Watch Now

The final mile: Fixing supply chain’s weakest link

Image: Jim Allen (FreightWaves)

If the supply chain is a cake, then final mile is the icing. Not only is the icing the last step in the cake-making process but it’s also the most visible aspect of the dish itself. Comparably, the final mile is arguably the most important stage of the supply chain because of its visibility to customers.

A supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. No matter how robust your logistics, a subpar delivery experience can tarnish the reputation of your entire brand.

Businesses often find it difficult to improve their final-mile deliveries and may not even know where to start. For the longest time, having to coordinate with carriers via multiple platforms was the norm. In addition, limited visibility, inconsistent pricing and poor communication between drivers and customers hindered development in this area of logistics.

Further, a greater emphasis on final-mile delivery has arisen amid the COVID-19 pandemic as consumer preference for at-home delivery has dramatically increased. Everything from household goods to groceries, even large items such as home appliances and automobiles can be purchased and delivered to one’s doorstep. As consumers adjust to this new way of shopping, meeting their expectations for faster deliveries and improved service quality must become one of your company’s greatest priorities.

The final-mile sector demands multimodal visibility. OneRail, a delivery-based orchestration and fulfillment platform, may have just what the industry needs.

OneRail manages shipments across all final-mile shipping modes and facilitates rate shopping to automate multimodal decisions among final-mile couriers, 3PLs and carriers. The delivery orchestration platform reduces fulfillment operation costs by 70% and increases delivery speed by 35%. Over 120 couriers make up its North American network of 4.5 million drivers, placing OneRail in virtually every market from coast to coast.

Jeff Flowers, OneRail CFO and COO, explained that the OneRail experience is unique for each user as shippers can adjust delivery preferences to prioritize time over economics or vice versa using a rules-based approach.

“What’s more important to your business? If it’s overall dependability, then you should prioritize time over economics,” Flowers said. “Let’s make sure that we meet that delivery promise 99.9% of the time. However, if they then decide to prioritize economics a bit more because they provide free delivery, then we can readjust the parameters accordingly.”

As shippers establish their delivery philosophies, OneRail configures which couriers will best suit their operations. 

“OneRail adjudicates deliveries based on the shipper’s decision of what’s most important to them,” Flowers said. “But we also police the heck out of our logistics providers and make sure that they meet the promise that the shippers asked us to provide.”

If a courier is found to be underperforming, then the logistics provider will be deprioritized on the network. However, OneRail does employ teams that can help fledgling couriers identify areas to improve to receive higher rankings.

OneRail founder and CEO Bill Catania explained the importance of keeping delivery promises. Even if your internal fleet has reached capacity, he warns that failure to provide multiple options for delivery can harshly impact one’s net promoter score (NPS), which is why Catania encourages internal fleets to fully optimize on the OneRail platform.

“With OneRail, you don’t have to miss a delivery promise because your network is fully taxed,” Catania said. “‘I don’t have another driver; I cannot deliver to you today’ — those are horrible excuses to tell a shipper’s client.”

Bill Hancock, chief supply chain officer of US Foods as well as a OneRail adviser, describes OneRail as a last-mile delivery integrator.

He explained that it’s often difficult for last-mile operators to juggle relationships with several different last-mile providers at the same time, especially when they’re forced to integrate separately when their internal fleet partners consist of many couriers, LTL, truckload or parcel providers.

“Consider the courier space — if I’m in a specific market where I want to do express deliveries, it’s not unrealistic to have to integrate with as many as 10 to 15 different providers to make sure that you get the coverage needed to service your customers,” Hancock said.

Hancock praised OneRail’s single-source integration with its partners. He said, “Once you have integrated completely onto the platform, OneRail works behind the scenes to integrate with as many different providers as needed to support your specific business.”

He continued, “OneRail has significantly raised the bar in what an operator should expect out of their last-mile delivery service providers.”

Neil Ackerman, Johnson & Johnson’s head of advanced technologies, global supply chain for the Middle East and Africa regions, added, “The world has all these small last-mile carriers that are very hard to integrate. Cities across the United States have their own distributors and 3PLs, contributing to a disjointed courier ecosystem. This was an interesting problem to solve. And when you solve it, you end up unlocking tremendous potential.”

Ackerman serves as an adviser to One Rail. He saw potential in OneRail’s ability to reduce friction in fulfillment operations costs, scale operations for huge retailers as well as find a perfect demand signal to match to an extensive driver network.

