E-Commerce with a Personal Touch

US Cargo Control
Written by David O'Neill

US Cargo Control is a bit of an anomaly. In an industry where success is built on immediacy and turnover, this company offers a personal customer experience and genuine relationship building, something for which no other company can match it.
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US Cargo Control aims to work on a mixed model where e-commerce and traditional sales of ratchet straps, tie-downs and any other cargo control meet all the needs of its customers. This means that the company’s online presence sits equal with a real, human-led organization in the state of Iowa.

The company has been in operation since 2005 and it had modest beginnings. Matt Mitchell, Marketing and Business Unit Fanatic™, explains how the company was formed. “Tim Guenther is our CEO, our founder. He started the company back in 2005. He was an independent sales rep prior to that, and he wasn’t happy with that lifestyle and with that way of doing business so he was looking for something different. He started what later became Clickstop, our parent company that owns and operates 11 different brands. US Cargo Control is our largest brand. Along with one other main employee, they started and built the business ground up out of Tim’s garage where they housed the inventory.”

From the start, it was clear that the company would plow a new path in terms of accessing a customer base. The internet was an untapped resource at that time and US Cargo Control made full use of it. “Tim made a heavy investment in digital marketing to get it off the ground using e-commerce and Google advertising to really drive traffic and build a name for the brand. From the start it was about getting customers the products they needed – customers that were in a bind and needed something quick – and he was well set up to get products shipped out quickly, to get them what they needed.”

As Matt says, things did not always run smoothly in the early days. “It was very much a learn as you go situation, sometimes learning the hard way, sometimes not.”

This sentiment is echoed by Monica Steffeck, Chief Talent Enrichment Officer. Monica notes that, while Tim had a vision for the company, it took time to grow the company to a level where this vision could be recognized. “Part of what he did that was new from a business standpoint was to leverage online marketing. In the way that the company was working, he knew that he wanted to have the kind of workplace that people could thrive in, and it took several years to really bring this vision for culture to life.”

The company is now robust enough to allow this vision to fully take shape. In-house expectations are high and, as a result, staff morale and worker satisfaction have benefited enormously. “Now what we have are some really clearly documented expectations around how we work. It is in a document we call the Clickstop code,” explains Monica. “We have been on top workplace lists for five or six years running. In the last year we hit the number one spot for the whole state of Iowa. That commitment to a great workplace culture, although it started earlier on, has really come to fruition in more recent years.”

The idea of using the internet to access customers instantly was a novel one for the industry. In 2005, US Cargo Control found itself in the enviable position of having few competitors vying for market share. Matt explains that, “It wasn’t nearly as competitive as it is now. The dot com boom was already there but we jumped in to a good place; we were working in a more traditional industry and there wasn’t a lot out there in terms of e-commerce or internet business at the time. So it was timed perfectly where it was very profitable to spend money on online advertising. There weren’t as many people vying for the top spots in search results. There weren’t many others in our industry that were leveraging that channel. That was what kickstarted the brand.”

While the playing field was relatively open, there were challenges too. Customers were wary of spending money online and building relationships was difficult. “You see customers that are getting more and more comfortable buying online. We have seen a lot more orders and a lot larger orders; there is now a comfort in transacting that way. It was more of a challenge when the company started,” says Matt.

While it may be one of the founding aspects of the business, US Cargo Control is no longer a fully e-commerce company. It has grown laterally and has expanded its range. “We did it backwards in a way,” shares Matt. “You see a lot of companies in our industry that started out as a local rigging shop, working through traditional sales and having good relationships; now you see a lot of them coming to e-commerce. We went the opposite way, starting online and then using that to build the company and expand into more of a well-balanced model that sets us up well to service large customers through our dedicated teams of consultants.”

Monica is clear on what sets US Cargo Control apart from its competitors. The combination of speed and efficiency coupled with local knowledge and customer service is a large factor in its success and growth. “You aren’t going to someone that isn’t actually in our offices. One of the most beneficial things in having those sales people onsite is that they are just a few steps away from the people that are designing those custom ratchet straps or any number of other types of equipment on our manufacturing floor. We are always in the same facility; you can imagine the level of service we can give our customer. You can literally have your headset on as a sales rep and walk across the building to touch base with someone who is editing the website or somebody that is doing purchasing or the person on the manufacturing floor that is actually sewing the strap.”

This willingness to meet with and listen to its customers led to US Cargo Control designing and manufacturing products specific to its customers’ requirements. This, according to Matt, was born out of both customer care and a frustration with the old ways of doing business. “It’s grown a lot in the past five or six years but we identified an opportunity based on customer feedback – wanting to customize ratchet straps or tie-downs – and we were able to do that through partners but it wasn’t quick, it wasn’t efficient, it didn’t give our customers the level of service we wanted. That’s what started the manufacturing team here,” he says.

“We did a lot of research, we got our hands dirty and we learned how to make them, how to do it right, and we have grown significantly from there with a team that are looking for ways to bring new applications or to enhance safety, to make jobs easier or more efficient.”

Stationing itself somewhere in between e-commerce and traditional sales, US Cargo Control is now looking toward the future. Maintaining its current trajectory will only be achieved by identifying and developing the right people within the company, and Monica is fully aware of the benefits of a skilled workforce. “I think something that has really helped us, not just in terms of growing, but in sustaining that growth, is that we have had a really robust talent pipeline. We are very fortunate in the job market right now; we are one of very few companies our size that has hundreds of highly qualified people in our pipeline waiting to work here. In Iowa we have a low rate of unemployment so we feel really fortunate knowing that we are in this position.”

By standing apart from the competition and ensuring a friendly, relationship-based experience for its customers, it seems US Cargo Control has long been thinking outside the box. Monica’s thoughts on the company location seem to provide some insight into the factors that have led to the company’s success and likely future growth. “Overall, I think Iowa has an excellent economy, really great infrastructure for business and we are fortunate to be where we are,” she says.

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