Chattanooga-based freight brokerage Trident Transport announced this week that it is opening its third branch office, this one located outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. Last November, Trident sent Rush Feldhacker, a seven-year veteran of Coyote Logistics, to Tampa to open a branch – that office now has 12 brokers and looks to grow to 20 by the end of the year.
Trident is now in its sixth year of operations, vice president Carter Garrett told FreightWaves, and has grown from about eight employees two and a half years ago to just under 80 today. The brokerage is at a $70 million run rate, on pace to double its revenues this year.
“Our strategy is simply to continue what we’ve been doing,” said Heath Haley, Trident’s president. “We want to position ourselves to expand across the nation, opening two satellite locations every year, and show more customers how dedicated and exceptional our service is. We’ll get there by finding the right people that fit into our culture and our mold of how our company operates. We’re so excited to see what the future holds, and wouldn’t be anywhere without our team working hard each and every day.”
“May was the best month in the history of the company,” Garrett said, before acknowledging that June was much tougher. This June, spot volumes were softer than last year, but capacity returned to the market more slowly than expected after Roadcheck week, keeping brokers’ costs high.
FreightWaves’ channel checks with brokers across the industry confirmed that margins were slim in June, but brokers in Chicago – and at Trident – have seen capacity loosen in July. Garrett said that July should be another record-setting month for Trident. Trident was born as a traditional cradle-to-grave broker offering its customers exceptional service, with an intensive focus in the spot market. Over time, as the company’s model has shown it can perform, Trident has taken on more contract freight and won larger customers, although the majority of the business today is still spot-based.
Trident chose Ryan Johnson, known as ‘RJ,’ a 10-year veteran of the freight brokerage industry, to head up its Minnesota branch as a new vice president of sales. Johnson worked as a hub operations supervisor at UPS during college and joined Access America Transport in 2009, growing a less-than-truckload (LTL) business from the Minneapolis office, which grew to be its largest branch. Johnson stayed on with Coyote after the acquisition, developing an expertise in flatbed and expedited freight in addition to dry van truckload and LTL.
“Once I heard about Trident, I wanted to get back to a company with a smaller, relatable culture that we could build from the ground up, hire the people we wanted and train them the way we wanted,” Johnson said.
“RJ is an experienced executive from Coyote and someone I’ve counted on for several years,” said Garrett. “It was a no-brainer.” At Coyote, Johnson built up a team of 20 brokers working under him.
Johnson called out a number of large shippers in the Minneapolis region, as well as his office’s location in a fertile recruiting ground with several nearby colleges. Trident’s Minneapolis office is just getting launched and is still training its initial class of new brokers.
“This is still a relationship business,” Garrett said. “We wanted to expand, but we wanted to expand with the right people.” Garrett explained that Trident’s expansion strategy calls for two new branch offices per year, and that he would like to grow out West, but it depends on finding the right person to lead a new office.
Johnson plans to hire fresh brokers to enter the industry straight out of college. In the early days of a brokerage with ambitious growth plans, executives often fall back on hiring experienced operators with established books of business, but that strategy can cause problems down the road. The experienced hires work according to habits they’ve developed over their career and train their team members in the same way, leading to an operation with fragmented processes, siloed information, competing philosophies and no uniform way to train new people.
Johnson sketched out his vision for the first six months of the Minneapolis office.
“We want to try to land a few key customers, and hopefully we can pick up a couple of standout leaders in those new hires to spearhead the management team so I can get out on the road and go after larger opportunities,” Johnson said.
Garrett and Johnson said the main things that have changed in freight brokerage since they started in the business have been technology and customer expectations. New software has made it easier to track-and-trace carriers and accelerated the process of covering a load – but customers also want access to electronic data about where their freight is, not just reports from check calls. The upside, Garrett said, is that college graduates are much more tech-savvy than they were 10 years ago and can use logistics software intuitively.
“In cradle-to-grave, we have to put the customer first,” Johnson said. “We’re strengthening that relationship between the sales rep and the customer, and putting that relationship first is going to be critical to our success up here.”
“Our customers know that we’re available at any time,” added Katelyn Clark, Trident’s brand manager. “If you call us at 2:00 a.m., a broker will answer the phone – we will give the customer service no matter what. We’re staffed 24/7 with employees in the office.”