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Case Study: Family-Owned Alcohol Distributor

The Client

This alcohol distributor has been open, operated and locally-owned for almost a century, making it one of its state’s oldest continuously-running alcohol distributors. To say it has built up a tradition of quality is an understatement. “We’re committed to providing our customers and suppliers with the best service possible,” says the CEO. 

But the distributor is also committed to embracing innovation and staying on top of the latest advancements in technology. Of the 6,000+ active products the distributor carries, more than half of them aren’t even ten years old. Every year, the distributor introduces about 500 new products to its lineup, meaning its retailers always get new and exciting products on the shelves. 

“It’s important to us to pay attention to industry and consumer trends, and make sure our customers can get it easily. We’re constantly looking for new products and listening to what people want to drink,” its CEO says. 

Because it carries such a huge variety of beer, wine and spirits, getting product delivered to the 200,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility hasn’t always been easy. 

Historically, the distributor has relied on a wide mix of transportation services to get goods to its wholesale house from separate consolidators on either coast. 

“We’ve been a family-owned business for generations, and building lasting relationships is a cornerstone of how we do business. We had been using the same east coast consolidator for more than ten years,” says its CEO. 

Opportunity for Improvement

The distributor’s CEO and the rest of its team found that, despite its long-standing relationships, there was a lack of good, honest, person-to-person communication with its consolidation partners, especially on the west coast. 

“It took an average of 4-5 weeks to get our west coast orders delivered,” the client’s Purchasing Manager said. “We were used to that, and figured the challenge of getting cases picked up and delivered in a timely manner was just the way things went … for a while. But then we started running into more and more late shipments, less and less communication, fewer answered phone calls … it just didn’t seem right.” 

Solution Design

Agforce first reached out to the distributor in 2015. “We weren’t quite ready to make a switch then,” the Purchasing Manager said, “but we liked Brett and his team immediately. We remembered him.” Then in 2018, the distributor started getting serious about the possibility of changing consolidators. “Brett had been diligent in keeping in touch with us and learning how our business ran. He really cared about what was working (and what wasn’t) with our transportation providers.” 

Eventually, the client’s relationship with its west coast transportation partner was strained enough that it decided to give Agforce a few trial runs, just to see how it went. And it went amazingly well. 

“We were shocked at how quickly Agforce, in partnership with Fastbreak, was able to turn around our orders via rail and road,” the CEO said. He turned over his entire west coast business to Agforce.

“After successfully switching over our west coast business, I started noticing how much the east coast business was lagging behind what we were getting from Agforce. We’d thought the east coast was our quick partner before Agforce!” 

So, of course, the distributor gave Agforce some trial loads of its east coast business. And of course, it liked what it saw. 

Today’s Processes

As of 2019, the distributor handles both its east and west coast consolidation business through Agforce.

“Our west coast consolidation turnaround has gone from a 4-6 week minimum to a 3-4 week average, with zero dip in quality, better service and a reduction in cost,” says the Purchasing Manager. “Our east coast pickup rates haven’t changed, but occur much more reliably.” 

The reduced cost and improved delivery time are one thing, but the client might appreciate the quality of its relationship with Agforce above all else. “Brett, Chris and Joe lead an efficient, professional Agforce teams that we really love partnering with,” says its CEO. “There’s been nothing short of excellent communication between Agforce and our office.”

“I trust this team to handle our business honestly and fairly,” he continued, “and now I’m looking for new ways to use Agforce in other aspects of our business. That’s how well they continue to meet and exceed my expectations every day.” 

Looking for a little more fairness, honesty and speed in your logistics? Let’s chat! Transportation doesn’t have to be a burden, and it isn’t when you partner with Agforce. Give us a call at 877.367.2324 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

Considering Contract Intermodal Transportation through 2020

Back in January, Brett Eckinger, Director of Sales at Agforce, predicted that intermodal transport would be a good option for many of our clients’ shipping needs in 2020. “We’ll see intermodal getting healthier,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to utilize it a bit more in order to deliver customers’ goods more efficiently.”

And then COVID-19 hit, first internationally and then in the U.S. It disrupted supply chains and wreaked havoc on shipping rates, timelines and efficiency. Though we seem to be past the sudden disruptive shock of the pandemic, it will continue to send waves of uncertainty through the rest of 2020, especially in the logistics market.

Amid this uncertainty, IHS Markit published its quarterly analysis of US intermodal rates, trends and futures, titled US Intermodal Savings Index: An Analysis of the Domestic Intermodal and Truckload Markets.