“When possessing big data that gives you a single source of truth, you end up receiving improved speed and visibility, reduced costs, and of course, enabling shippers to have a better and more consistent customer experience.”

Lawrence McCord, CEO and co-founder of Frayt Technologies, described OneRail as a “game changer for freight” and credited the platform for scaling his company’s operations. 

“I believe there’s a huge shift in consumer expectations for same-day delivery,” McCord said. “OneRail is at the forefront of that charge as we are. With their technology, its platform is helping enterprise customers scale.”

Frayt is a venture-backed startup providing fast, on-demand delivery for retailers and other businesses as quickly as within the hour. Its mobile app connects customers to Frayt’s nationwide network of drivers for on-demand, last-mile and door-to-door service for deliveries large or small.

Since joining the OneRail network last year, Frayt has expanded its operations from 34 to over 170 markets. Frayt’s delivery volumes have risen so significantly that one of its servers actually crashed. McCord said that OneRail “literally had our server in smoke.”

“OneRail’s platform is phenomenal and does a great job with SLA [service-level agreements],” McCord said. “Their culture has really pushed our company to also embrace SLA.”

OneRail is the brainchild of Bill Catania. After he endured a 10-day waiting period to receive an in-home delivery for a refrigerator, he was convinced that the final-mile delivery sector was broken and needed to be fixed. Catania spent the next couple of months researching the ins and outs of final-mile logistics, leading up to the release of the initial OneRail platform — a service that Catania described as an Uber for local deliveries. 

Jeff Flowers later joined OneRail as an angel investor and quickly attained leadership roles in the company. Catania attributed Flowers’ background in Internet of Things (IoT) and control systems and Catania’s own expertise in enterprise retail technology with pivoting OneRail’s direction. Instead of providing a courier service themselves, the duo set their sights on developing a delivery orchestration platform that connects shippers with a nationwide network of couriers.

“We made the decision to stop being a courier; there’s a lot of couriers out there,” Catania said.
“The problem has to do with matching supply and demand. We figured that there should exist a platform that acts as a switch, deciding which courier is best to carry each delivery. Based on real-time parameters including weight, size, speed of the delivery and location, all of these factors should be accounted for in milliseconds while being instantly dispatched into a courier’s transportation management system.

OneRail’s real-time visibility provides couriers the ability to effectively manage exceptions. The platform alerts couriers when exceptions are detected such as incorrect delivery address, product damage and delays. Catania said that OneRail informs customers on behalf of the shipper, keeping them informed as corrections are made.

“OneRail owns the delivery from the moment it comes out of your ERP system or point of sale or e-commerce engine all the way through proof of delivery,” Catania said. “If anything bad happens to the shipment, we’re on the hook for it.”

Andy Burke discovered One Rail while searching for a better final-mile solution to fit the needs of BlueGrace Logistics, a Florida-based full-service third-party logistics (3PL) provider. As senior director of strategic ventures, Burke was impressed by OneRail’s ability to rapidly respond to exceptions. 

“When a carrier flakes, OneRail finds a replacement,” Burke said. “A lot of times I’m not even aware of the issue or need to know; it’s something that’s just handled.”

Burke said the decision to switch to OneRail’s network was easy as its previous platforms failed to provide the level of service, visibility and transparency that BlueGrace desired.

“Whether it’s a tire or furniture manufacturer — services that are typically very hard for the transportation industry to commoditize — OneRail is willing to build and manage these final-mile courier networks in these areas,” Burke said. “OneRail says, ‘Final mile is our area of expertise. What problems do you have? Let’s figure out a solution together.’ So I think that that collaborative approach is really going to help the platform differentiate themselves from other providers.”

OneRail’s extensive network of partners includes Frayt, Doordash, Postmates, Lyft, Penske, ERC Delivery Service, USA Couriers and Microsoft Azure, among many others. Most recently, OneRail announced a partnership with project44. The collaboration combines OneRail’s delivery-based orchestration and fulfillment platform with project44’s Advanced Visibility Platform into a Unified Control Tower, offering shippers a single source of truth for both inbound and outbound logistics, as reported earlier by FreightWaves.

“We have to continue building our network because OneRail’s 4.5 million-driver network may quickly grow to 15 million,” Flowers said. “We’re going to continue adding couriers both local and national, and we’ll even look at alternative methods of delivery, including drone and bicycle delivery in high-density markets.”

Jack Glenn

Jack Glenn is a sponsored content writer for FreightWaves and lives in Chattanooga, TN with his golden retriever, Beau. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.