The freight industry is often faced with delays, disruptions, and other issues that can affect the productivity of shippers and carriers when moving cargo. As a result, both parties invest valuable time, money, and effort to develop different strategies to improve and optimize operations.

One of the most innovative and effective strategies is First-Come-First-Serve (FCFS). First-Come-First-Serve is a scheduling method whereby the first truck that arrives gets priority to either load or offload cargo into the warehouse.

It’s a commonplace alternative in the supply chain industry to appointment-based scheduling in which cargo handling is prioritized based on a particular schedule (that is often planned well in advance). 

In this article, we’ll explain in detail how First-Come-First-Serve works in the trucking industry and how to implement it into your supply chain process. We’ll also explain the cost of FCFS implementation and the potential benefits and drawbacks for all parties involved that should be considered.

How Do First-Come-First-Serve Arrangements Work in Trucking?

Time is one of the most important resources in the supply chain industry. Improving efficiency and productivity helps optimize cargo flow, inventory levels, equipment procurement, and other essential aspects of the value chain.

Therefore, an optimal loading and unloading sequence is a crucial aspect of any warehouse operation. First-Come-First-Serve is a simple and effective scheduling method that prioritizes the first truck arriving at a facility for loading or unloading.

This means that the first truck that arrives at the facility (typically a warehouse of a plant) gets to either load or unload cargo from their truck first. The truck that arrives second is next in line for loading/offloading, and so on. 

trucks unloading at dock first come first serve
Box Trucks Being Loaded On a First-Come-First-Serve Basis

In essence, this method follows a queuing system approach, giving priority to truckers based on their arrival times. FCFS is typically implemented by shippers or receivers who move large volumes of cargo and have a process in place for consistent and quick cargo handling.

In the event of a full-capacity facility, trucks have to wait in a temporary parking area for their turn. To minimize the wait time, shippers or receivers and trucking companies need to have a mutual understanding and come to an agreement on FCFS practices.

For instance, trucking companies or truck dispatchers can stagger their truck scheduling to avoid congestion and reduce time wastage and idling. This scheduling system must be implemented correctly so shippers, receivers, and carriers can benefit from it. 

How to Implement a First-Come-First-Serve Strategy

FCFS is a powerful strategy that shippers, receivers, and truckers can employ to optimize productivity and operational efficiency, provided they implement it properly. Below, we’ll discuss how each party can implement a First-Come-First-Serve strategy effectively:

Shipper’s & Receiver’s Perspective

Shippers and receivers need to consider several factors when implementing a First-Come-First-Serve strategy. Below, we’ll share and explain some of the key factors and how they can improve the implementation success rate:

  • Adequate Loading & Unloading Bays – Shippers or receivers need to ensure they have sufficient bays and cargo space to allow multiple trucks to load and unload. They need wide enough bays to enable efficient cargo handling using necessary machinery. 
  • Sufficient & Skilled Labor – To minimize wait time and accelerate cargo handling, shippers and receivers need to procure sufficient skilled labor to operate machinery (forklifts, cranes, etc.) and move cargo during loading and unloading. This may include procuring additional labor for running the facility in shifts for shippers and receivers operating round-the-clock.
  • Sufficient Equipment – Shippers and receivers must procure sufficient machinery to efficiently manage cargo transfer to and from trucks. Not having enough equipment can create bottlenecks in the process, increase drivers’ wait time, and disrupt their operations.
  • Efficient Cargo & Truck Flow – They must have an optimal warehouse layout that allows for efficient cargo movement from the staging area to the storage area. This helps to minimize truck loading and unloading time. The facility should also allow trucks to enter and exit the compound efficiently to minimize congestion.  
  • Limited Number of Carriers – When it comes to FCFS, shippers and receivers are recommended to work with a limited number of outsourced carriers. The last thing you want is to have multiple carriers congest your facility by sending their trucks simultaneously. Therefore, by having fewer outsourced carriers, you are able to dedicate a number of bays to each carrier when they arrive.

Trucker’s Perspective

Adopting the First-Come-First-Serve practice is relatively easy for truckers since the onus is on the shipper or receiver to create, establish, and manage the required infrastructure.

However, carriers have to comply with their client’s requirements and align their cargo hauling schedules according to the client’s timelines. We’ll explain in detail below what carriers need to consider when working on an FCFS model and what they can do to increase their implementation success rate:

  • Truck Driver Training – The first thing truckers need to do to comply with their client’s FCFS requirements is to train their drivers on how this scheduling method works. Following the training, drivers must know when to arrive at a facility, where to park while waiting, and whom to liaise with following arrival. Failing to do so can cause congestion and increase waiting times.
  • Alignment on Requirements – Secondly, trucking companies must establish an open line of communication with shippers and receivers to ensure they’re always up to date regarding any changes in timelines or equipment and labor availability. 
  • Stagger FCFS Scheduling – Finally, one of the most important factors trucking companies and truck dispatchers need to consider is scheduling their trucks. In other words, they need to dispatch drivers in a staggered manner according to the facility’s allocated capacity, labor, and machinery to avoid forcing their trucks to wait or idle longer than required due to space constraints or limited resources. 

Cost Implications of the FCFS Model

The First-Come-First-Serve method is designed to save costs for shippers, receivers, and carriers. However, it requires an initial investment from each party before they can see a significant return on investments in the long run. 