It, too, acknowledges the market volatility caused by COVID-19, but pointed toward one conclusion in particular: intermodal is a great option right now if you’re looking for consistent pricing on consistent business.

Not only do you get the ”flexibility of over-the-road trucking with the affordability of long-haul rail shipping, all without an investment in tracks,” as Loup Logistics puts it, but you also get the promise of more consistency than we predict in trucking for the rest of the year.

Here’s what the report says happened in Q1: “Once COVID-19 arrived in the US, JOC’s Spot ISI dramatically reversed course. The April reading was 102.9, the weakest month since February 2019 and a stark reversal from 116.5 in March 2020.”

That means that in March, spot intermodal rates were 16.5% cheaper than spot trucking rates, but by April they were just 2.9% cheaper.

Contract intermodal, however, which we are recommending to clients whenever possible, “slipped only one point sequentially to 118.2 in April.” While this is still less of a savings than the historic average (18.2% savings compared to an average 24.5%), it’s still significant compared to truckload.

Contract truckload rates did drop while intermodal rose, but the savings are still notable. While trucking rates went from $1.91 per mile to $1.76 per mile, contract rates rose just one cent, from $1.45 to $1.46.

“Contract markets are typically less volatile during sudden disruptions such as COVID-19,” the report says.

And while it might be tempting to “save money” by choosing spot rates in the short term, for fear of what the future will bring, holding steady and choosing consistency is a better move.

Jim Filter, senior vice president of intermodal for Schneider National agrees, urging shippers to resist turning into transactional customers. “You have three intermodal carriers that represent 70 percent of the market, and [shippers] don’t want to burn a relationship. It’s going to be more harmful long term than any short-term gain,” he said.

Of course, what’s right for you is nuanced, and Agforce understands that. Give us a call at 877.367.2324 or email inquiry@agforcets.com and we’ll put together a personalized recommendation based on your needs and our expertise.

Truck Drivers: Heroes on the Front Lines of the Fight Against COVID-19

Is your local grocery store out of toilet paper? You can blame your neighbors for hoarding it, not the supply chain for running low. Production facilities around America are still churning out product, and America’s truck drivers are driving full-time (and then some) to deliver the essentials from coast to coast … potentially risking their own health and certainly risking their own comfort in the process. 

There are about 3.5 million truck drivers working around the country in 2020, according to the American Trucking Association, and they haul more than two thirds of our total freight tonnage annually (that’s more than 10 billion tons) to stock your shelves and so much more. 

When things are good, most of us don’t really notice all they’re doing behind the scenes to keep our lives operating normally. But in a crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic, truckers have joined healthcare professionals as workers on the front line of the battle.

After one of the industry’s worst years on record, truckers are now in high demand to keep up with the rush on supplies. This unprecedented pandemic has thrown a wrench in any trucking outlook for 2020, no matter how expertly-predicted. 

Instead of the tough year we were prepared for, “the trucking industry could be key to keeping the economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says one article

“Without truck drivers, the millions of Americans who have been urged to stay at home would be without food and other essential goods. Healthcare workers would be even lower on personal protection equipment than they already are. Cities around the countries would be without sanitary supplies that allow us the chance to stay healthy,” says Andy Tuley, Vice President of Business Development at Agforce. “They are truly some of the unsung heroes of this crisis.”

At a time when record numbers of Americans are filing for unemployment, truck drivers are experiencing increased demand on their time. In response to COVID-19, the Department of Transportation loosened restrictions on how long drivers can be on the road each day, in order to deliver their shipments more quickly. But what toll does that take on them? 

“Many truckers said they aren’t overly concerned about getting sick, although their jobs – which require touching shipments that could be contaminated, interacting with others, and going out in public at a time when many lawmakers are urging people to stay home – could put them at increased risk of contracting the virus,” according to a USA Today article

Precautions are in place to keep drivers from working while sick, and to keep them from passing sickness onto consumers. Pamela Polyak, president of Polyak Trucking told FOX6 News that her drivers are often being screened upon arrival at their destinations to check for symptoms.

Beyond direct health implications, “there are now fewer options for truckers to eat when they take a break,” says WSPA. “Restaurants have allowed for more drive-thru and delivery options, but there are still limited choices for those driving a semi-truck. Gas stations and grocery stores are convenient, but most shelves are empty.” TravelCenters of America closing their Driver Lounges, meaning fewer places for drivers to stop and rest. 

