SALT LAKE CITY, March 25, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — EKA Solutions, Inc., provider of a cloud-based integrated freight management ecosystem platform, announced today that many of its customers are successfully operating entirely remotely using its Omni-TMS™ Platform.
“In this uncertain time and though many of our operations are in ‘Shelter in Place’ locations, EKA Omni-TMS™ is a platform that allows us to continue to create and maintain our brokerage, agent, and digital marketplace while keeping our associates connected, even at home and remotely,” said Ryan Farrell, President and CFO for Wilsons Logistics, Inc. “EKA has helped define our digital solutions and allowed us to deploy our network to our customers, drivers, and carriers in the most efficient manner.”
“So, was it hard to tell everyone to not come to the office because of the pandemic? Yes, because we’re all used to what we’re all used to. But, did I worry about our business? Or about taking care of our customers? No,” said Brian Johnson, CEO and Co-Founder, Proserv Logistics, “because we’ve got the best people, and the EKA Omni-TMS™ platform does everything we need it to. And they’re building new features in all the time to help us operate at peak business performance.”
“EKA is a cloud-based distributive platform,” said David Buhl, COO and Co-Founder, ProServ Logistics. “Its security protocols are second to none, but it allows our people – and trusted partners – single sign-on access – and, to operate entirely remotely.”
EKA Solutions, Inc., provides a transformational cloud-based SaaS digital freight management, dFEMX®, ecosystem platform to manage all the customer’s freight businesses including freight exchange and third-party services. As part of dFEMX® Offering, EKA provides the Smart, Unified Platform EKA Omni-TMS® for – Virtually – Everyone. EKA Omni-TMS™ is designed to transform the transportation and logistics industry. It empowers small, medium and large size broker, carrier and shipper businesses to operate from quote-to-cash with affordable and best-in-class digital tools, enabling the higher performance demanded in tomorrow’s supply chain. With real-time information, EKA Omni-TMS® enables brokers, carriers and shippers to provide visibility and transparency as they fluidly trade across an expanding and verified network with key, trusted partners. For more information about EKA, visit: https://www.go-eka.com.
About Wilson Logistics
Wilsons Logistics, Inc., is a multi-modal transportation and logistics service provider offering multiple capacity solutions through its agent, brokerage, and freight network while operating more than 1,000 company owned trucks. Wilson Logistics is based in Springfield, MO with terminals and operations in MO, TX, MT, WA, OR, and CA. visit: https://www.wilsonlogistics.com
About ProServ Logistics
ProServ Logistics is a customer-centric non-asset-based 3PL focusing on the North American supply chain. It provides truckload, less-than-truckload and expedited transportation management services to meet customer’s needs for timeliness, transparency and overall excellence in their supply chain. Based in Eden Prairie, MN, their highly skilled, experienced professionals blend their expertise with superb technology to support their customers’ success. Visit: https://www.proservlogistics.com
SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 6, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — EKA Solutions, Inc., provider of cloud-based freight integration ecosystem platform announced today that Wilson Logistics has chosen EKA Omni-TMS® as its next-gen logistics and private marketplace solution.
EKA provides a transformational digital freight integration ecosystem platform to manage all the customer’s freight businesses. EKA serves as the system of record across multiple applications and seamlessly ties into other freight solutions (TMS, driver apps, etc.). A single digital end-to-end hub delivers a seamlessly unified, consistent, efficient and effective experience across all freight management systems for customer’s entire business with trusted entities.
“Creating a strategic relationship with a state-of-the-art end-end cloud-based logistics software solution provider like EKA who, similar to Wilson Logistics, is focused on enabling transformation of logistics and private marketplace business for rapid growth is extremely important to us,” said Darrel Wilson, Owner and CEO of Wilson Logistics. “With increased pressure to provide superior customer service and the shipper’s need for real-time seamless integration and freight visibility, EKA’s innovative software tools provide us with increased flexibility to manage all our freight businesses more dynamically and, significantly improve operations and business risk management.”
“EKA is excited and privileged to work with Wilson Logistics. The collaboration between Wilson and EKA will be an important demonstration of how a freight management company and a software solutions provider can strategically collaborate to create strategic end-end operational leverage for Wilson Logistics in the new freight economy,” said JJ Singh, founder, investor & CEO of EKA Solutions, Inc.
About Wilson Logistics
Wilsons Logistics, Inc., is a multi-modal transportation and logistics service provider offering multiple capacity solutions through its agent, brokerage, and freight network while operating more than 1,000 company owned trucks. Wilson Logistics is based in Springfield, MO with terminals and operations in MO, TX, MT, WA, OR, and CA. visit: www.wilsonlogistics.com
EKA Solutions, Inc., provides the Smart, Unified Platform EKA Omni- TMS® for – Virtually – Everyone. EKA Omni-TMS ® is the cloud-based SaaS freight Eco-System designed to transform the transportation and logistics industry. It empowers small, medium and large size broker, carrier and shipper businesses to operate from quote-to-cash with affordable and best-in-class digital tools, enabling the higher performance demanded in tomorrow’s supply chain. With real-time information, EKA Omni-TMS® enables brokers, carriers and shippers to provide visibility and transparency as they fluidly trade across an expanding and verified network with key trusted partners. For more information about EKA, visit: https://www.go-eka.com.
SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 29, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — EKA Solutions, Inc., provider of a cloud-based freight integration ecosystem platform, announced today that it has launched its Enterprise Broker Omni-TMS® solution. This transformational new software solution completes the EKA suite of Broker TMS offerings – Core, Professional and Enterprise – to help broker customers of any size digitize their business and thrive in the new supply chain world.
EKA provides a transformational digital freight integration ecosystem platform to manage all the customer’s freight businesses. EKA serves as the system of record across multiple applications and seamlessly ties into other freight solutions (TMS, driver apps, etc.). A single digital end-to-end hub delivers a seamlessly unified, consistent, efficient and effective experience across all freight management systems for customer’s entire business with trusted entities.
