Greater Charlotte Biz
By: Chris Jensen
Among the myriad skills required to survive and thrive in today’s dynamic transportation industry, the most important skill is listening, according to Jim Lloyd, president of Logisource, Inc., a company that aims to become the most personable and passionate transportation logistics superstore.
What Logisource personnel hear from customers provides the company with the best opportunities to develop marketable services and products. Lloyd explains: “First the customer tells us: ‘It would be great if we could do this…’ And we say: ‘Maybe we can.’ Then we go back and brainstorm. We strategize to come up with a way to solve that customer’s dilemma. And we try to solve it in a way that will save the customer money and also be marketable for any other customer who has a similar need.”
What sets Logisource apart in today’s competitive landscape, according to Lloyd, is that there are a lot of people in the business who have added “logistics” to their company name, but for whom logistics is not the core business. In most cases, the logistics function serves to provide a better return on the core business – to fill the trucks or warehouses that provide the main source of income, for example.
“We’re different,” says Lloyd. “We’re not a carrier or warehousing company. We bring truly unbiased solutions to the table. Because we don’t have to do business in only one segment of the industry, we can find the customer the very best price in the field.” Logisource is able to offer better-than-market prices in every segment because the company hasn’t put all of its overhead into any one segment, he says.
Another thing Logisource is not, is a reseller. Lloyd explains: “There are a lot of people who call themselves ‘logistics’ who are really resellers. They have established a rate with a carrier or carriers, and they are simply marking it up and reselling it. So naturally, they are biased toward one or more carriers. That’s not us.”
Logisource began in 1992 when a transportation holding group based in Hilton Head, S.C., decided to create a company to help customers from a logistics standpoint by offering better pricing and more leverage. In 1993, Lloyd and Steve Brown – Lloyd’s partner and executive vice president of Logisource – migrated from the transportation holding group to Logisource. The first thing they did was to move Logisource to Charlotte, to be closer to the customer base they were familiar with.
Charlotte has grown increasingly important as a transportation center in recent years largely because of its geography. Typically, transportation centers crop up where there are significant population centers nearby in any direction that are also serviced by rail, air and major interstates. From a trucking standpoint, Charlotte is within two days of both Chicago and Miami. Charlotte has the added advantage of being close to the water, but not on the water. The disadvantage of being a U.S. port on the Atlantic is that, obviously, there are no rail or truck routes heading east.
Lloyd and Brown had already worked together in the transportation industry for more than 10 years before they started at Logisource, and both had established good reputations in the market. Within seven months the company was operating with a positive cash flow and it has been profitable ever since. In the spring of 1995 they exercised their option to buy the company, and the company remains privately owned today.
During its first 11 years of existence, Logisource has purposely assumed a quiet approach, trying to remain under the radar screen to some extent.
“We wanted to build the infrastructure correctly to support growth,” Lloyd says. “We wanted to build the service segments so that there were enough offerings to potential clients. And we wanted to build the systems to support all that, too.” Lloyd and Brown started with a few individual accounts; then they went to those customers’ vendors and continued to go upstream and downstream to find more customers.
Today Logisource has no debt. In March of this year, the corporate headquarters was moved to a new facility at 700 Matthews-Mint Hill Road – a building that Logisource bought outright.
While Lloyd declines to reveal annual sales figures, he will share that the company experienced a 39 percent growth rate in 2002 – a year in which 7,000 carriers went out of business and the national economy was in a downturn. Logisource also was included in Charlotte Business Journal’s “Fast 50” lists in both 2000 and 2001.
And Logisource is positioned to continue on its steady growth path. Recently, Lloyd and Brown brought on board a new principal of the firm, Mark Andrews, to serve as vice president of sales and marketing. The partners had worked with Andrews about 15 years ago, and they believe Logisource will benefit from Andrews’ many years of experience on the carrier side and with numerous national accounts.
And speaking of growth, Logisource continues to add to its family of companies, subsidiaries and divisions in response to new customer needs.