Still, the drivers keep on truckin’. 

Agforce has long recognized that truck drivers are the behind-the-scenes heroes allowing our business to thrive. As the COVID-19 crisis looms, it becomes more and more apparent that they are the heroes helping all of America to thrive, as well.

The Experience Makes a Difference

Great customer experience. It’s a hot topic right now across many industries, including transportation. But, how do you know you are getting the best experience? It may be a gut feeling, intuition, but let’s see if we can pinpoint some checklist items for a strategic evaluation. And, while we’re at it, let’s tackle why experience matters. It can be impactful to your business with consistent deliverables that free up your time. A great experience also means you have a business partner that is engaged in your success — and that equals a boost to your bottom line.

Ok, that’s all well and good, but what is a great customer experience?

Well, at its core it is convenience. Nothing about your experience with a vendor should be hard. With a 3PL that has created an exceptional customer experience, you should be walking on Easy Street. They’re going to excel at three things.

1. Communication

They will be in touch with you for anything that needs your attention in a timely manner. Communication will be proactive, and when you reach out, they will respond. You shouldn’t feel like things are murky or information is being withheld. Transparency will be apparent. Here are a few other things you should look for:

  • Honesty: It’s the foundation of trust for a true partnership.
  • A relationship: Is your communication meaningful? Can you feel a growing connection?  Do they care about your success?
  • Reliability: They should take ownership of what you task them with. If they cause you stress, move on. A great 3PL experience will be consistent and provide peace of mind.
  • Vision: Do they seem to have a plan for improving your business? Look for a forward-thinking partner that helps you move the needle.

2. Technology

Enhanced performance comes from the right technology. Your 3PL should be able to spot trends and make recommendations to keep your shipping on track and on budget. In addition, they will provide you valuable, real-time data.

3. People

The royal treatment from a 3PL means they will have great technology, but they won’t hide behind it. They will invest in the right people. Beyond the right people, they will make sure you are working with the individual that best matches up with your business. How will you know they make their people a priority?

  • Everyone you talk to is engaged. They take their time to understand you.
  • The 3PL invests in their team’s growth with training and education.
  • It’s not just lip service. They have the right people to execute the plan.
  • Employees are all rowing in the same direction. They are like-minded, focused on the same outcome.
  • You will feel like the center of the universe because the customer is at the center of everything they do.
  • They will take a holistic approach. Not only will they know your shipping inside and out, they will understand your entire business model.
  • Your representative will be collaborative — a true partner — because that is how their own team thrives.  

Summary

With a great customer experience you will find an evolving relationship that focuses on your long term goals. The attention you receive will not stop after onboarding, but rather it will build into something meaningful for your business. A great experience with a 3PL will foster growth with consistent processes driven by communication, technology and the right people. Now you should experience this: Agforce. You’ll find a true partner that acts as an extension of your business and in your best interests. Together, we can free up your time, get you peace of mind and grow your bottom line. Give us a call at 877.367.2324 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

Diversification: Optimize Your Supply Chain

Diversification [dih-vur-suh-fi-key-shuh] noun: the act or practice of manufacturing a variety of products, investing in a variety of securities, selling a variety of merchandise, etc., so that a failure in or an economic slump affecting one of them will not be disastrous.

The economic slump referred to in the definition of diversification translates to supply chain as tight capacity. If you are only using an asset-based freight service high demand means, inevitably, you are going to face a disruption to your supply chain, impacting your company’s profitability.

When you diversify your freight providers by adding the right 3PL to your mix, you are getting access to capacity in any lane at any time, making your supply chain agile and adaptable. The result will be increased performance and better cost control throughout your supply chain.

Summary

Keep your options open. When you partner with a 3PL, they can help you find capacity that an asset-based provider may not have access to. Service is their product. With that mindset, they can help you build the perfect mix of capacity and cost control to optimize your supply chain.

Agforce can help you maximize efficiency and avoid disruption to your business. Together, we can deliver the right mix for a nimble, agile and profitable supply chain. Give us a call at 877.367.2324 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

Freight Claims: What You Need to Know

Safe. And on time. That’s how your freight should deliver. But we all know damage can happen and we need to know how to handle it. Let’s talk about the things you can do to help ensure your freight arrives safe, as well as the need-to-know information if indeed you find yourself staring at a freight claim.