“The end-to-end cloud-based Enterprise Broker TMS software solution is focused on large customers to transform their logistics and private marketplace business for rapid growth,” said JJ Singh, Founder, Investor and CEO of EKA Solutions, Inc. “With increased pressure to provide superior customer service and the shipper’s need for freight visibility, EKA’s innovative software tools enable large broker customers to make better decisions and faster, at affordable cost and with increased flexibility to manage all their freight businesses including 4PL”.
“EKA created the next-gen Enterprise Broker TMS solution to enable customers to create strategic operational leverage in the new freight economy,” said Mark Walker, Investor, President and Chief Digital Officer for EKA Solutions, Inc. “It’s exciting to see customers agreeing with us by signing-up to run their logistics business on the EKA Enterprise Broker Omni-TMS® platform”.
EKA Solutions, Inc., provides the Smart, Unified Platform EKA Omni- TMS® for – Virtually – Everyone. EKA Omni-TMS ® is the cloud-based SaaS freight Eco-System designed to transform the transportation and logistics industry. It empowers small, medium and large size broker, carrier and shipper businesses to operate from quote-to-cash with affordable and best-in-class digital tools, enabling the higher performance demanded in tomorrow’s supply chain. With real-time information, EKA Omni-TMS® enables brokers, carriers and shippers to provide visibility and transparency as they fluidly trade across an expanding and verified network with key, trusted partners. For more information about EKA, visit: https://www.go-eka.com.
A few short years ago, I used to give a presentation on the wave of disruptive technology that was just beginning to stir up the trucking industry. My Big Finish slide was a shot of the then-new-and-mind-blowing Amazon delivery drone– to make the point that while many fleets were struggling to find drivers, tech companies like Amazon were testing flying robots to see if they could one day deliver packages.
Well, it looks like that one day is here.
A slew of news stories over the past few weeks have made it clear that drones are getting very close to operational deployment in introductory areas. UPS and FedEx have been particularly aggressive in getting their respective drone programs up to speed – which makes sense. They are the two companies that would benefit immediately from drone deliveries.
And while we haven’t heard much from Amazon lately on the drone front, ZF is working on a delivery system of its own, and a company called Alphabet’s Wing claims to have beat everyone else to the punch, launching the first commercial drone delivery service in the U.S. on Oct. 19th.
In the short term, these developments aren’t going to change much for most of us. In fact, I’d guess most of us are still several years away from seeing our first drone delivery in person.
As crazy as flying robots dropping packages off on your doorstep sounds, the real take-away here is much more profound: The fact that we’ve gone from delivery drones being a far-fetched concept used in presentations about technology five or six years ago to reality is a stark confirmation that change is coming with stunning swiftness. And the only thing you can do in the face of these technological onslaught is to accept it and make it work for you.
Even more important than that, I think, is the reality that the pace of change has accelerated far beyond what most of us think of as normal. I’m often asked when I think autonomous trucks will become a common sight. And people are shocked when I tell them it could happen in as soon as five years – with 10 years being a more reasonable assumption. Most people I know who cover this industry tend to say 25 to 50 years – if it ever happens at all.
But my personal conviction is that the rate of technological advancement has accelerated to such a point that the trucking industry – perhaps society as a whole – may be significantly transformed in ways we are only just beginning to envision in as little as a decade. And I’m hardly alone in making that assumption. The stark reality now is that things are happening fast. And they’re getting faster at an exponential rate every 12 to 18 months.
Maybe you find this to be depressing. We are, after all, quickly moving into areas with many unknowns. Just this morning, Google announced that its engineers have unlocked the secrets to quantum computing. Moreover, Google believes these unfathomably fast and powerful supercomputers could be in common usage in as little as five years. And that means that the already-frenetic fast pace of disruption and change we’re dealing with will basically jump into hyperspace.
So, on the one hand, I’m feeling pretty good about my five-to-ten-year prediction for autonomous trucks. But, on the other hand, some experts are saying that quantum computers could pose the single greatest existential threat to mankind in history – worse than nuclear weapons, even. And that is, you know, kind of a buzz kill.
But one thing is for certain – we’re not going to put the technological toothpaste back into the proverbial tube any time soon. A whole new world is coming at us fast. And opting out of it is simply not going to be an option
Container volume growth on the East Coast of North America continues to outpace growth on the West Coast, despite longer ocean transit times and higher prices from Asia.
But the eastern railroads are not necessarily the beneficiaries here. CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) has cut many intermodal lanes, reducing intermodal volumes by 8% year-to-date, which followed a similar drop the prior year – the largest drop of any Class 1 railroad. Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC), on the other hand, moves the most intermodal freight as a percentage of total carloadings (55%), but has struggled to deliver operating ratio improvements as average intermodal rates fell from $1.78/mile to $1.47/mile this year (INTRM.USA).
First, price action in the spot markets for 40-foot containers from Asia to North America has responded to volume growth on the East Coast. Over the course of September, rates to West Coast ports (FBXD.CNAW) fell while they were flat or up to the East Coast ports (FBXD.CNAE), widening the ‘Panama spread’ (FBXD.PANA), or the difference between the rates.
A widening Panama spread has the effect of making West Coast ports relatively more attractive. U.S. Customs imported shipments to Savannah (CSTM.SAV) are at one of the highest levels they’ve been at in two years, while the same data for Los Angeles (CSTM.LAX) was higher for most of that period than it is today.
But the railroads that have pursued intermodal the most aggressively have underperformed against their main competitors, especially in the case of the eastern rails, CSX and Norfolk Southern. After CSX chief executive officer Hunter Harrison’s death in December 2017, Jim Foote took over, and described in earnings calls how the railroad’s intermodal network was almost a separate franchise that had been left nearly untouched by Harrison’s reorganization of the rest of CSX’s operations.
Foote removed about 7% of CSX’s intermodal volumes as he ‘rationalized’ the network to focus on high-density lanes where he saw an opportunity to improve service and yield by reducing the number of touches involved in CSX’s handling of the freight. The railroad was able to gets its operating ratio (OR), or the percentage of revenue consumed by operating expenses, down to 57.4% in the second quarter of 2019.
