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How We Built a $300 Million Freight Transportation Provider

The company was founded more than 20 years ago in Erie, PA by local entrepreneur, Jim Berlin.

Logistics Plus Inc. (LP) is a leading worldwide provider of transportation, warehousing, fulfillment, global logistics, business intelligence, technology, and supply chain solutions.

Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual decision to start Logistics Plus?

Logistics Plus was a kick-in-the-butt moment actually. After spending nearly 20 years in the less-than-truckload (LTL) industry, I was fired in the summer of 1996. Having two kids still in high-school, I knew that I had to find work. I got a call from the traffic manager at General Electric Transportation in Erie, PA who needed somebody to manage their domestic inbound transportation. I made the 50-mile trip from Jamestown, New York to Erie and left the plant with a one-year, $120,000 purchase order. They asked me if I was incorporated, so I stopped by the local county clerk’s office to get my incorporation papers. I did not know much about business but knew I wanted to create a company where people have my passion for excellence. Any logistics company can coordinate deliveries from point A to point B, but I wanted a company where people GAS (give a shit) by going above and beyond what is expected. That’s how I arrived at the company name Logistics Plus – because we’re the company that puts the “Plus” in “Logistics” by doing the big things properly, and the countless little things, that together ensure complete customer satisfaction and success.

Who makes up your customer base?

Logistics Plus has a diversified customer base that includes thousands of companies both large and small across a variety of industries. We have several Fortune 500 clients, along with customers in the industrial, manufacturing, energy, retail, and chemical industries as well as several of the top 5 companies on earth. A big selling point of ours is that no customer is too big or too small for us. After 23 years, we’ve created a network of resources that rival any big company, but we’re still small and nimble enough to treat every customer as if they are our only customer. I like to call that the “Goldilocks” effect.

What is the funniest or most strange request you have received from a customer?

We have received so many strange requests over the years it’s tough to only pick one. One that particularly stands out to me is when we were asked to stop a train during transport and pull one of the containers off of it. I guess that’s just a part of logistics; we move things pretty much anything and everything to anywhere it needs to go.

How did you fund the idea initially?

After meeting with the traffic manager at General Electric Transportation, I was awarded a one-year $120,000 purchase order which was barely enough to pay myself and a couple of other employees. However, after six months we were recognized by Jack Welch as a GE Corporate Best Practice, and then again the following year in 1998. That’s when they asked me to start doing more and more, as GE expanded globally to places like Mexico, India, Europe and Asia.

Where did you meet your first couple employees?

I took 2 of my co-workers from the old trucking company with me. I knew that they were dependable, trustworthy and hard-working. (Plus, they already knew how crazy I was) They both took a BIG leap of faith by joining me and none of today’s success would have been possible without them.

Did you run any companies prior?

My only prior business experience was running the Red Star company store that sold hats, shirts and model trucks with the company logo. My teenage kids were my only “employees”. Quite different than running a global logistics company.

Did your family/friends have any thoughts on your company or decisions you made?

Everyone told me I was nuts (which I already knew) but I’m sure they all figured it would make for a great story one day. Once we began to outgrow our company trailer (yes, our headquarters was a trailer), a unique opportunity presented itself in 2003. Erie’s dilapidated train station was put on the market. I thought it would be the perfect fit to locate a modern transportation company into a historic old train station. My friends at the time all told me to stay away from what was clearly a dangerous money pit needing a complete renovation.

I purchased the old train station anyway for $2 million, pumped another 2 million into it, and today it is still standing as our iconic Global Headquarters. It helped start a big of renaissance in downtown Erie, so people called me a visionary; (but I think delusionary is more appropriate). Still, I take great pride in the work we do here in Erie to support the local economy, charities, and universities. I believe in Karma, so it’s always good to give back when you can.

What motivates you when things go wrong?

What is the end goal? When things go wrong, a learning opportunity presents itself. “What did we do wrong?” and “How do we fix it?” are crucial questions to ask ourselves. First, we need to fix our problem – no matter how large or small they may be. We can’t just brush off our mistakes and forget them, they need to be fixed and learn from so they don’t happen again.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Everybody makes mistakes, it’s inevitable. The key is to learn from those mistakes so it doesn’t happen again. I think it’s important to communicate with your employees, ask what happened, make sure they understand how they made that mistake, and then give them a pat on the back and encourage them to handle the situation differently next time. Nobody is perfect and we can’t expect someone to jump right into a job and be flawless, it just doesn’t happen.

What has driven the most sales?

For several years, Logistics Plus grew solely off word-of-mouth. I always say that relationships matter. When one of our customers leaves their company and goes somewhere else, they often bring us with them. We don’t have a traditional sales force; in fact, we only have about 3 salespeople in the entire company. Everyone sells, our operations folks are on the phone all day long and they are constantly doing what they can to make sure our customers are getting the best service possible. (I always remember the sign at the gates as you drove out of the trucking terminal I worked at. It said: “Outside of these gates YOU are Red Star Express”. And I always believed that. As of late, we added a marketing department in the fall of 2014. Scott (our VP of Marketing) really helped us grow our online presence which also boosted our sales. Now he’s got a great kid who graduated from a local college working with him, and we are very active on social media, google and other digital platforms which have supplemented our word-of-mouth growth nicely.

How is Logistics Plus better than its competitors?

We are a relatively small company in the $800 billion global logistics industry. I always tell our employees that we are just a tiny fish in a big pond, and we can’t forget that. Another saying I have is that “We punch well above our weight class.”

While we may not be the largest logistics company, we find ways to get things done no matter how difficult the situation. Focus on the mission, not the money. Part of the reason we compete so well is that we always work to find a way to “yes” when its easy (or even reasonable) for other companies to say “no.”

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

Some of the top day-to-day apps or platforms that we need to succeed are listed here:

eShipPlus™ TMS: eShip is our transportation management system that was developed in-house. It is used by our North American Division (NAD) to quote, track, and book shipments.

CargoWiseOne®: CargoWise is our integrated global logistics platform for freight forwarding, tracking, customs clearance, and warehousing aspects of our business.

Qlik®: Qlik has been a huge part in growing our technology solutions and it’s used by our Business Intelligence team to create interactive dashboards and custom reporting to allow our customers to view useful, digestible information.

MyLogisticsPlus™: This is our customized customer-facing platform that brings all our other tools together in one place for visibility and reporting. It really has become a highly turnkey, customizable platform for transportation, warehousing, and reporting.

What are the next products/solutions you are working on?

I’m not a big fan of predicting what comes next. We have always been the type of company that works in the present. If you do the little things correctly, opportunity will present itself without seeking it. Our only real goal is “to grow” (that and world domination). The more we grow, the more opportunities we will have. One thing I would bet on is that the technology and business intelligence side of our business will continue to adapt and propel us forward.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

I’m no crystal ball guy. I always joke that I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen today, no less a year or two from now, but our overall motto is to grow. We will continue to do that because of our talent, our energy, our passion and our continued record of success. Growth equals opportunity -and more fun- so that is our mantra.

What is your current revenue and company size?

Today, Logistics Plus has annual global sales over $300 million. We have just over 450 employees across 28 countries, including 275 here in the United States.

I could have never imagined we’d reach this point after starting with a single purchase order and 3 employees back in 1996. It’s been a fun ride, and I look forward to see where we go next.

Company Name: Logistics Plus
Founder: Jim Berlin



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