Florida-based North American Transport Services (NATS) has been recognized as one of the fastest growing firms in the United States. Based in the Miami suburb of Opa-locka, NATS is a short to medium haul and regional dry van truckload carrier.
The NATS website boasts that the firm has the “biggest and most reliable dry van fleet in South Florida.” According to President and CEO Damian Diaz, NATS has held this title “for the last five to six years.” For anyone not in the trucking business, a dry van is a box-shaped piece of equipment directly connected to a truck that is removable like a shipping container. It carries dry cargo that is loaded and unloaded via the rear doors.
While NATS’ primary base of operations is South Florida, Diaz points out that, “we cover thirty-eight states—throughout the Eastern and Midwestern United States.”
The company was founded in 2004 by Diaz and Lincoln Fontanills, both of whom continue to own the firm. At the start, NATS consisted of a handful of trucks. It grew quickly. Four years after NATS was founded, a sister company called North American Logistics Services (NALS) was launched. NALS offers freight brokerage and logistics services and arranges freight transportation across the continent. Diaz also serves as president of NALS.
Total past-year revenue, for NATS and NALS combined, is “about $48 million,” he states. Projected revenues for the firms in 2016 “could be slightly over the $48 million mark.”
Current NATS/NALS customers include companies making, distributing or selling paper products, construction materials, industrial goods and food as well as third-party logistics providers.
Currently, NATS has 250 tractor trucks and over 400 trailers in its vehicle fleet. The plan is to expand this number to 350 tractor trucks and over 600 trailers next year. Vehicle totals represent a combination of company trucks and owner-operator trucks, says Diaz. About eighty-one of NATS’ tractor trucks fall in the former category. Trucks and trailers are primarily leased.
The logic behind the move to rapidly expand NATS’ vehicle fleet is simple: the company anticipates big growth in the near future and wants to have the equipment in place to accommodate this expansion, says Diaz.
NATS’ trucks are made by Freightliner while the company’s trailers are manufactured by Great Dane and other companies. At present, NATS does not have any ‘reefer trailers’ (refrigerated trailers) though Diaz does not discount the possibility of acquiring some in the future. He is content to “focus and continue developing our core business model right now” with third party logistics being “one side of the business we plan to develop even more.”
NATS rapid rise has been noted. In August 2015, it was announced that for the second year in a row, NATS was included on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list. Compiled by business magazine, Inc., the list consists of private companies that demonstrate strong revenue growth over three years (in this case, from 2011 to 2014).
According to an August 17, 2015, press release from PRNewswire-iReach, NATS’ growth rate in this period was a stellar sixty-four percent.
“It is a great honor to be included in this list for the second time in a row. We are very proud of this achievement. We would like to extend special thanks to all of our customers who have been and continue to be North American’s greatest asset … we promise to continue providing superior customer service, industry-leading pick-up and delivery times and the nation’s best team of truckers,” Chief Operating Officer Fontanills, is quoted as saying.
The same press release also noted that the company had 700 clients at the time the list was compiled. NATS uses technology to keep track of vehicles on the road, and data on the location of vehicles and distances traveled is stored on software at head office, says Diaz.
As for head office itself, North American Transport Services just moved into a new headquarters in suburban Miami.
“We have around 35,000 square feet of warehouse space and 10,000 square feet of office space. That includes – as well – the mechanics’ shop where we offer maintenance for trucks … it’s really great. Before, we used to have about half of the size of the office, and we didn’t have any warehouse. The crew and the team, they love it,” says Diaz.
Diaz explains what the company looks for in new employees. “In terms of the drivers, we are looking for professionalism and commitment.”
This goes beyond merely being skilled at shifting gears; drivers represent “the face of the company” states Diaz, which means they need to have good customer relations and interpersonal skills in addition to being careful motorists. He wants office staff to offer the same combination of competence and a client-friendly manner.
He says NATS has “a family culture environment” in which employees are motivated to be competitive and top performers. Diaz adds that it is vital for employees to feel comfortable as well.
NATS also has a very well-established safety culture, which is crucial given the nature of the business.
“We are dedicated to encouraging and establishing a sustainable safe operation. We have been consistently enhancing and implementing safety policies and procedures to pretty much effectively build a safety focused culture within the organization. The safety programs are created to reduce accidents and to ensure we carry our operations in accordance with safety regulations imposed by government … so we have an ongoing dialogue with the drivers about safety issues and pretty much underscore the importance of safety, equipment specifications and regularly scheduled maintenance periods. The drivers are rewarded and compensated for achievements of a safe driving record,” says Diaz.
NATS offers driver safety training programs based on U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. The firm also runs refresher courses on smart and safe driving and puts stress on interactive communication, to ensure all drivers understand and embrace the company’s always-be-careful mentality. Core safety programs are updated as DOT and other government agencies revise regulations.
In addition to training drivers, NATS runs a preventive vehicle maintenance program, again based on DOT regulations. Any vehicle entering or exiting a terminal has to be inspected by a fleet maintenance mechanic to ensure it is still in good operating condition.
The company is a partner in SmartWay, a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions among freight transportation companies. Firms that take part in the program use various tools to track gas mileage and other factors, with an eye to using less fuel.
NATS also belongs to several industry organizations, including the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and the Florida Trucking Association (FTA).
Company promotion is done, in part, through its website and social media, particularly LinkedIn and Facebook, says the NATS president.
Diaz says his biggest challenge is, “to attract young and active drivers to the workforce.” He suggests readers check the website of NATS “if they’re related to the [transportation] industry.”
As for the future, Diaz has big plans. He hopes to expand the company’s services to include warehousing options, intermodal transportation, last minute/last mile deliveries and more. He also wants to increase the number of company vehicles versus the owner-operator fleet. Diaz is open to expanding NATS’ reach to cover all of North America. “If the availability and opportunity is there, then, yes, for sure; we’ll take it,” he says.
The transportation broker NALS does a bit of work in Canada. It picks up raw material from Quebec for a South Florida client and uses Canadian carriers for this assignment.
In five years, Diaz would like to see NATS become one of the “leading transportation and logistics providers in the United States.”
He plans to keep the headquarters in South Florida for the time being but is looking to open new terminals in 2017 and 2018 to expand into new territories. Said territories would most likely be in the southeast and northeast United States.
There is an opportunity for employment in this rapidly expanding transport company. “If readers are current or future drivers [they should realize] this is a professional job in which they will have respect and admiration,” says Diaz.