Third-party Logistics, First-class Service

Axle Logistics
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Non-asset based third-party logistics (3PL) company, Axle Logistics has firmly established itself as a dependable transportation partner for clients in many industries in the United States. It is recognized for embracing technology and well-placed to thrive as the industry changes and grows with advanced technology.
Founded in 2011, Axle Logistics has quickly grown in size and reputation, and as a result, the Knoxville, Tennessee headquartered 3PL has repeatedly found itself on Inc. 5000’s list of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. It ranked in 2016 and again in 2017 when it was recognized as the thirteenth-fastest growing in the state of Tennessee.

The company was begun to address underserved demand in the growing 3PL market. Third-party logistics or 3PL is when a company outsources all or some of its distribution service. This contrasts with asset-based logistics in which the warehouses and trucks are owned by the company.

Axle Logistics regularly serves two thousand clients, and the number continues to grow. Its clients represent the entire supply chain in the consumer goods, food and beverage, industrial products and raw materials, retail, automotive and transportation, pharmaceutical and healthcare and manufacturing fields. As Cofounder Drew Johnson noted, “There are very few industries that we don’t touch.”

Since all goods, products, resources and waste are transported via truck at some point in their lifecycle, Axle Logistics feels confident that the future is full of opportunity, and it is well poised to capitalize on that potential. “We don’t see that diminishing at any point in the near future; we only see that growing, and it’s just an enormous industry. Globally, 3PL spending is projected to hit $1.1 trillion in 2022, and that’s probably a conservative number. That’s in comparison to $800 billion that was spent in 2016,” Johnson explained, saying that this is one of the largest industries on the planet and is growing.

Cofounders Johnson and Jon Clay, both graduates of the University of Tennessee, had experience in the transportation and logistics industry and decided to join forces. “We came from different places within the industry. I came from the asset-based side, and he came from third-party logistics, non-asset based. We recognized an underserved customer base within a huge industry that needed change and technological advancement,” said Johnson.

The company is the result of smart strategy and a raw entrepreneurial spirit. It offers clients a full collection of logistics services, including full-truckload transportation by multiple modes of transport like dry van, flatbed, refrigerated and temperature controlled, less-than-truckload (LTL), intermodal and warehousing in a combination of truck, rail, air and marine transport.

In addition to the reliable full-services it provides, Axle Logistics’ has a consultative approach and a commitment to staying on the cutting-edge of technology that set it apart.

“We come in and optimize distribution networks and shed light on where customers can become more efficient and, ultimately, where they can save money and cut costs while increasing their service which, generally speaking, will also remove cost from their supply chain but perhaps in a more indirect way than simply looking at the transportation function,” said Johnson.

“We stay very well ahead of how technology is disrupting the industry and how it’s coming in to make us all better, and it’s very important that from the largest to the smallest clients that we manage that. We’re ensuring that they’re taking advantage of every technological nuance that can help reduce their cost and help reduce their waste and make them more profitable.”

There are a myriad technologies Axle Logistics uses to maintain quality service and deliver goods safely and on time. Johnson provided two examples: satellite tracking and blockchain technology, both of which have greatly altered the market landscape.

“One that’s more commonplace now, but wasn’t when we adopted it and rolled it out, was satellite tracking for all shipments. When a client routes a shipment and utilizes our services, they are afforded the ability to trace that shipment in real time through GPS [global positioning system] satellite tracking,” explained Johnson. This is of supreme importance for clients with critical, just-in-time applications.

“Information is power, and without transparent information, tracking and tracing, and necessary visibility over the inner workings of everyone’s supply chain, that can be a huge detriment if they don’t know when things are picking up, when things are delivering, and where they can adjust and plan around that information. That was one of the biggest technological advances that our industry has adopted over the last decade,” said Johnson.

Greater transparency is also achieved by blockchains which exist as a shared information source. These databases or programmed digital ledgers of economic transactions, financial information and values that are continually updated and shared through a verifiable and incorruptible source. This improves efficiency, accountability and is changing the industry.

“That is going to reshape this industry. We are members of a transportation blockchain association (BiTA) that is just getting off the ground and beginning to formulate the details and rules around the environment which will share data provided by all types of organizations within the supply chain process; blockchain is projected to shape how we know transportation and supply chain management as it is today,” said Johnson.

Johnson does not know how fast or how far blockchain use will go, but he does believe that clients can rest assured that Axle Logistics will be leading the adoption of that technology and will use it to benefit its clients and carriers.

Relationships with vendors and carriers make Axle Logistics stand out from the crowd. “It takes an army,” as Johnson stated. The carriers undergo a rigorous vetting process and are held to strict operational standards to make certain that clients’ goods arrive safely and on-time.

The company’s success is the culmination of efforts of its many partners which include a software vendor that has developed a program that helps Axle Logistics monitor safety amongst its carriers to maintain quality. “We’ve got predetermined strict vetting criteria which is on the more stringent end within the industry,” Johnson said. “If they meet those requirements and are onboarded, our monitoring service reconciles and talks with the FMCSA [Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] on a daily basis, and carriers are purged out of the system if they fall beneath our standards.”

Axle Logistics’ employees are another critical component of its success. The company culture promotes and encourages quality and provides incentives for performance.

“Our team is unified through the mindset that we’re building something bigger than ourselves and constantly striving to increase and improve upon our premium quality service that we provide to our customer base,” explained Johnson.

Axle Logistics adapts to changes in the market, which will lead to additional growth for the company and increase its impact for its clients. “As our client base and our future client bases and their supply chains evolve and change, it’s important for us to constantly reveal and analyze where we fit in this ever-evolving industry marketplace that we are serving,” said Johnson.

The company has achieved many accolades in its history including the Young Professionals of Knoxville Impact Award in 2016, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce Pinnacle Award finalist and a National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) Best Broker Award. “It speaks to our strategy. It speaks to how we go about doing business. It speaks to the people that we work with and the fact that it is a large industry ripe for improvement and the companies that do it the right way ultimately get rewarded in market share and grow,” explained Johnson.

“We’re constantly working to make ourselves better. We’re continuously looking for ways to improve and, thus, provide a more intimate service to our client base and bring more value to them wherever they are positioned within their supply chain.”

Axle Logistics identifies opportunities for improvement and growth as it adds resources and technology in what Johnson explained as a, “relentless pursuit of perfection that will never end, yet we strive to get as close to it as we can.”



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