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Saturday 20 April 2019
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Logistics Plus

With its international display of flags perched on the rooftop of its Union Station headquarters, Logistics Plus (LP) is a beacon of what a small NWPA-based business can accomplish on the global stage.

The 50-plus flags represent not only the company’s diverse workforce — employees from as far away as Mexico, Croatia, Bosnia and Spain — but also the reach of its international locations since it was founded in 1996. In fact, the 22-year-old company has hit the fast*forward button when it comes to the growth of its transportation and logistics business, and talent pool. In 2018, Logistics Plus expects annual global sales to approach $220 million and is consistently recognized as a fast-growing transportation and logistics company,
reputable supply chain partner, top freight broker, a leading project cargo manager, as well as a certified “Great Place to Work.”

What’s LP’s secret? Well, according to local entrepreneur and CEO Jim Berlin, it’s all about a strong passion for excellence. The company’s more than 450 worldwide employees put the “plus” in logistics by ensuring complete customer satisfaction and success.

Today, LP’s customer list includes some of the biggest companies on the planet, including Google and Amazon (plus several other bigname companies in the wings), as well as the co-working and office startup WeWork — one of the highest valued private companies in the world. Logistics Plus has adapted to meet the needs of these newer, higher-tech companies by establishing sizeable support teams based in Erie, while delivering top-notch customer service to traditional longstanding customers based in Northwest Pennsylvania, many of whom are Manufacturer & Business Association members, including GE Transportation, LORD Corporation and Hero BX.

This mix of old and new has kept the company growing — and fast.

“We’ve been able to keep our industrial base, which is how we started with GE and its vendors and the people that make heavy, industrial stuff,” Berlin explains. “But we’ve also evolved into a 21st century provider service for companies that weren’t even around back then.”

How did these new partnerships happen? Berlin and his team say it’s all about customer service, as well as establishing long-term relationships.

For example, for years, LP was handling fulfillments for Amazon sellers through a sister company, Lynx Fulfillment, which it has since fully acquired. According to Berlin, “Amazon just knew that the work we did was solid, so they felt comfortable turning over their customers and vendors to us to help them set up shop and to do all the things they needed done.”

As for WeWork, the relationship started with a cold call. The company was looking for a warehouse in New Jersey, and LP was quick to accommodate the request. Now, LP oversees all aspects of its global supply chain, including warehousing, logistics and office installations, with a dedicated S.W.A.T. (Supporting WeWork at All Times) team.

The partnership with Google began with a former LP employee. The employee had worked at Amazon and took a new job at Google. Faced with a new set of supply chain challenges, it didn’t take long for him to think of a logistics company that would feel comfortable in an exciting, demanding and fast-paced environment. “He called me in October and said, ‘I always knew I’d work with you and LP again someday,’ ” Berlin explains. “We went out to Mountain View, California, presented our proposal and won a pilot contract. It was the coolest campus on earth.”

As part of the pilot, the LP Google team helped manage the logistics of its 2017 year-end Made by Google product launches, including its new Pixel 2 Phones. Google has since rewarded LP for its work by extending its short-term Proof-of-Concept contract into a long-term deal.

The Big Picture
In an industry that is expected to be worth $15.5 trillion by 2023, Logistics Plus has created a “cool factor” all its own. In 2017, the company’s year-end U.S. sales — estimated at more than $120 million — were 1,000 times the comparable sales the company had in its first completed year ($120,000 for 1997). Also, 2017 growth was 50-percent more than 2016. Growth and success in Erie has carried over to other parts of the world as well with new, expanded global operations.

The Logistics Plus network now includes U.S. based offices in Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, as well as international locations in Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Libya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Sudan, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, and the United Kingdom, with additional agents around the world.

Craig Warnshuis, LP’s director of Domestic Operations, says this network is essential to delivering results in an industry that is consistently put to the test.

For instance, “We got an email at approximately 6 o’clock in the morning from WeWork that there was a piece of artwork in Manhattan that they needed to get to Tokyo by the next day,” Warnshuis says. “The CEO of WeWork wanted to present this piece that he had in his office to the CEO of Japan WeWork, and it started out with some very general measurements that were way off that changed a few times.”

So, how did LP deliver? “We had them stand next to it and take a picture to get a rough idea of how big it was, which was a 4-by-8 foot sculpture made out of transistors and wiring — everything that’s going to make something ding — and built a crate for it,” explains Warnshuis. “Our international team was working on what flights and what routes this will have to take. The Customs team was jumping in to do their part. We finally get it picked up, and since there were no cargo flights available, it was going to have to fly as checked baggage — on a passenger jet. So one of our vice presidents who was stationed in New York at the time volunteered to take it, and everything got delivered on time.”

