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For the most part, big shippers have plenty of options from which to choose when they're moving products and freight around the country. But that's not always the case for the small, family-owned concern.
Ameri-Green Automotive LLC is one such entity. Based in Americus, Ga., it specializes in the repair, refurbishment and reconstruction of trucks and semi-trailers. The list of equipment that it can service is vast: step decks, double-drop removable gooseneck (RGN) trailers, flatbeds, van trailers and tractor trucks, to name a few. It can turn a regular truck into a dump truck, or a garbage truck into a self-loader or flatbed. It also makes self-loaders for picking up storm debris from the side of the road. Bottom line, says general manager Darrie Hart: “We can make a truck into anything.”
Ameri-Green’s operation is based entirely in Georgia, but it seeks equipment from all over the country. Typically, it will bid on a vehicle at auction, often located far from home base. Then it’s a matter of getting that equipment — which generally isn’t drivable — to Americus.
Just over two years ago, Hart got a call from Jonathan Wallace, account executive with Total Quality Logistics. A third-party logistics (3PL) provider and freight brokerage firm, TQL specializes in truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping services on a nationwide basis.
Spotting an Opportunity
Wallace noticed that Ameri-Green was buying and selling large pieces of equipment in the southeastern U.S. He saw TQL, with its extensive knowledge of handling flatbed, oversized and over-dimensional freight, as a good fit for the 3PL’s services.
Hart agreed. “They reached out to me as one of many suppliers wanting the opportunity to earn our business,” he recalls, adding that the price that TQL was offering was equal to or less than that of its competition.
Nevertheless, it took some time for Wallace and Hart to achieve the necessary rapport. It was nearly five months from their first conversation to the first load handled by TQL, Wallace says.
It wasn’t entirely a question of rates. As a non-asset-based 3PL, TQL draws on a network of around 50,000 carriers in the U.S. and Canada. That amounts to hundreds of thousands of units worth of capacity, with a substantial supply of the specialized equipment that Ameri-Green required. “Anything we need hauled from anywhere,” says Hart, “they figure out how to get it done.”
When Ameri-Green acquires a truck, usually through an online auction, Wallace gathers all of the required information from the auction site, including size, weight, tire dimensions and condition of the equipment. Hart provides him with a shipping budget. (Often Hart won’t know of the vehicle’s actual status until Wallace reports to him.) Based on all of that information, it’s Wallace’s job to decide what kind of truck is needed to handle the unit. Having made a decision, he then reaches out to carriers in the area with the appropriate lift and hauling capabilities. Hart says TQL doesn’t charge demurrage during the evaluation and prep period, “which is very unusual.”
TQL seeks creative solutions for hauls that don’t allow for much leeway in terms of handling options. Sometimes the carrier with which it’s booked will stop along the way and pick up a second load, to lower the overall price. Says Hart: “Jonathan is the most knowledgeable follow-through person I’ve dealt with in the shipping business.”
Certain hauls can be highly unusual. TQL once moved a $3m metal shredder — big enough to swallow an entire car — from Texas to Georgia. Ameri-Green acquired the machine as part of its commercial scrap-metal business, which operates as Ameri-Green Recycling. Hart says the move required as many as 20 separate hauls, deploying trucks of multiple sizes and capabilities. Hart and Wallace worked closely on timing, loading and unloading to get the job done. “We hustled that week,” says Wallace.
TQL is Ameri-Green’s sole provider of the service in the U.S., although its continued participation is by no means assured. A competitor might claim to be able to do the job more cheaply, but Hart says TQL has consistently offered to meet or beat others’ pricing.
For TQL, the relationship can only get more intense. Ameri-Green’s supply of equipment doubled in the past year, and has grown by 150 percent over the last two. The expansion has been driven by steady demand for older-model trucks that aren’t equipped with the regenerative motors that are mandated in newer equipment. (Some drivers have complained that the new technology degrades efficiency, and even jeopardizes safety in certain instances.) “We want to continue to increase our inventory,” says Hart, “which means we’ll need more trucks.”
Wallace hopes to speak with Hart about activating TQL TRAX, the 3PL’s web portal and mobile app. (Currently it communicates with Ameri-Green through email, phone calls and text messages.) It provides automated alerts and status messages from drivers, while helping to manage all required documentation. TQL also stands ready to extend its services on Ameri-Green’s behalf into Canada, if requested. Says Wallace: “There’s nowhere we wouldn’t go to pick up for Darrie.”
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