Logisource, the primary brand identifier, provides third-party U.S. traffic management. Source Transport and Delta Audit are divisions of Logisource. Source Transport provides full-service transportation brokerage services, and Delta Audit Services provides freight payment and freight bill audit services.
Fleet Source, a separate company that was formed in 1998, offers customers dedicated fleet services – in other words, the luxury of a private fleet service without the associated liability. Initially conceived in response to a specific customer’s request, Fleet Source had grown dramatically over the past five years. This company now has a subsidiary, Fleet Source Transportation Services in Sumter, S.C., which provides drivers and equipment to other carriers. Lloyd explains, “We can do the same thing successfully for the carrier that we do successfully for the shipper.”
Not surprisingly, a lot of Source Transport’s work involves travel to and from Mexico, and given the North American Free Trade Agreement and all of its ramifications, Logisource wants to establish itself as an entity in Mexico. To that end, the company had the Logisource name trademarked in Mexico earlier this year, and Lloyd says they plan to open an office in Mexico by the end of this year.
LogiPro was started in 2000 in order to provide third-party Canadian traffic management. Essentially, LogiPro provides the same services as Logisource, but in Canada. LogiPro has two divisions: Azimuth and Zen Cargo. Azimuth is a full-service customs clearinghouse serving both the U.S. and Canada, and Zen Cargo was introduced earlier this year as a Canadian freight-forwarding firm.
The Logisource family also includes Source Trailers, begun in 2002,offering storage and roadworthy trailers.
Today the company employs about 40 people, excluding about 150 drivers who work for Fleet Source. Most of the 40 work at the corporate offices in Matthews. Some work out of the sales offices in Winston-Salem, Philadelphia and Atlanta. LogiPro also has some staff in Montreal, and Fleet Source Transportation Services employs some people at its operations center in Sumter, S.C.
Personnel are carefully chosen. “Because we take it personally, it bothers me when a customer is not successful. And I don’t want that to change,” Lloyd says. “And I want our staff to feel the same way, and they do. It bothers them if we’re not solving the problem. So we’ve added people with expertise in various areas, people who also are passionate about what they do.”
Logisource is poised now for additional growth. “Now we’re ready to go beyond the Southeast,” Lloyd says. “What we do serves people anywhere, and that’s going to take off.”
The company recently initiated some marketing projects designed to help it tell the Logisource story to a broader audience. In three to five years, the partners expect the company to have multiple locations in cities such as Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago and Columbus.
“It will help our customers – and us – to have a local presence,” Lloyd explains. “And having offices in multiple time zones will allow us to extend the hours of service available to all of our customers.”
Logisource expects to expand its presence in Canada and Mexico as well, based on the belief that in 15 years the U.S., Canada and Mexico will be more like the European Union—with all three sharing one currency.
Some things about Logisource, however, are unlikely to change. “With us, the customer is always in charge, not us. This is different from the other so-called logistics providers,” Lloyd says. “If the customer tells us not to use a certain carrier for whatever reason, that’s fine with us. Our unbiased approach and our leverage across all segments of the industry are what drive our growth in all areas.”
To further underscore the advantage that Logisource offers businesses, Lloyd explains: “Typically, we can walk into anybody’s organization, sight unseen, and save them 20 to 30 percent of their transportation costs. That’s not an indictment of their current situation. They are working within their own four walls, and they may have reduced their costs four to five percent and feel like they are doing well. But because they don’t see other industries, they aren’t aware of other tools and other modes that might be available to them. And often, they simply don’t have the leverage that we have.”
In summary, why is it so important for a transportation company to focus so much energy on listening carefully to its customers? Because, as Lloyd says, a truck is not a truck is not a truck. He likens a truck to a tool, for example: a screwdriver.
He explains: “We can come in with the entire toolbox and help the customer decide which screwdriver to use. Or we can do a specific job with the right screwdriver. Or we can hand the customer the screwdriver and let them do the job themselves. We’re always developing new tools for our toolbox, and that is very exciting for us.”
Midwest Regional Account Manager