Norfolk Southern, on the other hand, is more committed to its intermodal business. NSC’s intermodal volumes are down only 2.4% year-to-date, compared to CSX’s 8%, the smallest drop of any U.S. railroad. But weak trucking spot prices (DATVF.VNU), down 16.4% year-to-date, have pulled intermodal rates down with them. Norfolk Southern was one of the last railroads to embrace the cost-cutting and efficiency initiatives of precision scheduled railroading (PSR), but so far has not seen the dramatic early-stage benefits that typically come with it.
“While the recent network changeover occurred without major incident, we are nonetheless puzzled by the seeming divergence in how the margin improvement story is unfolding at NSC versus prior PSR iterations (including what we have seen so far from UNP),” wrote Credit Suisse equities analyst Allison Landry in a July note on Norfolk Southern. “Typically, the step-function change in the OR occurs swiftly and in the magnitude of several hundred basis points of improvement within the first 12-18 months of implementation.”
Norfolk Southern’s large intermodal business, generally understood to be lower-margin than other commodity types, may be part of the problem. The other issue is that many railroad analysts think that intermodal is less competitive on the East Coast, that it doesn’t make as much economic sense to shippers, because average lengths of haul are shorter. If a shipper is moving freight from Los Angeles to Chicago, a distance of 2,000 miles, the shipper can save far more money by using intermodal instead of truck that it can on a lane like Savannah to Chicago, which is only about 970 miles.
Shippers who choose intermodal over truck are normally trading service for price, but for some customers, the trade-off is only worth it on long-haul lanes that produce bigger cost savings. The chart below shows relative year-to-date growth in long-haul trucking tender volumes for Savannah, Los Angeles, Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Houston.
Savannah’s long-haul trucking volumes have grown the fastest by far, nearly twice as fast as those of Los Angeles.
Part of the railroads’ struggle with intermodal this year – across the Class 1s, intermodal volumes are down 4.1% year-to-date – is caused by relatively soft freight demand and relatively loose trucking capacity. The rails have taken advantage of thinner volumes to reduce dwell times and run their trains faster, but those service metrics could deteriorate if volumes came back in a big way, for example if a resolution to trade disputes came earlier than expected, and re-accelerating economic growth sparked a surge in consumption.
In that scenario, railroad terminals could become snarled, trains might be delayed, and healthy margins might prove to be elusive as time-sensitive shippers prefer to pay premium prices to trucking carriers instead of the rails.
“Rails remain hotly debated,” observed Deutsche Bank equities analyst Amit Mehrotra in an October 3 investor note. “Investor bias is positive, but the magnitude of the volume decline is concerning, and as a result, third quarter results will be critical to the near/midterm outlook for Rail shares. In this sense, near-term conviction is significantly shaken, but long-term thesis still holds.”
Efficiency differences between port operators, the environmental regulation of drayage providers in Southern California, persistent labor disputes, and competitive container rates are all driving intermodal volumes to the East Coast. At present, it appears that CSX is largely uninterested in capturing that freight, Norfolk Southern may have more of it than it actually wants – NSC guided for flat intermodal volume growth for the full year – and that trucking carriers could stand to benefit the most.
A new California law, going into effect in January, designed to address worker misclassification could seriously affect the trucking industry, but there is so much up in the air that there’s no clear path for trucking companies using independent contractor owner-operator drivers in the state.
AB5 does away with most of the traditional methods of determining whether someone is truly an independent contractor or an employee, such as the worker’s amount of risk and investment in his or her business, in favor of an ABC test.
The big problem with the ABC test is the “B” prong, which states that to be considered an independent contractor rather than an employee, the worker must perform “work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.”
In other words, if you’re in the business of hauling freight, you could contract with someone to paint your building or do your taxes, but you can’t use an independent contractor to haul freight.
Or at least that’s what you would think. But AB5, like any bill, includes pages and pages of additional legalese, carve-outs for specific industries and other bits and pieces that have led to a variety of opinions on how it’s going to affect trucking companies.
“Is the sky falling?” asked Greg Feary, president and managing partner of the Scopelitis law firm, in a webinar. “It’s falling in certain areas, but we don’t predict it is falling in trucking for independent contractors.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious challenges ahead, and in the meantime, trucking companies in California are still trying to figure out what to do next.
“We have more questions than answers,” said Weston LaBar, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association in California, in an interview, pointing out that the law as passed had no language in it specifically about trucking, for good or for bad.
Converting owner-operators to employee drivers
The bill’s supporters seem to expect that companies will simply convert their independent contractors to employees.
But Feary told HDT that he doesn’t see that as a “comprehensive solution.
“I would be surprised that under normal circumstances, a motor carrier approaching the independent contractor workforce and saying, ‘Give me a show of hands, who wants to become an employee,’ I doubt there would be many hands that would go up in the air.”
“A significant number of owner-operators, more than a simple majority, see themselves as independent businesses and entrepreneurs – and they did that intentionally. If they wanted to be an employee, they already would have been an employee for a motor carrier.”
LaBar said the association has members that already have been in the process of converting their independent contractors to employees. But he notes that the law is being challenged, and if ultimately the courts find that it is preempted by federal law governing motor carriers, “and you already reclassified them as employees, it’ll be impossible to convert them back. You would be compliant with state law but may be giving up a competitive advantage.”
In addition, like Feary, LaBar pointed out that a lot of independent contractor truckers don’t want to be employees, and rather than be converted, will likely take their truck to another motor carrier that is still signing on owner-operators. “If they have a large number of contractors they will lose capacity, and that is a concern, especially for our large motor carrier members who rely on hundreds of owner-operators,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, a lot of motor carriers who have gone to all employee fleets have lost a significant amount of drivers. In some cases we’ve seen two-thirds or more of the fleet leave and go elsewhere, because they want to remain ICs.”
Another knotty part of that conversion: Who’s going to buy the owner-operator’s truck? With all of California’s air quality regulations, “I don’t see trucking companies buying older used trucks from owner-operators.” We may see the used-truck market in California become flooded with equipment, meaning owner-operators won’t be able to sell the truck for nearly what it’s worth.
