though I’m away from my fiancé, my mom and dad, and my dogs for months at a time. This is what I want to do before I get married and have children, I want to see as much of the country as I can and get paid while I do it. It doesn’t feel like work to me when I’m driving through the Rocky Mountains. It’s breathtaking.”
Springer hopes that the show sheds some light on the day-to-day work of professional drivers.
“If there was no trucking, there’s no commerce, period,” he says. “These guys are just as important as firemen or policemen. You wouldn’t have fire departments or police departments if it weren’t for truckers. It’s a lot of responsibility for the truck and the load. It’s a lot of responsibility to keep other motorists safe around you.”
Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m. ET