Delivery Vehicle Choices

A furnituremaker who plans on offering delivery services gets advice from all size about suitable trucks and trailer rigs. September 6, 2007

We are exploring the possibility of offering delivery of our furniture to our local dealers. I am kind of torn between what type of vehicle would be the most cost effective. I am looking at a 24' straight box truck, or a large trailer and pickup truck. For those of you who have past experience, which one do you think would be more economical to operate? I've burned up a few transmissions before hauling a small trailer, and wouldn't want to do that again, especially if I bought a car hauler sized trailer.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor L:
Why not use a moving company?

From the original questioner:
Moving companies are super expensive, and even LTL freight is becoming cost prohibitive. Our average delivery would be worth about $1500-2000. Many moving companies would quote higher than that for freight. Retail store owners will not pay more for freight than the retail value of the goods. I need freight to be about 10-20%, which means you have to do it yourself, or lose the sale.

From contributor U:
I have a full size truck and a large trailer, and have not had any transmission trouble, but the large truck and trailer is difficult to get into a residential driveway because of length. When I back into a drive, the front of the truck is in the middle of the road, or if we park along the road, we have to carry the cabinets a lot further. The plus side of the truck-trailer combo is maintenance, insurance, and operating costs are lower. A lot lower.

From contributor D:
I have a 1 ton 14' cube van. They cost new what a good pickup cost. The only down side is D.O.T. inspections and every one who drives it must have a health card.

From contributor A:
We manufacture kitchens, so our deliveries tend to be fairly large to one address. So I'm not sure how that compares to your situation. We found that the most cost effective way is to rent a 16' cube van for the first day. Our installers drive our regular vans for the rest of the installation. We figured that until we have more than 3 rentals a week, it's not worth owning. We've struggled with the trailer versus the time to get the rental, etc., but the conveniences of parking and driving have made us choose the cube.

From contributor B:
I've decided that for the most part, a trailer is the best deal. I pull it with a Suburban, and it will pull anything I want to pull. Got plenty of room for a full crew and room in the back for tools out of the weather. If I've got a huge delivery, I can rent a U-Haul truck to supplement the trailer. I've only got one vehicle to keep running and gassed up and insured. The Suburban looks nice and projects a nice image for the business. I've seen some rough looking trucks for local businesses and I'm never impressed by their business image when I see the trucks. Shop around and you can find cargo trailers for the right price.

From contributor P:
I have a 16í Isuzu box truck that I bought used for around 15K and I donít know what I would do without it. I prefer to use it over my trailer because it hauls more, and is easier to get in and out of most jobs. It runs on gas and costs about the same to operate as my personal truck.

From contributor F:
When we were making furniture, we shipped everything over 60 miles away via blanket wrap furniture shippers. Furniture stores do pay freight; these guys specialize in shipping brand new furniture, they're rates are lower. Often if they're dropping off furniture to stores near you, they would be very happy to quickly fill that new empty spot with your stuff.

What worked great for me was an old Chevy c 50 with an 18' furniture box on it - like the Isuzu, I used it only for deliveries. Bought it used cheap and drove it for over 10 years. I now use it for storage; it's way too slimy for me to bring back to life now (Oregon rain). What I use now is a truck and a cargo trailer. For custom cabinets, that's a cheap, easy way to go. But for furniture (you said 24'), a good used delivery truck would be great. Better than a $50,000 pickup truck and a $10,000 cargo trailer. Save your daily ride for yourself, and beating up a new truck and transmission. I'd go for the $15,000 Isuzu if I had the money.

From contributor S:
I personally use a pickup and trailer. I have a 1 ton truck, so it is up to the task - trans, driveline, etc. I use it as my personal truck everyday and hook on a 16' enclosed trailer. I bought it used from a guy that hauled a dune buggy (he went bigger). It has a side door, ramp door on the back, and support legs on back end. I can back it and drop the trailer if my truck is in the way. It is fully supported without my truck because of the rear jacks. I use the trailer 2-3 times a month. Cost me 3500.00. No extra for insurance, maintenance, DMV, etc. Works for me. A str truck would be better for small places like condos, etc., but not worth it for me to have a whole other vehicle sitting around. I would own a full size truck myself anyway.

From contributor H:
I think that if you are going to deliver everything that your company makes and if these deliveries are very often, a trailer would probably be the best option. On the other hand, if you are making deliveries often and you are sending employees to do these deliveries, I would buy a used box van. You don't want to buy a separate truck as well as a trailer so that your employees don't have to take yours. I have a 15' box van that I bought used for around $5,000. I really like having an extra vehicle and I rarely do deliveries. It is also nice to send an employee to pick up the random things that the shop needs.

From contributor G:
Without a loading dock, a trailer is much easier to load. A ramp door makes it even easier, especially for large, heavy items. I have a 14" trailer which is a bit on the small side. I like to dream about a truck like the Isuzu, but it is not practical for our 2 or 3 deliveries a month. When loading the trailer I am glad we don't have to lift all those cabinets up into a truck. Also, a trailer is much cheaper to insure, license and maintain if not used much.

From contributor Z:
An average kitchen delivered within 20 miles costs me less than 200.00 to have delivered. I can start an installation with energy to do the job. One man shop with part time employee for now.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. For those of you who have used moving companies or furniture haulers in the past, do you remember what the average bill was?

I am now debating between a typical van chassis with 15' box, or a 24' dock high on an International chassis. The box van would probably have about the same cubic capacity as my cargo van and little trailer, but be easier to use. The operating cost would be higher with the straight truck, but a lot of our shipments are palletized, so dock high and a lift gate would be great.

From contributor T:
I bought a FL60 Freightliner in 1999. Had a 24' box (used Ryder box) put on it and it cost 43K at that time - about 5K more than a 3/4 ton truck. It has been great for deliveries, but I would buy something other than a Freightliner. I have found and been told by numerous truck drivers that Freightliner has the absolute worst service.

From contributor L:
My movers charge $119/hour for a 3 man crew, $85 travel charge, $2/roll for packing tape, they use their own blankets at no charge, $10/man tip. The bill usually comes to around $325. The highest was about $750 for a full house of stuff, humped up to the 3rd floor. It is great for installations. The installers arrive to the job fresh, and the movers will even pack in all of the tools. No truck to park, maintain and insure, no worries about someone hurting their back. The movers wrap and pack up the stuff better and faster than my guys could. With a few days notice, we can be their first stop at 7 in the morning.

From contributor A:
Like I said earlier, I like to rent. It costs less than $100.00 a trip as long as you stay under the 50 km you get for free, plus gas. Presently I ship about once a week. Renting means that we always have a new or almost new truck, I have no maintenance, no licensing or safety inspections, and if I don't use it for a couple of weeks, I pay nothing. I used to have a cube but found it less cost to rent. And if you work at a downtown apartment building, try to park a truck and trailer, not to mention backing up.

From contributor E:
As an auto shop owner, I would recommend an Isuzu NPR turbo diesel/auto trans with a lift gate on rear. These trucks are usually easy to find and are solid as a rock for the price. We keep up fleets for bread co., snack vendors, etc. and they are all pleased with these trucks and the fuel mileage.