Are they truly in the same business?
The author of AB5 has targeted the “gig” economy and companies such as Uber and Lyft in her comments. Yet Uber has said it has no plans to make Uber drivers company employees.
“Contrary to some of the rhetoric we’ve heard, AB5 does not automatically reclassify any rideshare drivers from independent contractors to employees,” said Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, in comments after the bill’s passage. “AB5 does not provide drivers with benefits, nor does it give drivers the right to organize. In fact, the bill currently says nothing about rideshare drivers.”
Referring to the three-part ABC test, West said, “arguably the highest bar is that a company must prove that contractors are doing work ‘outside the usual course’ of its business. But just because the test is hard does not mean we will not be able to pass it. In fact, severalpreviousrulings have found that drivers’ work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business, which is serving as a technology platform for several different types of digital marketplaces.”
Asked about Uber’s position, Feary explained, “Uber’s position has been for a long time that they’re a technology marketing company.” The drivers are doing business with people that who to move from point A to point B; Uber’s business is simply to put a platform together so those two can talk to each other.
Trucking companies could theoretically make similar arguments. You can argue (and companies have argued in court, with varying degrees of success) that the business of a motor carrier, engaging the shipping public and dealing with all the things associated with being a motor carrier, is not the same type of business than the independent contractor driver, whose business is freight delivery.
“The court recognized that QDA’s normal course of business was arranging for the delivery of those RVs, where the driver’s normal course of business was delivering them,” he said. “The court did note that if the company also had W2 drivers, they may have reached a different decision.”
However, said Scopelitis Partner Chris McNatt, “From what we’ve seen so far it’s highly doubtful a California judge would look at the driver-motor carrier relationship and not find they are engaged in the same business.”
A possible model: The business-to-business exemption
There is a business-to-business exemption in AB5 that may be of value, said Shannon Cohen, a Scopelitis partner, “meant to capture bona fide business-to-business relationships.”
To potentially meet this exemption, the independent contractor would have to have a business entity (such as an LLC, a corporation, etc.) that is registered by the state, she explained in a webinar. The business must have a separate business location and be “customarily engaged in an independently established business as the area of work performed,” advertise those services to the public, provide its own equipment be able to negotiate its own rates and set its own hours, and has to enter into contracts with other businesses performing the same work.
“That’s a series of fairly stringent factors,” Cohen said. “We do feel the model can be used to create a viable, workable model, but there are going to be a few factors you need to pay attention to,” such as the requirement to enter into actual contracts with other businesses – not just having the right to enter into such contracts as has previously been one of the factors often used to determine the independent contractor relationship.
Some companies, Feary said, might decide that they really are a third-party logistics provider or broker, not a motor carrier, and broker freight to motor carriers. Some of the company’s independent contractors might be willing to become independent motor carriers and accept brokered freight from the same company they used to run under contract to.
“You’ll find today any number of motor carriers that have a brokerage subsidiary because they can’t handle all the freight their customers want them to handle. Or they don’t prefer some of the freight their customers want them to move, it’s the wrong route, the wrong price, and they broker it out to small motor carriers. It may be they look at that and say, my brokerage affiliate or subsidiary is going to do more business now because that’ the way they’re going to do business in California. That’s going to depend on your position in the industry and who your customers are, if that’s the way they want to do business with you.”
The Harbor Trucking Association offers a Trucker Advantage program that helps drivers become motor carriers, offering help with permits, authority, insurance, etc. “That’s not easy for a lot of folks to do,” LaBar said.
Will the law even stand as is?
“Certainly one option is to stand pat,” Feary said. There are legal challenges and the possibility of “trailer” legislation, and even a potential ballot initiative, all of which mean “you have to think about, will this law even look the same a year from now?”
Scopelitis’ McNatt said the ripple effects of AB5 could be significant. “California is in many cases the bellwether of what’s going to happen across the rest of the country.” Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren earlier this month released a sweeping labor proposal, including adapting California’s ABC law as the federal standard.
“There have been extensive lobbying efforts; the California Trucking Association engaged in a valiant effort to obtain an exemption for trucking,” McNatt said. “Those will continue beyond the legislative session,” he added, and could lead to so-called trailer legislation, follow-up legislation that could change the law.
“Stay tuned also for what you will see from the gig companies potentially pushing their own trailer legislation and/or pushing for a ballot measure, which could bleed over into trucking,” he said.
However, said HTA’s LaBar of a trailer bill that addresses trucking companies, “We don’t know if that will be beneficial for the trucking industry or will be even more onerous on the trucking industry.”
The law is also being challenged by suits alleging that for trucking, it is preempted by federal law through the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, part of which prohibits states from enacting laws that affected a motor carrier’s prices, routes and services.
If the dispute makes it to the Supreme Court, Feary said, “you might find out this law is federally preempted in trucking. But you can appreciate that’s not going to be a quick solution.”
Meanwhile, Cohen noted, “the legislation was subject of a hard-fought battle, and I think those efforts will continue through the 2020 session.”
Although Uber has said its drivers are not affected by the law because they’re not in the same business, it nevertheless is taking action to try to change the law. “We will continue advocating for a compromise agreement,” West said. “But we are also pursuing several legal and political options, including working with Lyft and other Internet platform companies to lay the groundwork for a statewide ballot initiative in 2020.”
Scopelitis’ attorneys said one possibility is a “dependent contractor” model. “Uber and Lyft have suggested that’s a direction they may go,” said Feary. “That has a genesis in Canada where we see the idea that they are independent contractors,” but there are still benefits and the ability to collectively bargain.
“A dependent contractor bill was launched in June in New York and it got no favor on the business side or the labor side; both were opposed to it. But with Uber and Lyft pushing it we might see some movement.” In fact, Bloomberg Law reported on Oct. 10 that lawmakers in New York are working on legislation to create a new dependent contractor category.
Another possibility is a ballot initiative. When AB5 passed, Uber and Lyft together had already transferred $60 million into a campaign committee account for a ballot initiative.
