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The rise of the end-to-end boutique logistics provider

“Shippers have learned that dealing with a reliable partner goes a long way,” said Shawn Girard, CEO of ENERGY Transportation Group

Photo credit: ENERGY Transportation Group

What today’s shippers look for in a logistics provider is rapidly shifting, and if they’re smart, so are those providers. During long periods of volume volatility and tight capacity, shippers value strong relationships with providers and are less price-sensitive if good and reliable service is ensured. 

In an interview, Shawn Girard, CEO of asset-based carrier ENERGY Transportation Group, headquartered in Montreal, said that he’s been working as a consultant for shippers wanting to improve their supply chain workflows from ordering to receiving. 

“People thought the supply chain was a lot stronger than it was until we got into COVID,” said Girard. “We see a lot of clients improving their technology, whether it be their ERP or accounting systems and their workflows as well. If they have to take a raw product and turn it into a finished product, they need to know how to store it. What product should be just in time; what product shouldn’t? If you asked me 10 years ago if I’d be consulting as much as I am now, I wouldn’t have thought so.”

Providing this boutique-level of service isn’t new for ENERGY. With its own reefer and dry van assets, as well as its network of 10,000-plus carriers, it offers cross-border shipping, warehousing and logistics services.  Earlier this year, it opened its fifth office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with imminent plans to expand its North American footprint into Mexico.

“Rather than just growing in volume and saying, ‘Hey, can I have more freight?’ we are asking how we can help customers be more efficient,” said Girard. “Shippers have learned that dealing with a reliable partner goes a long way. Clients are looking more for that added value rather than just saving a few percent compared to our competitors.”

To achieve that reliability for customers, as well as long-term sustainable growth, asset brokers must be honest with their clients about the capacity and levels of service that they are able to provide. Girard said it remains a challenge to simultaneously grow as an operation and remain a reliable service.

“There are a lot of companies out there that are not doing it well, and they’re very transactional,” said Girard. “We’re a very contractual company where we’re looking for that long-term relationship with the client that when their volume does spike we’re not just trying to make 400% on their shipments. We’re actually giving them a fair price at a fair market value for the extra capacity that they need.”

Of course, ENERGY is facing the same challenges as everyone else: filling driver seats, keeping in-office employees happy and finding capacity for certain lanes. To respond to those concerns, Girard said that ENERGY’s new Vice President of Human Resources Krisztina Szigeti CHRP and her team have worked wonders for employee retention over the past 12 months to keep turnover low. Good pay isn’t the only factor keeping employees happy; it’s everyday treatment, as well as integrating the latest technology and operating systems.

“People don’t want to work with systems that are inefficient,” said Girard. “There are certain lanes right now that remain a struggle. But using our data to compile where we are having those issues, we can tell almost by the hour where we’re having a hard time booking. When we know that a client has those lanes, we can pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, it’s getting tight in California again this week. Do you have your loads for next week?’ People are looking to work with the boutique-style companies, because you’re able to maneuver a little quicker than the larger traditional brokers and carriers. There’s more trust.”

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.