IMC Companies News

  • Intermodal Cartage Group builds on Memphis base

    Intermodal Cartage Group builds on Memphis base

    Joel Henry’s specialty is railroad and trucking transport, but lately he has gotten pretty good at riding roller coasters as well.

    Henry, president of Intermodal Cartage Group, a Memphis-based shipping and distribution business, said his low-profile company has been quietly riding the industry’s ebbs and flows with new hires and new facilities.

    “We’ve been around so long that people probably take our whole industry for granted,” Henry said. “If something significant happened to our infrastructure and cargo didn’t get transported, it would only take about a week for everyone to notice.”

    That’s because the bananas, shoes, hair gel, backpacks and millions of other everyday items Americans use are transported in and out of the country by truck, rail and ocean liner — a network that the industry refers to as “drayage.”

    Drayage represents about 95 percent of Intermodal Cartage’s business.

    The company was founded 26 years ago by Mark George, now chairman, who began with one truck driver. Now the company has about 750 employees and ships about 145,000 20-foot equivalent units annually.

    While hiring of truck owner-operators tends to fluctuate with demand, Henry said the company is up in hiring by 16.6 percent since January, and up 22 percent over 2009.

    Also this year, the company invested $12 million in the purchase of two new facilities: a 99-acre site outside of Dallas and another at the Port of Houston.

    The balancing act between imports and exports drives the need for transport whether goods are coming into the country or out.

    “The United States imports approximately three-to-one to what we export,” said Henry. “If the dollar is cheap, other countries are more interested in purchasing our products because they can get it at a better price. Especially if it’s grain or agricultural commodities that fluctuate a lot. When the dollar’s low, they explode.”

    The dollar sank sharply in 2009, but the cost of transport by ocean liners skyrocketed, so Intermodal Cartage saw some of its profits decrease.

    “We’ve been fortunate and we’re working a lot harder for less profit, but that’s part of the economy and the stress that the recession had on the ocean liners,” Henry said. “Ocean liners lost hundreds of millions in 2009. 2010 has been a lot better for them, but they’re a large piece of our business and they haven’t recovered enough for us to readjust our pricing.”

    “In our industry, we see peaks and valleys,” said Donna Lemm, vice president for sales and marketing for Mallory Alexander, a third-party logistics provider. “You’re looking for a vendor that offers consistency regardless of the market condition. Intermodal Cartage is there through thick and thin.”

    This year, Mallory Alexander named Intermodal Cartage its Vendor of the Year in recognition of quality service.

    “They’re very keen on performance reviews, they’re very keen on understanding from us how they’re performing, and what they may be able to do better,” Lemm said.

    Intermodal Cartage’s 145-acre location, on East Holmes, typically has about 3,000 containers on site. The company’s coverage area stretches north to Chicago and west to Los Angeles, with most of its shipments running through ports along the Gulf of Mexico.

    Large customers include Hamilton Beach, Brother International and DuPont, which each may generate as many as 8,000 shipments a year to smaller companies with only one or two shipments each month.

    Service is customized for each company and can include every mode of transport from the shipper’s door to the receiver’s, or just one mode of transport along the way.

    “Memphis is a huge gateway,” Henry said. “The main reason Memphis is such an international intermodal hub is because of the Class A railroads that we have here. Chicago is the only other major metropolis that has the same Class A railroads moving through.”

    Posted: December 30, 2010