What’s your appetite for risk?
HTA’s LaBar said the association has spoken with many top legal experts and attorneys in the state. “Most of them have very differing opinions on what you can or can’t do,” he told HDT. “Mostly the question you get asked is, what is your risk exposure appetite – how afraid are you of getting sued? If you’re completely risk averse, classify them as employees and try to build a business that way. If you’re medium risk, there are ways such as co employers and brokerage models. And if you have a big risk appetite, don’t do anything; at the end of the day you may be federally preempted and end up in a great position.”
The ability to give customers real-time visibility into the status of their freight has become table stakes for landing business with larger shippers.
That was a key message from a panel discussion during the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference and Exhibition in San Diego earlier this month.
“It is incredibly important, partly because of what we offer to our end customer,” said Jess Baumhoff, who handles strategic carrier partnerships and performance for e-commerce furniture giant Wayfair. “And we’re only able to meet those obligations if you can see where the freight’s moving. I think corporately we now demand there is that visibility.”
“Every Friday I do movie night and dinner with the two little humans that I own,” she said, sharing a story of ordering pizza from a small mom-and-pop pizza joint, getting pings at every step along the way, such as “Bailey is now prepping your dough,’ and, ‘Susan has put it in the oven,’ and, “Come get it now.”
“This is a small organization providing me that type of visibility,” she said. “Yet sometimes it feels like even though I’m dealing with a billion-dollar organization, when something leaves my facility it goes into a black abyss, which makes it very hard to keep that promise to our customers” for visibility into the status of their orders. “I am completely reliant on that repeat customer; that’s what allows us to grow.”
And it’s not just e-commerce.
Yone Dewberry, chief supply chain officer for Land O’ Lake, said the company may not have a lot of shipments direct to the customer like Wayfair does, but it has more than 100 business facilities with materials that come from hundreds of suppliers.
“For us, visibility has become table stakes,” Dewberry said. “We have facilities with less than a day’s worth of raw material inventory. Even though we’re not a big e-commerce player, it has become extremely important.”
At Walmart, explained Bob Welsh, senior director of transportation sourcing and procurement, “We have to be able to make snap decisions. It doesn’t matter if it’s e commerce or in our brick-and-mortar stores, information is key for us to make the right decision at the right time. If a truckload shipment of produce is coming in and we know it’s going to be late, that triggers a whole lot of things. We’ve taken a monumental amount of inventory out of our supply chain, so if there’s anything that happens en route, we have to have information faster and better than we ever have before.”
On time deliveries
Another big issue is deliveries being on time – not only not being late, but also not being early. “The acronym front and center these days is OTIF,” said panel moderator Darren Hawkins, CEO of YRC Worldwide. “On time and in full has set new precision delivery standards.”
Walmart has gotten a lot of press on this, as Welsh admitted. In 2017, it announced it would fine suppliers for early or late deliveries.
“It’s the right product at the right place at the right time for our consumers, and that doesn’t matter whether that plays into our traditional store business, our Sam’s business, our e-commerce business, what have you,” Welsh explained. “We have to make sure the product is arriving when we want it. If it’s too early, that’s just as much of an issue; it could be backing up in the back room of a store or distribution center.
“When a customer goes to a store or orders online, they can be assured that product will be there. Running a more precise supply chain across the board allowed us to reduce the overall cost of the supply chain.”
Walmart’s supply chain changes have been driven by e-commerce, Welsh said. “It’s caused us to create what was probably a more bulky supply chain and turn it into something that’s got to be very nimble on a day in and day out basis. It’s not without challenges, obviously, but it’s made us better.”
Addressing detention time
For fleets, of course, there is the frustration that while they may be expected to deliver within a narrow window, there’s a big problem with drivers being forced to sit and wait to be loaded or unloaded at many facilities. In fact, driver detention for the first time made the American Transportation Research Institute’s Top Trucking Issues list this year, debuting at No. 4.
“Detention ties up our most valuable resources, a CDL qualified driver, plus the tractor and trailer are tied up,” said YRC’s Hawkins. “But if we bill the shipper [for detention], that becomes a negotiation, when all we want to do is free up those investments so they can be productive.”
Walmart’s Welsh agreed – after all, the company has its own private fleet so it’s aware of the issues on that side of the coin as well. “I think dwell is such a major issue. As a supply chain company we have to maximize the time our drivers have to actually be driving and take the friction out of the supply chain wherever we can. Looking at it from being a carrier and a shipper, to be a shipper of choice, you have to find ways to minimize paperwork, bureaucracy, to keep those drivers moving.”
Walmart, he said, uses internal tools to aggregate information from its carriers to identify which suppliers are causing carrier issues, then works with those suppliers and its own distribution centers and third-party operations it runs. We have a team that does nothing but monitor where we are from a dwell time perspective. We often will bring carriers to onsite meetings so they can share what happens when we can’t keep drivers moving.”
Wayfair’s Baumhoff also said her company does a lot of internal reporting to help discover bottlenecks. “One thing I will say where I think carriers can help in this is letting us know and communicating if drivers are going to be early or late, so it’s not a surprise when a carrier shows up. We can help before it escalates to detention or other issues.”
In many ways it comes back to the need for better visibility into the status of freight.
Land O’ Lake’s Dewberry explained, “There’s nothing better for us as an organization to understand when someone’s going to be late, when someone’s going to be early, how are we holding you up, are you going to be in traffic. You look at truckers who are willing to share that information and those are the ones we want to do business with, because it’s so key to keep the supply chain moving and take the friction out of it.”
Dewberry said detention “is not a carrier issue, it’s not a shipper issue, it’s an industry-wide issue, and it’s one we have to work on together. And we don’t always work together well. We have to do a much better job of sharing information and come together to work on this dwell problem. Work with your partners on this — it’s a big deal for shippers, too.”
