Logistics Startup’s Tech Investment Helped Prepare it for COVID-19

ProServ Logistics’ empty offices in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Photo courtesy ProServ Logistics

For one logistics company, the need for employees to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has been made easier with technology. In fact, ProServ Logistics had a head start, as some of its employees were already working remotely.

“Honestly? We didn’t really intend to be virtual,” says Brian Johnson, founder and CEO of ProServ Logistics, headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

“Not all the best people wanted to work in Eden Prairie,” admits David Buhl, co-founder and COO. “They wanted to work but didn’t want to commute.”

“So, I guess we went virtual,” Johnson says with a laugh. “Maybe reluctantly, at first. Before we were comfortable with it. Certainly, before we really knew what it could do for us.”

“And what it can do for our customers,” Buhl adds. 

Virtual Offices

Some of ProServ’s key personnel have been remote from the beginning. One of them was Diane Johnson (no relation to Brian), vice president of operations.

“I just reached a point in my life where I wanted to be closer to my family,” she explains. “I love logistics, supply chain, the constant challenges, helping people, preventing problems. But I can do that from home…or my cabin,” she adds, like a true Minnesotan.

Eric Jex, vice president of operations, climbed every hill his “out of college” career choice presented him with. “But I’d chased that rabbit long enough,” he says. “I just wanted to have more meaningful relationships with family, friends, co-workers and customers.”

Brian Johnson, CEO and Co-Founder, ProServ Logistics, working from home during the COVID-19 crisis.
Photo courtesy ProServ Logistics

Jex, initially the most remote employee, joined ProServ when Brian Johnson and Buhl said he could come aboard without being on site. “The lifestyle I want is miles away from Eden Prairie,” he says. “When they said they were cool with me being remote, it was the easiest – and best – decision I ever made.”

ProServ had an office, where most of their employees showed up daily, intent on serving each customer, and committed to growing their business.

“I like coming into the office,” says Perry Torgerson, manager, business development.  “I’m a people person, and that’s what ‘having a job’ always meant to me. Until this Coronavirus,” he adds. “Now, a lot of offices are just risky.” 

Finding tech solutions

In addition to Johnson and Jex, they added a third remote employee, working from Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“At first, it was easy to communicate the important stuff,” Johnson says.  “We were small, and we didn’t always have a lot that we needed to work together on.” But the business grew, and success presented challenges.

“As a service provider, you need your team to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate,” Johnson says. 

Buhl, whose expertise is technology, looked on the situation as an opportunity. “We’d been looking at what was out there, kicking some tires, so to speak. We knew it was time to upgrade our technology.”

ProServ agreed to be a beta tester for EKA Solutions, which developed a cloud-based Omni-TMS to allow brokers, shippers, and carriers to more easily work together. They went live the first of this year. That gave the company an advantage when the COVID-19 crisis forced the entire office to work remotely.

“And you know how all of our people are able to work remotely this week?” Johnson says.  “Because we’ve been doing it. Working remotely, communicating with each other, helping our customers and carriers use our technology.”

David Buhl, COO and co-founder of ProServ Logistics, working from home during the COVID-19 crisis.
Photo courtesy ProServ Logistics

“EKA is a distributive platform,” Buhl explains. “Its security protocols are second to none, but it allows our people – and trusted partners – single sign-on access, and, it’s role-based.”

“So, was it hard to tell everyone to not come to the office because of the pandemic?” Johnson asks. “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, because we’ve got the best people, and the EKA platform does everything we need it to.”

Noting that EKA is regularly adding new features to the platform, Buhl says, “I tell them they need to keep pace with ProServ. Our team is working remotely, but we’re going places.”