Prepare for the Pickup

When a carrier signs your bill of lading (BOL) at pickup, they are confirming the freight loaded on their truck in good condition and matches the BOL details. The BOL is a binding, legal document that is never more critical than during a freight claim. Take the time to make sure it’s accurate up front and avoid some painful lessons-learned if you do have to file a freight damage claim later. Here are a few other things to think about during pickup:

  • Stacking: Load your heavier freight on bottom while your more fragile cargo is safely on top.
  • Protection: Block and brace your freight to lower risk of movement during transit.
  • Distribution: You will want even weight across your pallets, and a weight distribution board is needed between every third layer of freight.
  • Uniformity: Stack pallets in a consistent manner and keep a lookout for product overhang.
  • Photograph: Snap a quick pic just in case you would need to prove the condition of the freight at time of pickup.

Be Detailed at Delivery

This is important: Do not let the driver leave until you have inspected the freight. On the exterior, you’ll be looking for things like fork punctures or crushed packaging. Don’t stop there though, go ahead and open it up. If you do find damage, take pictures and note “DAMAGE” on the delivery receipt. Then both you and the driver will need to sign that document.

Once Damage is Found

The freight can be refused if there is damage. However, this may not be in your best interest. It could hold up the payment of a freight claim if neither the consignee nor the shipper are in possession of the freight and it is left with the carrier. If both the shipper and consignee refuse the freight, the carrier can claim ownership of the property. It is typically best to note all of the damage and accept the shipment.

The Claims Process

If a claim must be filed, despite all your efforts and planning, there are some documents you will need to gather and rules you must abide by. First thing you need to remember: Don’t put it off. The claim must be filed within nine months of the date on the BOL. Here are a few checklist items to help you prepare:

  • File the claim with written communication — the claim date must be traceable
  • Clearly identify and define the product damaged
  • Specify the dollar amount of the claim based on its commercial invoice and explain how you reached the number — you may include storage fees or other expenses
  • Keep a copy of the BOL to provide with the claim
  • Gather and send any supporting documents, those may include things like the following
    • Commercial invoice
    • Photographs
    • Temperature reports
    • Loading diagrams
    • Weight receipts
    • Witness statements

Once the claim is filed, you’ll be asked to prove three things:

  1. The carrier received the freight in good condition.
  2. The consignee received the freight short of original contents, there was damage, or it delivered unreasonably late.
  3. The dollar amount of your claim is valid.

The carrier has the burden to establish two items:

  1. To no extent were they negligent.
  2. The damage was due to a recognized carrier defense.
    • Act of God
    • Act of the public enemy
    • Act of the shipper
    • Act of the public authority
    • The inherent nature or vice of the goods themselves

Only when the carrier fails to meet their burden are you entitled to recover the loss. Remember, it is based on actual loss, if an item can be repaired or a part replaced, that may influence the compensation amount. Involve your insurance company, they may be able to assist you in further recuperation of loss.

Summary

Freight claims can be a large pain, and if you do not know the subtle nuances that go into the process, they are nothing short of overwhelming. Be diligent in your shipment preparation, thorough with your paperwork and mindful of inspection at delivery. Hopefully your freight always arrives safe and on time. However, if an accident does happen, you will be prepared to face it head on.

Don’t forget to lean on your freight service. Agforce can help you understand the claim process and serve as a go-between with the freight carrier. Together, we can better navigate the freight industry. Give us a call at 877.367.2324 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

Agforce: Delivering Positive Culture for Employees and Results for the Business

What does it take to rank as a best place to work in Kansas City? We can tell you. Named one of the 45 best places to work in KC by the Kansas City Business Journal (KCBJ), we’re sharing our secret: Make your people your most valuable asset.

A Best Places to Work designation is earned based on employee engagement and satisfaction. To measure, KCBJ administered a survey directly to our employees — a survey that played a large part in our Best Places to Work award. That means our “people first” mantra is more than corporate lip service. Our employees know they are valued, and truly champion us as a best place to work in Kansas City. The Best Places to Work program honors companies with employees who go the extra mile with commitment to long term success that advocate for their organization, just as ours did.

The top word to describe our workplace? Fun! And we are very proud of our family atmosphere. We work hard with the good of our team in mind and have a ball doing it. Any given day you can arrive to find a catered breakfast or lunch being delivered. We also enjoy a good happy hour together here and there. Tons of office events, contests, giveaways and general recognition keep the energy high in our transparent, collaborative and supportive work home. Our leadership team knows how to keep us inspired.