Walmart’s Welsh said when shippers are looking at carriers, beyond on-time service and being a safe transportation provider, “I think what makes a great carrier is the ability to partner and communicate. Getting beyond a transactional relationship, the value we can bring to each other’s networks. Having that open dialogues between ourselves and our carrier base, and it doesn’t matter if you are a very large carrier or a mid to small carrier…. Looking to how we make each other more efficient, make each other better, to me that’s the key.”
Trimble MAPS Development Platform Web APIs Enables EKA to Provide Real-Time Trip Management and Precise ETAs as Part of its Cloud-Based TMS Offerings
SUNNYVALE, Calif., Sept. 12, 2019—Trimble (NASDAQ: TRMB) announced today that EKA Solutions, Inc., a provider of cloud-based transportation management system (TMS) solutions, has licensed web APIs from the Trimble MAPS development platform to deliver intelligent automated dispatch and real-time visibility solutions with interactive trip management tools for brokers, carriers and shippers.
Consisting of mapping, routing, navigation and location APIs, the Trimble MAPS development platform is specifically designed for solution providers and fleets looking to build or enhance commercial applications.
“EKA is excited to work with Trimble. The collaboration between Trimble and EKA will deliver transformative and affordable solutions to small- and medium-size broker, carrier and shipper businesses. It will empower them to provide a better experience for customers and drivers, while reducing the time, expense and effort of managing the business basics,” said JJ Singh, founder, investor & CEO of EKA Solutions, Inc.
EKA has integrated trip management web APIs from the Trimble MAPS development platform to enhance its TMS Cloud. Through the Trimble MAPS stateful web services, trip data is stored on the server and used to continually monitor and manage the entire trip lifecycle, from planning through execution and analysis, resulting in highly accurate ETAs and the ability to visualize real-time trip progress.
“Creating a relationship with a solution provider who, similar to Trimble, is focused on enabling carriers, shippers and drivers to achieve operational success is extremely important to us,” said Bill Maddox, business development for Trimble MAPS Division. “With increased carrier pressure to provide superior customer service and the shipper’s need for freight visibility, we provide innovative tools to create or enhance applications that benefit the entire transportation workflow.”
EKA’s TMS solutions using the Trimble MAPS development platform are expected to be introduced and commercialized beginning as early as the third quarter of 2019.
EKA Solutions, Inc., provides the Smart, Unified Platform EKA Omni- TMS® for – Virtually – Everyone. EKA Omni-TMS® is the cloud-based SaaS freight Eco-System designed to transform the transportation and logistics industry. It empowers small- and medium-size broker, carrier and shipper businesses to operate from quote-to-cash with affordable and best-in-class digital tools, enabling the higher performance demanded in tomorrow’s supply chain. With real-time information, EKA Omni-TMS® enables brokers, carriers and shippers to provide visibility and appropriate transparency as they fluidly trade across an expanding and verified network with key, trusted partners. For more information about EKA, visit: https://www.go-eka.com.
About Trimble MAPS
Trimble MAPS provides global map-centric technology dedicated to transforming journeys through innovative routing, scheduling, visualization and navigation solutions. Built on map data and a routing engine designed specifically for commercial vehicles, its development platform and trusted products are made for a broad range of industries, workforces and fleets of all sizes. The Trimble MAPS brands including PC*MILER, CoPilot and Appian are the foundation for safe and efficient journeys worldwide—one driver, one vehicle, one fleet at a time. Trimble MAPS is a Division of Trimble: maps.trimble.com.
Trimble is transforming the way the world works by delivering products and services that connect the physical and digital worlds. Core technologies in positioning, modeling, connectivity and data analytics enable customers to improve productivity, quality, safety and sustainability. From purpose built products to enterprise lifecycle solutions, Trimble software, hardware and services are transforming industries such as agriculture, construction, geospatial and transportation and logistics. For more information about Trimble (NASDAQ:TRMB), visit: www.trimble.com.
Chart of the Week: Operating Ratio — Dry Van Carriers Company Fleet
Like travelers walking through the desert that found an oasis, carriers found a wellspring of freight in 2017 and 2018 and expanded their operations. Unfortunately for the carriers, the pool has dried, leaving many dying of thirst. 2019 has been a lesson in how trucking markets can overheat just like the economy, leading to an uncomfortable period of contraction. Operating ratios (ORs) for dry van carriers in the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Truckload Indexes program have averaged over 100% since the start of the year as a result of this contracting growth.
In recent weeks there has been a lot of dispute in the media and over Twitter about the state of the trucking market. We’ve described the market as getting “bloody” earlier this year, while others have talked about how “strong” the trucking business is. Recently, we developed a view that the market was about to turn for the better, based on volume data we have seen in the market.
Regardless of the words you use, it is important to inform these views with data. The TCA benchmarking program is the first and only program in the history of truckload that provides monthly benchmarking of hundreds of competitive truckload carriers, ranging from mid-size to enterprise (smallest fleet 75 trucks, largest is 7000). In total, 73,000 trucks are counted in the data sample, representing 8% of the total truck count of medium and large trucking fleets operating in the entire U.S.
The fleets submit monthly financial data into a benchmarking software program that compiles aggregated financial reports for the industry, sliced by a number of variables. While the truckload carriers submit 500+ points of data, only 31 are published in an aggregated basis inside of SONAR. With this data we can use data and not bias to determine how the industry as a whole are doing. Prior to the data being offered on an aggregated basis, the only data points non-insiders would get about the state of the market is through the public truckload carrier earnings reports that would come out quarterly and offer up 8-10 operational KPIs. Now we have over 30 and they come up out monthly from over 200 different fleet profiles.
Operating ratios are a measure of operational efficiency. The formula is operating costs/operating revenue. A 100 OR indicates that for every dollar made in revenue, 100% of it goes to funding the cost of doing business, leaving nothing for debt or investment. In trucking operating costs are things like driver wages, back office support, and maintenance costs. Debt and interest payments are not included in these costs.
Most carriers carry some amount of debt in order to fund some of their growth as many trucking companies are low on cash. Purchasing equipment and buildings are some of the more commonly financed items. In general, many carriers consider making five to ten cents on the dollar a success, or a 90 to 95 OR.
