Logistics firm Service First Logistics, Inc. (SFL) offers services through the United States and Canada. The company specializes in shipping produce and food products but will transport everything from bulk load shipments, pallets and flowers to packaging and building materials.
SFL prides itself in its dedication to top-notch managing of the freight and logistics needs of its customers. President and Chief Executive Officer Royce Neubauer founded the company from his home office in 2011. However, plans for the company started long before that. “I started developing my business plan about six years before our start date,” he shares. “I wanted to make sure we could be debt-free and self-funded our first year and throughout our existence.”
Based in Auburn Hills, Michigan (near Detroit), Neubauer left a well-paying career to follow his dream of owning his own business. “In January 2011, with a one-year-old daughter and a wife to take care of, I risked everything I had and took a chance on myself. The year prior, I left a career making great money with a promising future to build a company of my own from the ground up. Although some looked at this as a huge risk, I simply looked at it as a huge opportunity.”
The early months were a little nerve-racking he says. “At one point in the first quarter in business, every dime I owned was invested in the company. Each of my bank accounts had a zero balance. I put everything I had on the line, and it has paid off greatly.”
Indeed, it has. By the end of its first year, the company had already expanded to four employees and started to turn a profit.
“What got us through those challenging times was my mindset that if we improve today, then we will be better tomorrow. We simply dug in and worked at getting better each day. This is the same mindset we use each and every day today.”
In its short history, SFL has grown to become a major player in the freight brokerage industry with over 500 customers in the United States and Canada served by fifty-four employees and growing. The company has expanded considerably, from its original home office in Crescent Springs, KY. Today, SFL has its headquarters planted firmly in Auburn Hills, MI, and an office in Cincinnati, OH.
“To steal a phrase from my Cincinnati sales manager, Nick Finan, we like to say we are a service company, who manage freight lanes. It’s in our name, Service First,” Neubauer said. “We truly take pride in setting the highest service levels in our industry for our customers and carriers.” And by adhering to this mission, Service First Logistics is a company that is here to stay.
“I want to make sure we continue to drive the highest service levels in our industry as we grow,” Neubauer said. “We are going to grow as a company. We are going to have multiple offices with several hundred employees. This will happen within our next five years. Within that growth though, it will be my mission to make sure we are uniform companywide when it comes to our service levels.”
Neubauer is positive and upbeat about the company’s future growth. “I feel the current state of the industry is strong. The economy is in a good place, tonnage is up, yet carrier fleet growth is stagnant and driver shortages continue to exist. This creates a market in which the best brokerage firms can thrive and grow. We are growing in this market because we treat our carriers no differently than we treat our customers.”
SFL also owns a trucking company named SFL Express LLC which was developed to provide regional asset solutions for Service First Logistics customers. The fleet boasts several refrigerated trailers with ColdLink Technology that give the company the ability to track and monitor the trailers from its offices.
“If your company has certain markets you’re struggling in, we can allocate assets to our regions and loads,” Neubauer said. “SFL Express has helped us on the brokerage side to give us more clout with contract-based customers.”
“Our carriers are just as important as any customers we have. We know we can’t succeed without them. So, we take care of them and continue to create higher service standards to show them how much they are valued. We do this because we know we need strong carriers to partner with our growing customer base. The current state of the industry is strong for those companies that are service oriented and truly value partnerships.”
Mr. Neubauer also spoke about how more college students should look into the field of logistics for its career opportunities. He feels it is a field that many people overlook. “The freight brokerage industry itself is a very diverse and exciting industry to work in. This issue we run into when marketing our industry is most people do not know this industry even exists,” Neubauer said.
“On the surface, I feel the logistics industry is looked at as more of a blue-collar industry to most people. Although there are many blue collar aspects to the industry that I love and appreciate, it is also a very technical industry when it comes to technology, law, ethics, analytics, operations and sales & marketing. There are so many layers within the industry that most don’t think about, when they see a truck rolling down the road, or a rail car zipping past them.”
According to Neubauer, “We have great technology and a great understanding for the industry we work in, but without great people who take pride in servicing our clients and carriers, we wouldn’t get very far.”
“We are always actively pounding the pavement – doing things the right way from start to finish.” It is, Sales Manager Nick Finan said, an, “ongoing project in terms of looking for people that want more than just that job; they want to have a career where they can grow. The way we’re trying to grow – growing the right way – we’re not just hiring anyone.”
“The biggest thing is that Service First Logistics is a consistent company. That’s what any employee looks for, as long as you deliver on what people say that they will do,” Finan said. “The fact that we’re a company that is consistent and ethical in a business that hasn’t always been that way is cool.”
Finan says that the company offers wonderful opportunities for people to learn a trade in an area that is recession proof. “People will always need trucks. It’s a great opportunity for people looking for a career.” Despite these opportunities, Neubauer sees the company’s biggest challenge as finding the right people for to support SFL’s growth goals.
“There are very few colleges or universities who teach courses on logistics, or freight brokerage, as it exists today. As a business owner in this industry, I hope to help educate professors and students on what our industry is and why it is a great career path. Our industry offers excitement because every day is different. It also offers stability, a fast paced environment, growth opportunities, great earning potential and an environment that will challenge your mind on a daily basis.”
“We are going to grow considerably, but we aren’t going to just hire anyone though. We have built a culture and a team atmosphere. We are not going to bring individuals in who don’t fit within that culture,” Neubauer said. “We have a very thorough interview process that can chase some less dedicated candidates away. We are okay with this. We don’t hire for the sake of filling a seat; we hire to help individuals build a future and a career within this company.”
Neubauer’s efforts to keep Service First Logistics growing have been noted by industry peers. Recently, he was nominated by Ernst & Young as an entrepreneur of the year for 2015 in the Michigan and northwest Ohio region. The award is given entrepreneurs who excel in financial performance, innovation and in a personal commitment to both the business and the community.
“I look at it as a team award. If our company wasn’t successful, I wouldn’t be nominated for it,” Neubauer said. “It was great just to be in that group of smart and intelligent entrepreneurs and the success of our company was from our teams in Michigan and Ohio, who have done an outstanding job.”
Service First Logistics has also been noted for its contributions to the community. Neubauer and the rest of company participate in numerous philanthropic opportunities such as the Cincinnati Heart Mini Marathon, The Movember Foundation to support men’s health programs, Blessings in a Backpack, Feeding the Future of America and an annual Coats for Kids Drive.
The Coats for Kids Drive is the cause of which Neubauer is most proud. “I came up with the idea of buying a coat for every top customer we have and donating that coat in their name during the holiday season. We send our customers a holiday card telling them we are donating a coat in their name, instead of sending them a small gift.” To date, Service First Logistics has donated 500 brand new children’s coats to local children’s clothing drives in the communities it serves. This year alone, SFL will donate 400 brand new coats to local charities during the holiday season.
Additionally, SFL believes in giving back to its employees. “Two items that come to mind are our 111% teamwork/effort award,” Neubauer said. “This is an award that goes out each quarter to the employee who shows the most teamwork and effort over that quarter. The winner is selected anonymously by their peers and receives gift cards, bonuses or game tickets.” The other item is the company’s weekly employee appreciation lunch.
Since 2011, Service First Logistics has rapidly grown by providing valuable services in the logistics industry and giving its customers what they want. Under the leadership of Royce Neubauer, the company plans to grow further by sticking to the principles that made it successful in the first place.
“Service First Logistics Inc. is a great company to work with and work for. We truly value service, people and philanthropy. We want to partner with individuals and companies who have the same values and mindset.”