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What is a 3PL? A Guide to Third‑Party Logistics

You may have heard the terms "brokerage", "3PL" and "non‑asset‑based provider" — but do you know what they mean?

More importantly, if you want to change careers or branch out into the freight industry, we, at Trident, want to help you with some helpful knowledge surrounding these key terms.

NO. 1

What is a 3PL?

A third‑party logistics company (3PL) is a service provider that either arranges or handles a variety of supply chain functions for a business.

These functions can include brokering, shipping, storing, or packing a company’s freight, as well as supply chain strategy and access to technology.

Note that not all 3PLs have the same business model — there are different types of providers that focus on different areas of supply chain operations.

Trident’s model is non‑asset‑based (i.e., we do not own physical equipment) and arrange for logistics services on behalf of shippers. Some 3PLs, however, do own assets, like warehouses used for ecommerce fulfillment.

A third‑party logistics company (3PL) is a service provider that can either arrange or handle a variety of supply chain functions for a business.

NO. 2

What does a 3PL Do?

3PLs offer a wide range of supply chain services. Some 3PLs only focus one or two of these, while others have a more comprehensive solutions portfolio.

Trident’s services can include but not limited to:

• Truckload brokerage
• LTL brokerage
• Intermodal
• Open deck
• Temperature‑controlled
• Rail services
• Air freight forwarding
• Drayage

When you hear "3PL" in North America, it's often referring to domestic transportation management — AKA freight brokerage.

NO. 3

Asset‑Based vs. Non‑Asset‑Based: What Do They Mean?

Asset‑Based Carriers:

Generally speaking, this is a trucking company. An asset‑based carrier owns their own equipment (trucks and trailers) and employs the drivers that operate it.

These range from large carriers with national fleets, yards and warehouses, down to single‑truck owner‑operators.
Asset carriers can offer a range of equipment and services, including power‑only, dry van, refrigerated and open‑deck. They also operate in both the full truckload and less‑than‑truckload (LTL) spaces.

In the intermodal market, an asset carrier owns their own containers, and sometimes their own drayage operations, but the railroads own and operate the trains.

Non‑Asset‑Based Providers:

Non‑asset‑based providers may offer many or all of the same services as their asset‑based counterparts, but they do not own any physical equipment (trucks, trailers, etc.) or employ drivers themselves.

Instead, they maintain dense networks of carriers that they connect with shippers whose freight matches the carriers' availability, typically with digital freight matching technology.

When you use a non‑asset‑based provider to handle your truckload, LTL or intermodal shipping needs, you are effectively outsourcing carrier procurement to them.

Most 3PLs, like Trident, are non‑asset based.