The issue for carriers in 2019 has been more about the oversupply than the lack of demand, although both are present. As carriers saw margins expand in 2018, they decided to invest in growing their fleets as was demonstrated by the record number of class 8 truck orders last year. About the time that most of the orders were being placed the market started to cool. Daily truckload volumes have averaged roughly 3% under 2018 from March through July, but the most brutal hit came in May and June when they were over 4% under previous year volumes.
The trucking industry is extremely competitive with relatively low barriers to entry. All it takes is a commercial driver’s license (CDL), a truck, and a willingness to drive to start a trucking company. Many drivers will quit larger operations to start their own venture after a time. FreightWaves has studied the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) data and found that smaller fleets are still growing when the lager fleets (100+ trucks) have contracted over the past several months.
Many of these drivers have developed relationships with shippers over the years, making them a reliable option. Smaller carriers have lower overhead costs and can drop rates under the larger carriers whose costs are filled with building leases and back office costs. The influx of smaller carriers has a deflationary impact to both spot and contract rates.
In 2017, carrier ORs averaged 99%. Many of the contracted rates were made based on 2016 activity, which was the last freight recession. Seeing as most freight contracts are made on an annual cycle, these rates were in place throughout most of 2017 and early 2018, which kept profit margins low.
Late in 2017 into early 2018, carriers started falling out of their contracted obligations to service higher paying spot market freight. Demand grew so fast that spot rates were well above contract. Carriers, at times, could get more than double the price of hauling for their contracted shippers. The spread between spot and contract was too much to ignore.
Recently, volumes have recovered but have not had significant impact to rates. This should provide relief for some carriers and extend their life for a time, but winter is coming when freight volumes typically plummet. Carriers normally build reserves in the summer to keep them afloat during the slower months. The true test of carrier resolve has yet to come.
$5.6B of venture capital has been invested in FreightTech in 2019 to-date
FreightTech venture investing is super hot, but most of these startups continue to lose money. Is this a fad or something else?
Last year, FreightWaves created a FreightTech Venture Index to track the venture capital (VC) investing in FreightTech startups. The term FreightTech is defined loosely as software companies and other technologies that aid in the movement of freight or management of supply chains through logistics.
In prior studies, we eliminated companies that were involved in on-demand mobility (Uber for instance), because much of the investment was targeted towards personal mobility and not freight movement.
Recently, mobility and e-commerce companies have started to play a much bigger role in the freight innovation map, with significant resources deployed to expand their on-demand mobility networks and experience into the logistics sector. With companies like Uber, Amazon, JD.com, Alibaba and others building out freight networks and looking more like logistics powerhouses, the lines between personal mobility and freight movement are starting to blur.
Going forward, we will include venture funded on-demand mobility companies in our studies, as long as they include freight logistics as a core product offering. These firms have been some of the biggest freight innovators of all and dismissing them because they do other types of mobility businesses leaves total investment under represented.
The logistics sector (defined as the movement or management of freight) is a $9.6 trillion sector, globally. In the U.S. alone, logistics represents $1.6 trillion, or approximately 8 percent of domestic GDP. Compared to financial services revenues, logistics is bigger, with financial services generating $1.5 trillion, or 7.4 percent of domestic GDP.
FinTech has been one of the hottest venture sectors for the past decade, while FreightTech has only recently become a core focus of Silicon Valley investors. FinTech describes the software services and other technology used to support or enable banking and financial services. Payments, money movement, capital markets or insurance technologies are sub-segments of the FinTech industry.
In 2018, FinTech received $40.5 billion in VC investment, while FreightTech received $10.4 billion. More remarkably, however, FreightTech saw an explosion of interest from VC, growing by more than 400 percent, from $2.3 billion in 2017. FinTech doubled between 2017 and 2018. Since 2014, FinTech has grown by almost 500 percent, while FreightTech has grown by almost 1,000 percent, according to an analysis by FreightWaves using Pitchbook data.
FreightTech Venture Capital investing measured by total VC dollar investments:
So far in 2019, FreightTech startups have raised $5.6 billion of venture capital, while FinTech startups have raised $19.1 billion of venture capital.
Venture investing momentum in FreightTech is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. VCs tend to be momentum-driven investors, following their peers, but also looking at broader market trends. With companies around the world making significant investments in delivery and logistics networks to remain competitive, VCs will want an outsized share of the upside.
Over the next decade, companies that fail to invest in their logistics networks will find themselves disinter-mediated by companies that do. Consumers and companies alike will want real-time visibility, custody tracking and sourcing information, combined with near instant on-demand fulfillment.
Restaurants, retailers, distributors and manufacturers that fail to adapt to these demands will be as endangered as a niche media outlet that generates a large percent of its contribution margins from paywall subscriptions.
There is only one thing stronger than all the armies of the world: and that is an idea whose time has come. -Victor Hugo
Existing incumbents that have maintained their go-to-market strategies for years or decades with little value add to their clients will be displaced by venture-backed startups.
Incumbents that have a dated understanding of established business cycles and go-to-market strategies will be forced to adapt to a new way of thinking. Simply blowing off venture startups and their founders as idealistic, impractical and cocky is foolish and demonstrates historical ignorance or context.
Blockbuster versus Netflix is perhaps the greatest example of a market leader that pretended that a scrappy VC-backed company couldn’t displace them. Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix on multiple occasions (for as low as $50 million), but miscalculated where the market was headed and underestimated the advantages of Netflix’s business model and tech team.
Incumbent company execs interpret VC fundraising success as grandstanding for follow-on venture funding, without understanding how or why these same startups attract investment to begin with. They dismiss their business models as “unsustainable” or “ill-conceived”, assuming that the founder is clueless, arrogant, or living in a fantasy world.
In the early days of a startup’s funding cycle, Seed or Series A, a company doesn’t have to generate revenue. Often times, a good idea, charismatic entrepreneur, and a large total addressable market (TAM) size is all you need in the earliest days of startup. For FreightTech companies, the enormous size of the total logistics market ($9.6 trillion) is so massive, even in specialized areas, that investors know if the company has early traction in the market, it can grow to a big enough size for a large exit.
