Many companies have faced unusual circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the trucking and logistics space, though, the challenges have been unique. Considered essential, trucks loaded with goods have still moved, albeit at a slower pace, and employees have still had to get those trucks loaded and dispatched.
That meant a shift in the way the industry worked. Work from home met life on the road. For Echo Global Logistics (NASDAQ: ECHO), that process has proved easier than it has for others, but it is also leading to new considerations as economies come back online and more normal freight flows return.
“From a technology standpoint, we never missed a beat because our technology was built to be used from anywhere,” Doug Waggoner, chairman and CEO, told FreightWaves. He noted there were some challenges, including employees who didn’t have home computers or who had home networks unsuitable for business needs. “That lasted a couple of days,” he said.
While most Echo offices are now open, Waggoner said few employees have returned. Still, he is not ready to declare Echo a work-from-home business.
“I don’t think we would ever say [we’ll] never come back because we believe the proximity to your fellow workers is part of the culture, but at the same time … it’s going to cause us to rethink how we work,” he said. “It’s opened our minds to being more flexible and [providing better] work-life balance.”
COVID-19 relief work
Echo launched EchoCares: Thanking Truck Drivers During COVID-19, in early June. The initiative provided over 2,200 truck drivers across the country with Subway gift cards as a thank you for their efforts during the pandemic.
Echo’s charitable work has extended beyond helping just drivers and is part of the culture the company has tried hard to develop. EchoCares is an internal organization, Waggoner explained, that allows employees to help identify causes and direct efforts. The program has previously been involved in refurbishing Chicago schools, and all employees get a paid day off to perform volunteer work.
“We have a lot of clients that want to do something and if they ask, we want to help. Sometimes it comes [with financial support or transportation],” Waggoner said. “We use the EchoCares group to direct [us] to what is important to our employees.”
During the pandemic, Echo Global has partnered with several organizations for various causes. It worked with client Purely Elizabeth, an all-natural and organic food company, to facilitate the shipping of over 28,000 granola bars Purely Elizabeth collected through a give-back campaign and ensure those bars were delivered to the Food Bank for New York City. The company also worked to coordinate delivery of over 15,500 snacks from GoGo squeeZ to 10 hospitals in the Chicago area and with Blinking Owl Distillery, which switched from making craft spirits to hand sanitizer, to have that finished product delivered to hospitals, first responders and others deemed most vulnerable to the virus.
Perhaps the most interesting assistance Echo has provided was the transportation of a modular building system to the New Orleans Convention Center. The system was used to create a 2,000-bed pop-up COVID-19 hospital in April. It was created by modular building system maker EverBlock Systems. The shipment required 35 team truckloads to move the 2,000 sleeping pods from the Bronx, New York, to New Orleans.
When it comes to the freight environment, Waggoner is sticking with his U-shaped recovery prediction. He said the flow of freight has remained disrupted, with some lanes doing extremely well and others struggling, depending on the goods moving in those lanes.
“At some point, when we get out from under this pandemic, I think things will return to normal and it will be additive to what we are seeing today,” he said.
Waggoner added that capacity seems to be tighter right now, but that has to do with the amount of equipment sidelined. If demand grows suddenly, he said, capacity could tighten significantly more and shoot rates up.
“We’ve got about 2,500 employees and in the middle of March we sent everyone home, and then we saw a bubble of business [resupply of essential goods] in the middle of March,” Waggoner said. “The first half of April saw business fall off as the recession took hold, but by the end of April, we’d seen continuous build in business and volumes. At least in the freight environment, things seem to be healthy.”
In June, Echo announced it had received ISO certifications for several of its technology-enabled transportation management services. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) awarded Echo ISO 9001:2015, ISO 13485:2016 and ISO 14001:2015 certifications for its quality management system, medical device quality management system and environmental management system — something the company said is unique in the 3PL sector.
Waggoner said the certifications are important for a number of reasons.
“Going through the ISO process has a lot of rigor to it and a lot of discipline. We run our company [that way],” Waggoner said. “In the first case in medical devices with ISO 13485, as you can imagine with medical devices and regulations, there are certain customers out there that want partners that are ISO compliant.”
Echo’s certification in the ISO 9001:2015 standard confirms the company has the quality management system in place to consistently provide services that meet client needs and regulatory requirements while also continuously working to enhance performance. Through its certification in ISO 13485:2016, a widely used standard for quality management in the medical device industry, Echo is verified as a company that abides by required regulations and demonstrates a commitment to maintaining the safety and quality of medical devices. In regard to its environmental management system, Echo is certified in the ISO 14001:2015 standard, which indicates that the company is successfully managing its environmental responsibilities to achieve its objectives, meet compliance requirements, and continuously improve its environmental practices.
In order to achieve certifications, Echo had to demonstrate its processes and procedures around quality assurance, customer care protocols, complaint resolution standards, and root cause analysis frameworks. Part of this work involved defining performance metrics and creating an integrated quality manual that provides an overview of the key elements of the company’s integrated management system.
Waggoner was particularly pleased with the time frame to achieve the certifications. Normally it takes 18-24 months to get through the entire process, but Echo was able to achieve certifications in about nine months “because that’s how we run our business,” Waggoner said.
“For certain customers, it’s a requirement for doing business with them,” he added. “A lot of medical device and pharmaceutical companies are very rigorous … and part of the process is transportation and the transportation component. … We have a quality culture and as overachievers like to check the box, so it was a box we wanted to check, and we had some opportunities with customers [as well].”