At LP, each day brings a new challenge. But it’s the company’s expertise, experience and network within the industry that get the job done.

“We compete to get better every day,” Berlin explains. “There are times we fight against the big guys. There are times we work with the big guys. There are times we use them, there’s times they use us. We don’t have to make it a death battle. Just do a good job and the rest will take care of itself. Our goal is just to keep growing and bringing new people into the fold.”

Top Talent
Logistics Plus certainly has been a difference maker in downtown Erie since Berlin acquired the Union Station headquarters in 2003 with the intent to transform the historic train station into a bustling and vibrant hub of business, real estate and entertainment. But, in the process, one of its biggest contributions has been to attract and retain new talent in Erie and its offices around the globe — a “brain gain” of sorts.

The company recently onboarded 26 new employees in the month of June alone with Berlin playing an active role in the interviewing process. “I worry that when you grow that fast, there’s a chance to dilute your talent,” he explains. “I wanted to be the first one to try to find the right clay that we can then mold into good LP people.”

In terms of molding, Berlin doesn’t pull any punches. “I tell people when I interview them, ‘the phone will ring at 4:55 p.m. on Friday, and that’s when we have the chance to do our best work. It’s usually a problem that has to be solved before Monday, and you may spend all weekend ensuring the customer gets what he needs. We’re just moving things, but those things are important to someone: It could be a Father’s Day gift or a factory that’s shut down waiting for a part. You have to care about it, and that’s the difference.’ ”

Warnshuis is candid about the demands of the logistics business. At LP, each and every team member has a responsibility to help grow the business — and exceed customer expectations.

“We take our work really seriously, even though we might not necessarily take ourselves that seriously. Everything’s customer-centric, so whatever they want, we’re here to provide that,” he says.

Tracy White, corporate HR administrator for LP, says much of the talent that the company recruits has been based on word of mouth. Many of the best employees have come from retail and service-related backgrounds. The company also has internship programs for such areas of expertise as supply chain and computer-related areas. LP is a company that breaks the mold. “Everybody in Erie will tell you that they’ve got a great resume, but they’ve never been in an office like ours. Ours is very different culturally and structurally — but there are opportunities to move up.”

Gretchen Blough, LP’s customs brokerage manager, earned her degree in business administration/management information systems from Edinboro University but took a logistics class to fulfill a credit requirement. Blough was working as an intern in the IT department at LP and learned of an opening at GE for duty drawback. I happened to learn about duty drawback in that logistics class the night before. I went for my interview out there, and they asked, ‘Do you know anything about duty drawback?’ And I just gave the explanation right away, and they said, ‘You’re the only person that’s ever answered that question.’ I had no clue that a customs broker was a career choice until I was here, and then got my license and we started the division.”

One could say that LP is very much a place where opportunity is mixed with the jeans, sneakers and T-shirt culture embodied by its leader Berlin. It’s a company that celebrates with chicken wing eating contests and that de-stresses with an onsite gym — a “work hard, play hard” atmosphere one would expect at a Google or Amazon. But it also has a driven culture that is in a league of its own.

“I think we’re one of the companies that can keep the brain drain from leaving here,” Berlin says. “Many of these kids get really good educations from some very good local schools. A lot of times to be part of a global company or cool company, they think they have to leave and, really, they don’t. We’re global. We’re a fun place to be, and we’re based here. I think we’re the anecdote to people who think they have to leave home to have a good career. They can have that here.”

Relationships Matter
The commitment to excellence that LP’s employees have is what continues to make the company stand out as an employer, but also in its industry and as a leader in logistics and transportation solutions for any size business.

“You make your product; you find your customers. We’ll make sure everything gets there. We’re going to be part of you,” says Berlin. “We’re the experts in import and export rules and laws, and how to manage all that. We’re continuity, and we provide that expertise at a very reasonable cost.”

Berlin sees Logistics Plus’ niche as providing a service advantage to industrial and manufacturing customers that they may not get from bigger providers.

“These companies get to work with a provider that is seen as invaluable to companies like Amazon, GE, Google and WeWork, but they mean as much to us as the big guys. That’s our bread and butter. I think a lot of bigger logistics companies don’t care for the small guys. Nothing’s too small for us. We care about every customer we have. That’s one of the differentiators. We’re big enough to be pretty effective and powerful; we’re also small enough that we really care about our customers. Every customer matters to us.”

It’s the “plus” in Logistics Plus that is driving the growth in the transportation and logistics business, and talent across the globe.

For more information, visit www.logisticsplus.net.

Read more in the September 2018 edition of the Business Magazine.