The amount of investment is often small in these early days (a few million dollars), just enough to get the company to a stage where the first couple of paying customers will buy the product.
Later stage companies that raise larger rounds (Series B and beyond) require product market fit, which means they need paying customers and high revenue growth. The biggest risk to a startup is running out of money, and tech-enabled startups that have high revenue growth and favorable unit economics almost never run out of willing investors to support the company.
Startups that are not growing fast (40+ percent year-over-year) face pressure by investors for a premature exit, often to a larger company, where the startup becomes a bolt-on product or feature of the acquirer’s core business. Lack of revenue growth is death for a startup, lack of profit is not.
In order for a startup to generate revenue, it must deliver real value to customers. The assumption that startups only play for venture capitalists and not for customers is usually held by the existing incumbents that are confused by the new entrants’ business model and go-to-market strategy. The tactics of the disrupter are usually drastically different than the incumbents, so the legacy companies write the new player off as a flash in the pan or assume the startup is given market credit that is neither deserved nor earned (“hype”).
Paying customers will have a different perspective, however.
Fast revenue growth is a sign of an under served client need identified by the new entrant. If the incumbents were serving the client’s needs, the startup wouldn’t have an opportunity to gain a foothold in the market and wouldn’t make it past a Series A funding.
In what is considered by many to be the most important book in Silicon Valley, Innovator’s Dilemma, incumbents misinterpret the opportunity, often dismissing it as a small and uninteresting niche. This allows the startup to establish a beachhead without any push back from the establishment.
“New entrants (often founded by frustrated ex-employees of the incumbents) with little or nothing to lose when they enter the market. Initially these small upstarts don’t pose a threat — the new entrants find new markets to apply these technologies largely by trial and error, at low margins. Their nimbleness and low cost structures allow them to operate sustainably where incumbents could not.
However, the error in valuing these technologies comes from what happens next. By finding the right application use and market, the upstarts advance rapidly and hit the steep part of the classic “S” curve, eventually entering the more mature markets of the incumbents and disrupting them.
In essence, the smaller markets are the guinea-pigs and test labs that help the technologies advance enough to play in the big boys league. In many cases the entry-point markets are left behind as the new technologies move into higher margin upmarket territory disrupting due to their superior performance.”
In order for the startup to grow, it must continue to add new revenue and client satisfaction throughout the engagement. The startup doesn’t enjoy the longer history or distribution of incumbents and must innovate to gain customers. Simply using a playbook of much larger and entrenched incumbents just means competitors will run the same playbook with a lot more resources than the startup.
As the company scales, client satisfaction is paramount. Usually this means that the startup is solving a major issue that the prior incumbents were ignoring. In later stage companies, venture investors want to see product market fit (real customer traction), high revenue growth and high paying customer satisfaction (usually tracked through NPS scores).
Venture investors are not concerned about profits if the startup is growing revenues quickly. This confuses a lot of people that don’t understand the venture investment model. Many of the most successful technology companies burn millions of dollars each year while they are growing fast. The biggest venture exits are usually companies that have high recurring (or reocurring) revenue growth, but with substantial losses. VC investors have a great deal of experience in seeing these companies become the dominant leaders of the next generation.
Even public companies can have big losses, so long as their revenues are growing. For software-enabled tech companies, investors have created the “Rule of 40,” which means that a healthy company should have a combined profit margin and growth rate in excess of 40 percent. Under this guidance, companies can lose 100 percent, but grow by 140 percent and still be considered “healthy.” ‘
Venture-backed startups are encouraged to sacrifice short-term profits, if the pursuit of profits sacrifices growth. The logic behind this is actually quite simple: fast growing revenue companies are far more valuable than slow growth, but profitable companies.
In Grow Fast or Die Slow, McKinsey studied 3,000 tech-companies between 1980 and 2012. Their conclusions were something that venture capitalists instinctively already knew, but defied conventional wisdom held by traditional business model thinkers, reporters and executives. Since the freight space has never seen the level of tech disruption that is going on currently, it is understandable that there would be a reluctance to accept it.
In the report, the management consulting firm stated:
Three pieces of evidence attest to the paramount importance of growth. First, growth yields greater returns. High-growth companies offer a return to shareholders five times greater than medium-growth companies. Second, growth predicts long-term success. “Supergrowers”—companies whose growth was greater than 60 percent when they reached $100 million in revenues—were eight times more likely to reach $1 billion in revenues than those growing less than 20 percent. Additionally, growth matters more than margin or cost structure. Increases in revenue growth rates drive twice as much market-capitalization gain as margin improvements for companies with less than $4 billion in revenues. Further, we observed no correlation between cost structure and growth rates.
VCs also have defined exit time horizons; their investment will only be in the startup for a few years. If the startup chooses to make a profit, it isn’t investing as much in marketing, product features or market expansion. With tech-enabled businesses valued at a multiple of revenues, venture investors want revenue growth above all to maximize their returns.
Customers are usually the winners when venture startups join the market. Often, startups build their businesses with more favorable unit economics for buyers, more flexible terms, better features and service.
Plus, with a focus on customer retention above all, client satisfaction and success is built into the startup’s DNA. Existing legacy companies that are measured on quarterly profits alone are more challenged to compete and will struggle to fend off the eventual pressure of the new FreightTech startups.
If a startup demonstrates an ability to raise multiple rounds of funding from reputable venture investors with solid track records, that signal alone is usually a sign of product market fit and high revenue growth.
For executives where their core business is under siege, it is a difficult place to be, especially if you are apart of an enterprise where innovation funding is not readily available. The instinct is to lash out and assume the startups will either flame out or lack long term sustainable business models. In other words, when surrounded, they just shoot everyone.
But for the freight executives that understand the current investment trend is just getting started, the best chance for survival is to take the startups very credible, assume that customers are as well, innovate internally, find ways to partner, or acquire.
Sitting angry, defiant, and idle is death- just ask Blockbuster. And venture investing in the freight space is just getting started.
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