For shippers who need cargo transported across the Mexican border, the solution usually involves some combination of outsourcing and transloading, which equates to numerous delays, extra costs and increased risk. If a U.S.-bound load departs the dock of a Mexican shipper on a Mexican trailer, it will likely arrive in Laredo, Texas, wait for clearance and a U.S. driver to take the load to its final destination. Often, cargo safety and integrity come into question at this point, as the load has changed hands a couple times.
Each day, almost 35,000 trucks cross the Mexico-U.S. border, and by the end of every year, the two countries facilitate trade for nearly $700 billion worth of goods. However, moving goods between the two countries brings with it a substantial amount of risk, whether it be long transit times or complicated paperwork. For example, as of Jan. 15, Mexico, Canada and the U.S. will require cross-border drivers to show proof of vaccination, which will increase transit times.
But commercial trucks are at severe risk in both Mexico and Texas for cargo theft — a $15 to $30 billion industry. In the first half of 2021 alone, Mexico reported over 5,000 cargo thefts, while in 2020, Texas earned the title as the biggest hot spot for cargo theft. However, Mexico remains one of the United States’ top trading partners, in spite of the pandemic-related effects on commercial supply chains between the two countries. It’s often up to trucking solution providers to mitigate that risk for shippers.
PGT Trucking’s Laredo terminal opened in 1998, and according to Sergio Villarreal, manager of USA/Mexico operations, it’s grown at least 10% year-over-year since its launch. To tackle the culture and language barrier between the customers and consignees, it boasts a fully bilingual staff. By the end of this year, it will execute over 4,900 loads with its 60-driver fleet — a 22% increase from last year’s number of drivers. Inbound commodities are 80% steel, while outbound is 50% stainless steel, 20% aluminum and 30% building products. PGT does not own warehouses in Laredo, but nurtures strong relationships with vendors that provide storage and transloading solutions.
But the major differentiator between PGT as a cross-border carrier and other carriers is its door-to-door operation, meaning its willingness to send its own equipment into Mexico. PGT has a fleet of Mexican drivers that operate in the U.S. under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“Customers appreciate how streamlined our process is,” Villarreal said. “We don’t have to worry much about increased risk or material damage since we don’t transload products at the border. Our B-1 drivers, professional drivers with a business-traveler visa who can make runs from Mexico to the U.S., offer capacity and some peace of mind for customers shipping across the border, because infamously, there is something called the ‘black hole at the border’ where customers lose sight of their shipment and therefore start worrying about capacity. You don’t worry about that with a PGT B-1 driver because when the driver picks up, he’s not going to stop at the border. He’s servicing that load all the way to the consignee. This is where the peace of mind comes in. The customer doesn’t have to think, ‘Well, my shipment made it to Laredo. Is my load going to sit there for a week waiting for a U.S. driver to pick it up?’”
To ensure that all staff are trained in this streamlined process as well as commodity securement, PGT regularly hosts its Mexican shipping partner’s staff at their training headquarters in Blairsville, Pennsylvania. PGT has a tedious inspection process and a companywide standard for securing loads: “One for the family.” Whatever the DOT requests, PGT meets that requirement, plus one.
“Insecurity in Mexico is a big topic for either a Mexican or U.S. customer,” said Villarreal. “What sets our customers at ease is the fact that every single one of our trailers is equipped with a satellite transponder, which we have access to at any given time. If it travels outside of a determined route, then we have a distribution list of 15 people that can respond in a timely manner to remedy the situation. Our operations staff is available 24/7.”
Villarreal said that while the past 20 months were a roller coaster of uncontrollable circumstances, what helped secure customer relationships was transparency and honesty. While any carrier can pick up and deliver from point A to point B, what matters is the experience in between.
“Did I give you an update before you requested it? Did I show up with a clean trailer, a clean deck, a professional driver? What was your customer experience like? That’s what we try to target, because there’s a lot of factors related to COVID that are out of our hands, especially in the supply chain,” he said. “You can have an overwhelming amount of loads one week and then you’re dead the next week because a customer shut down.”
While servicing shippers well ensures a healthy bottom line, Villarreal emphasized the importance of showing drivers respect, and how essential this is especially in Mexican culture. There’s an open-door policy for his office in Laredo. Quite literally, he’s taken the door off the hinges.
“You cannot tell the most prized possession of your company, the driver, to wait at the window before they can talk to a manager,” Villarreal added. “You must respect the work that they do. Respect the events they may have with their families throughout the week. If I don’t retain the professionals I have, let’s be honest, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here having this discussion today, as we wouldn’t be delivering loads.”