Investments For Shippers and Receivers

Shippers and receivers have to invest in facility space, as well as loading and unloading bays so truckers can easily access their facilities for cargo transfer. They also need to invest in cargo handling equipment, such as cranes and forklifts, and procure sufficient labor (skilled workers) to move cargo. 

In contrast, carriers have to invest in dynamic route planning software, driver training, freight vehicles, and other areas to ensure their infrastructure and human resources can operate on an FCFS model, especially when working with multiple clients. 

Cost Savings

As mentioned above, FCFS can enable cost savings in different areas. For instance, carriers can reduce administrative tasks of scheduling specific loads for drivers or truckers.

Furthermore, trucking companies do not need to arrange for lumper services as shippers and receivers are usually responsible for providing sufficient labor and equipment. While this may mean less opportunity for carriers to cross-sell their services, they are able to focus on efficient scheduling to improve their cost per mile

Conversely, shippers or receivers would be able to save on lumper fees as they would procure their own equipment and resources for the handling process as explained above.

Despite the fact that they would have a heavier upfront cost of procuring the necessary machinery and labor, shippers and receivers would be able to get their return on investments in the long run.

Potential Cost Incurred

For any First-Come-First-Serve model to be effective, it needs to be implemented correctly to avoid congestion within the facility. This could be the case if a shipper or receiver decides to contract more carriers than the facility can handle, resulting in all carriers sending their trucks at the same time.

The potential accessorial costs incurred, such as detention fees or layover fees,  may be counterintuitive to the intent of an FCFS implementation. 

Benefits of Implementing First-Come-First-Serve

Since FCFS is designed to improve the overall productivity of the cargo loading and unloading process, it offers several lucrative benefits to all parties. Below are some of the key benefits:

  • Highly Cost-Effective – FCFS can be incredibly cost-effective if implemented well, especially compared to appointment-based scheduling. It allows shippers and receivers to reduce administrative expenditures and optimize labor expenses. 
  • Increases Overall Productivity – Eliminating wait time during a cargo loading and unloading process improves the overall productivity for all parties involved. Shippers and receivers can move more cargo in a specified timeframe. Similarly, truckers can minimize idling and haul more cargo within the Hours of Service (HOS) limitations.
  • Reduces Administrative Tasks – By opting for FCFS, shippers and receivers can eliminate several administrative tasks from their routine, such as order scheduling. Similarly, carriers can plan their trips around the allotted arrival time at a particular facility on their route. 
  • Improves Business Relationships – By adopting the First-Come-First-Serve method, carriers don’t need to wait for cargo, like in the case of priority loading and unloading. Similarly, shippers and receivers can have the assurance there will be trucks available to move their cargo. 

Disadvantages of FCFS

Just like any other scheduling method, First-Come-First-Serve isn’t without a few disadvantages, that we’ll cover below.

  • Increased Space Requirements – The first and most important prerequisite of implementing FCFS successfully is providing sufficient space for trucks to arrive and wait. As a result, shippers and receivers have to invest heavily initially to provide sufficient parking and loading/unloading bays. 
  • No Cargo Priority – One drawback is that when trucks are prioritized by arrival, cargo cannot be loaded or unloaded by priority (which cargo is required to be dispatched or received urgently). This means that a truck carrying urgent cargo will have to wait if there’s another truck ahead of it in the queue. Therefore, in many cases, urgent goods may be shipped later than scheduled. 
  • Can Cause Bottlenecks – Having fixed schedules means that trucks can arrive at any given time, which could result in an unnecessary influx of drivers, leading to congestion and longer handling times. 

Alternatives to the First-Come-First-Serve Scheduling Method

While First-Come-First-Serve is undoubtedly one of the most efficient scheduling methods in the industry, there are other types many shippers, receivers, and carriers prefer, including:

Fixed Schedules

The fixed schedule method is where shippers and receivers provide a fixed timeline to carriers for trucks to arrive. It’s the go-to choice for parties looking to control the inflow and outflow of cargo movement.

Therefore, it allows shippers and carriers to strategically procure labor and equipment on demand and improve inventory management. However, the practice leaves them vulnerable to disruptions as trucks are susceptible to delays or downtime during transit.

In some cases, trucks arrive ahead of schedule, and shippers/receivers don’t have sufficient resources to manage cargo transfer. 

Unloading & Loading Based on Urgency 

Many shippers and receivers follow a model in which unloading and loading are based on cargo urgency (or priority). In this model, the cargo that’s most urgently needed in the facility is given higher priority over the truck that arrives first.

For example, a truck carrying perishable goods like meat, vegetables, and beverages is given priority to unload ahead of a truck carrying canned products and non-perishable goods. 

Shippers and receivers with varying cargo demands mainly use this method. It allows them to control which cargo gets loaded and unloaded. The only downfall is that it can upset trucking companies, especially drivers that arrive first but are forced to wait for more urgent cargo unloading or loading. 

Get Free Course Access

If you enjoyed the article, don’t miss out on our free supply chain courses that help you stay ahead in your industry.

Andrew Lin

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Andrew is a multi-business owner with over 12 years of experience in the fields of logistics, trucking, manufacturing, operations, training, and education.

Being the co-founder of freightcourse has given him the ability to pursue his desire to educate others on manufacturing and supply chain topics.