DNJ Intermodal loads up clients by differentiating itself
From the Kansas City Business Journal –
Mason George arrived in Kansas City a little more than a year and a half ago and faced the daunting task of building a trucking business virtually from scratch.
Although he was starting a regional office for Chicago-based DNJ Intermodal Services, that’s not a universally known brand here, and aside from some customer contacts the home base in Chicago provided, he had to differentiate DNJ from the other established drayage haulers – the trucks that ferry cargo containers to and from rail yards.
“In this business it’s all about getting drivers and getting freight, climbing the ladder,” he said. “Once you’ve got your hand on more drivers, you need more freight. Once you have enough freight, you need more drivers. So, it’s really about going back to the cycle and developing the best product for these guys so they can continue to come back to you and you have something to build on.”
For George, that meant operating an office out of his front seat. He knocked on dozens of doors at truck stops looking for independent drivers to take his loads and made hundreds of cold calls to shippers, steamship operators and freight forwarders, trying to collect some of their drayage.
He estimated that 85 percent of his business is international, helping steamship lines with the last legs of a container’s journey from an Asian warehouse to a customer’s loading dock.
“It was just a matter of finding the right people to help you progress,” he said. “Once you get your name out there, fortunately people start calling you.”
OEC Group, a logistics firm in Kansas City, was among DNJ’s first local customers and got the relationship off with a challenging request.
Jayce Keller, a traffic coordinator with OEC, said OEC had a customer needing a container delivered from Kansas City to a location in Arkansas on a Saturday, and Keller had to find a trucker at 3:30 the Friday before.
“(My manager) said: ‘Hey, give this guy Mason a call. He’s called me looking for some business.’ I gave Mason a call, and he gave us a good rate,” Keller said. “I said, ‘If you do this, we’ll throw more business at you because we appreciate it.’ Everything went great, and he got the job done.”
Keller said OEC, which prefers to work with a limited number of drayage firms, has stuck with DNJ because of its ability to deal with the hard assignments.
The hard work has paid off as DNJ’s Kansas City office has gone from operating two to three trucks and generating $15,000 a week in business a year ago to about 25 trucks and as much as $75,000 a week now.
He’s operating with four other people in a single-wide trailer in Kansas City,Kan., but he plans to add a fifth soon and will move the operation to Southern Johnson County once the BNSF Intermodal Facility opens in Edgerton.
“The biggest struggle I’ve got is telling people no, telling customers I don’t have the capacity,” George said.
He said he’s benefited from corporate support. For example, DNJ has a proprietary online system that keeps customers up to date on rates and shipping schedules. DNJ also has four other U.S. locations, giving George’s customers a single point of contact as opposed to dealing with separate haulers at eachstep.
At the same time, DNJ is compact enough that George can offer the feel of a more traditional mom-and-pop firm.
“I report directly to the president,” he said. “If we need to make a quick change, I gotta make one phone call and tell them what’s going on, the same advantage that a smaller company would have in town here.”
The other half of the equation, finding drivers and, more important, keeping them happy in an industry facing a driver shortage, is a burden he has to face largely by himself. He relies on good relations and competitive rates.
“Drivers are a fun group of guys to be around,” he said. “Talking with drivers, that appears to be a differentiator. We’re dedicated to them. We want them to be as successful as we are.”
DNJ President Joe Tovo said he was attracted to Kansas City for a regional office because it’s a railroad hub like the company’s home base in Chicago and a number of customers said it would help as they tend to build their business around regions of the country.
“It just seemed like a no-brainer to us,” Tovo said. “The only difficult part in expanding to another city — because it is a whole new operation — is finding the right people to do it. … Mason’s been in Kansas City going on a year, and he’s incredible. His drive and determination have really made that terminal profitable and our growth way beyond what I thought it would do in a year.”
Looking ahead, George said he thinks that the growth can continue and that he can scale to grow with it. However, he’s also preparing for what could be a difficult few months as a recovering economy and the busy summer shipping period tax his ability to find and keep drivers.
Roger Woody, a University of Kansas lecturer on supply-chain management and chairman of the local Trade Data Exchange Inc., said DNJ could do well once the BNSF facility opens.“Intermodal activity is among the largest growing areas for most railroads,” Woody said. “You’re successful if you’re able to do that work very well, if you’ve got drivers who are trained to do that service well, if you’re timely, if you’re keeping the customer informed in terms of where his containers or trailers are, they can certainly increase the value they bring to that transportation service.”
Posted: March 2, 2012