Expanding the Network

SPI International Transportation
Written by Claire Suttles

SPI International Transportation provides transportation solutions to clients throughout North America. The Delta, British Columbia-based business boasts an extensive network of independent offices across the United States and Canada to deliver customer-focused solutions that address each client’s unique transportation needs.
The company’s wide scope of services includes logistic management, intermodal, truckload, less-than-truckload, refrigerated, flatbed, heavy-haul and air cargo.

After profiling SPI in our July 2013 issue, Business in Focus sat back down with the team this month to learn about how they are expanding SPI’s network to better serve an even larger pool of customers. While SPI was surging to record revenue levels in 2015, it hired Joe Chandler as Chief Operating Officer to lead the company through its next stage of development. SPI founder and CEO Mitch Helten remarked, “Joe has a wealth of experience leading large and diverse transportation and logistics firms throughout North America, which gives him the perfect background for managing SPI’s transition into a much larger company.

SPI’s network of independent businesses enables the company to deal with all modes of shipping – land, sea, and air – so customers have access to a complete, specially tailored solution that goes far beyond the scope of a single carrier. And, unlike a carrier, SPI does not get bogged down with the distractions of managing its own fleet. Instead, the team is solely focused on the customer, creating a North American or international solution that takes the entire supply chain process into account.

SPI is expanding its network through targeted growth, partnering with market leaders who fit the company’s culture of excellence. The team is specifically looking for key players to rapidly enlarge SPI’s footprint in freight-dense regions of the United States and Canada. “While we once built our business by training novices to become logistics professionals, we are currently directing the majority of our expansion efforts at larger, more established operations,” says Greg Davenport, SPI’s Vice President of Sales and Operations.

The team has laid the groundwork by increasing the efficiency of the company’s administrative systems. “We have been working internally to improve our systems and our offerings to our agency network so that we easily support larger offices that are doing much greater volume in the United States,” Mr. Davenport explains. Advanced software will play a key role in this effort to increase efficiency. “[We are] continuing our partnership with Tailwind Transportation Software to develop and improve our TMS software,” he says. “This fall we will be switching over to the latest web based system that integrates with a lot of other services such as shipment GPS tracking.”

The company has always relied on advanced technology to deliver superior service. This includes web portals that allow customers to easily track shipments in real time, as well as the company’s suite of specialized software. In fact, SPI has created its own software to specially meet the needs of the industry. The team took this step after reviewing a number of software systems and realizing that the market simply did not offer what was needed. The software the team developed was such a success that the company actually sells it to other transportation businesses through a spinoff company. At least 400 other companies currently utilize the innovative solution.

SPI also wants to make it easier for carriers to join the network. “[We are] improving and reducing our carrier onboarding times by recently subcontracting with Registry Monitoring Services Inc. in California,” Mr. Davenport says. Now, the team has the capability to “onboard a carrier in about five minutes with proper paperwork.” Mr. Chandler adds, “This focus on speed and simplicity is not limited to carrier onboarding. When I was hired, one of the mandates I was given was to ensure that SPI was easy to do business with. We modernized, standardized and streamlined our processes and then we blended the best ideas from a broad assortment of businesses to create an ideal operational platform for our network of agents, carriers and shipping customers.”

Promoting clear communication is another factor that will help to increase efficiency. “As we have been upgrading our internal policies, procedures and methods, we have also been working at communicating more effectively within the network itself,” Mr. Davenport explains. “Proper documentation, effective communication and thorough training reduces questions and improves the speed and quality of the work we do. We have made our processes and expectations very clear for our people.”

In addition, SPI is ramping up its marketing presence to attract more shippers, carriers and agents to the network. “We are improving our image on the internet marketplace,” says CEO Mitch Helten. “We are learning to actively market our company.” The team has launched a new corporate website at www.spitransport.com to showcase the company’s capabilities and ensure that agents know what SPI has to offer. “We recognize that certain types of agents require things like time off for vacation,” Mr. Davenport explains. “They need support and they need solid financial backing from companies that have been around for a long time – and we have been around for over 35 years. We have been working to bring that to the forefront and make sure that agents are able to recognize that SPI is the premier transportation network in North America and can provide those types of services.”

While efficient systems and advanced software are imperative for success, SPI recognizes that these systems are only as effective as the people who operate them. “We have worked on hiring the best people,” Mr. Helten reports. “We are looking for the best people to help us manage and administrate our systems.” Mr. Chandler adds, “At the end of the day, we are a people business and the relationships and responsiveness of our people are what are really going to drive people into our network – when they realize that we are not just a bank or an insurance company or an administrative provider to them. We are their business partners and they can truly find a home here. And that is a real differentiation.”

SPI is committed to maintaining a talented staff to build lasting relationships within the industry and give clients the attention they deserve. SPI always takes a personalized approach, working one on one with each customer to develop the specific solution that they need. This means that the team takes the time to listen to the customer and analyze their concerns, from pricing to transit times. In today’s competitive market, this level of attention is critical.

As the company expands its network, SPI will continue to focus on the specializations that have brought it success. For instance, over the last decade, the team has worked hard to build the company’s Heavy Haul, Over-Dimensional, and Project Cargo Transportation Services, which manages transportation of everything from massive ship propellers and hulking tunnelling machines to entire pulp mills. Remaining active in this sector is important because many of the insiders within this field are retiring, leaving a gap in the market that SPI is eager to fill.

These kinds of challenging specializations are ideal for a company that is committed to providing a full service solution. As SPI continues to move forward, the team is well prepared to keep rising to the challenge, providing specially tailored solutions to meet each customer’s unique need. The key is to continue growing the company’s extensive network, creating a future that will be “bigger, faster, better, brighter,” Mr. Chandler says, and will cement SPI’s place as “North America’s premier transportation network.”



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