KC BBQ

We don’t stop there. Our appreciation to employees shows in generous compensation, flexible hours and great benefits, like a 6 percent 401(k) match (immediately vested). Listening and open dialogue helped us deliver on the other wish list items were heard: standing desks, dedicated training by role, development opportunities and an employee appreciation event we held at the American Royal barbecue festival.

Put employees first and they will put clients first. It really is that simple. The evidence is in another recent award. We were ranked 10th in the KCBJ Fast 50 List with 92.5% revenue growth from 2015-2017. In that time we have added nearly 50 new employees, starting with 6 in 2015.

Fast50 Awards

Stay the Course into the Future

We plan to never lose sight of who got us here. Our people will remain the top priority. The culture we’ve created, alongside our business processes, will be scalable and sustainable. With a commitment to get better every day, leadership will continue listening to the team. The unique, fun, supportive culture here will help us attract new people that align with our core values. They will support and be supported by our team as we continue to grow. We cannot help but think there are many more awards in our future!

 

 

Agforce Transport Services Joins U.S. EPA SmartWay® Transport Partnership

Leawood, KS — Agforce Transport Services today announced that it joined the SmartWay® Transport Partnership, an innovative collaboration between U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry that provides a framework to assess the environmental and energy efficiency of goods movement supply chains.

Agforce Transport Services will contribute to the Partnership’s savings of 215.4 million barrels of oil, $29.7 billion in fuel costs and 103 million tons of air pollutants. This is equivalent to eliminating annual energy use in over 14 million homes. By joining SmartWay Transport Partnership, Agforce Transport Services demonstrates its strong environmental leadership and corporate responsibility.

“As a broker, we are conscious of the carriers we choose to move freight in our network, currently partnering with more than 300 SmartWay carriers. It’s not an easy designation for carriers to achieve, and it speaks to their overall quality and dedication to sustainability. We see this partnership as invaluable to our green efforts and the overall environmental footprint of the freight industry,” said Andy Tuley, Vice President – Business Development.

Developed jointly in early 2003 by EPA and Charter Partners represented by industry stakeholders, environmental groups, American Trucking Associations, and Business for Social Responsibility, this innovative program was launched in 2004. Partners rely upon SmartWay tools and approaches to track and reduce emissions and fuel use from goods movement. The Partnership currently has over 3,000 Partners including shipper, logistics companies, truck, rail, barge, and multimodal carriers.

Agforce offers streamlined and flexible services helping companies dramatically improve their supply chain. We deliver the most effective solution for your business to help you ship your product where it needs to be — when it needs to be there. Together, we can simplify logistics. For more information about Agforce Transport Services, visit agforcets.com or call 844.713.6723.

For information about the SmartWay Transport Partnership visit www.epa.gov/smartway.

Third-Party Logistics – 4 Hassles to Avoid


For any company tasked with providing products or materials to downstream customers, “starting with the end in mind” means implementing a logistics strategy based around end-user demands. In many cases this involves managing an efficient ordering and shipping process that faces the complexities of reducing freight costs, gaining supply chain visibility, managing inventory levels and shipping to various locations – at the same time as accurately tracking orders.

Using a Third-Party Logistics (3PL) company has become an ideal solution to help manage your logistics and shipping needs. However, you may have noticed that each 3PL company has their own method of managing your transportation, communication and services. So how do you know if you have the right solution and partner?

Experts are vocal that companies ensure they select the right 3PL for their line of business. Whether you’ve made the decision to incorporate a third-party logistics provider as part of your logistics strategy or are currently evaluating your current freight transportation and logistics needs, here are four warning signs to ensure you don’t end up with the wrong logistics provider:

 

If you see any of these red flags, consider what’s truly important for your business. If these warning signs sound familiar, it may be time to change your strategy or service. Ensure sure your logistics provider meets the optimal “green flag” criteria. Ensure your provider is:

  1. Reliable and responsive
  2. Able and knowledgeable so they understand your business needs and are willing to collaborate with you
  3. Easy to do business with through streamlined, flexible services
  4. Communicative and accountable, providing clear visibility into the status of your freight without you having to jump through hoops for an answer or update

Agforce Transport Services specializes in simple, customized transportation solutions for our customer’s specific business needs and requirements. We’d love to hear about your needs and find ways to answer the questions surrounding your logistics strategy. Give us a call at 844-713-6723 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

 

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