Logistics company Swan Transportation has locations throughout the United States and specializes in providing back-office management services to independent freight brokers. “We partner with freight brokers so that they can focus on developing relationships and building their book of business,” says company President Roy Martinez.
The company was established in 1998 by Winston T. Jones, Sr. with the development of his proprietary, web-based, transport management system dubbed RubberDuck. This innovative software platform provided third-party logistics companies with real-time communication and order tracking capabilities that were uncommon in the industry at the time. By sharing RubberDuck with other independent freight brokers, Swan began to concentrate its effort on providing freight management services to other companies.
Over time, the company grew as additional agents came on board. Agents that partnered with Swan were able to improve their overall operation by using RubberDuck to manage back-office functions, simplifying the administrative side of things. Agents can then focus on developing relationships with their customers and partners, and this ultimately provides value to all parties and the industry at large.
“Winston loved the transport management system and that other people were benefiting from what he developed,” says Martinez. “He’s since passed on, but the core of what we do has really grown from there.”
Swan’s founder was very effective at showing how technology could be used to improve the way companies operate in the logistics industry. As it grew, the company began to recognize its value as more than just a provider of software solutions. By examining the relationships it had developed and the resources it had acquired, Swan found that it could provide a broad spectrum of additional support to truly enhance an agent’s ability to attract clients and improve their business.
As a result, the company has expanded to include a wide variety of management services for independent freight brokers so that all parties can reach their highest potential. This applies to the agents that have partnered with the company, but also to the shippers and carriers that work with those agents.
By partnering with Swan, agents can offload a comprehensive assortment of administrative tasks including managing cash-flow, accounts payable, receivables, insurance, legal, and much more. The company will also eliminate stress by providing technical support. When it comes to negotiating contracts or claims, the company can help agents navigate these often difficult interactions.
One of the key ways that Swan has been able to differentiate itself from competing companies is that the company’s owners also operate their own independent brokerages. This gives it an exceptional awareness of the nuances of operating in that sector and a very clear understanding of what challenges its customers face day to day. This has led the company creating the complement of services that have made it an asset to its customers.
Today, while headquartered in East Texas, Swan has thirteen independent agent offices throughout the United States. Through these agents, the company manages freight of all shapes, commodities, and sizes from less-than-truckload shipments to over-dimensional super loads. Over the last three years, it has doubled in size, but it has maintained a strategic approach to managing that growth.
“We don’t want to grow for growth’s sake. We want to grow with the right agent partners to be able to sustain that world-class service,” says Martinez. “It’s really about being able to provide support for the agents so that they can grow.” By supporting the growth of its partners, Swan has grown with them.
One of the ways that the company supports its agent network is through its annual symposium where agents can come together and learn about industry best practices and the current state of the marketplace. Swan provides training and brings in industry experts to talk about various aspects of the business and provide guidance. Through this annual convention, it provides resources that will help agents find ways to improve their own operations and navigate challenges.
“Anywhere we can insert ourselves to support them is what we’re looking for,” says Martinez. “We’re good at getting others to reach their goals. Because they’re independent offices, we want them to know they’re not alone. They have someone to call to help them out.”
Agents operating in the logistics industry face many significant challenges. This is an extremely complex business ecosystem with many moving parts and a broad spectrum of things that can go wrong. Martinez quotes one of the company’s partners who describes the industry as having a million things that can go wrong, but only one way to get it right. The shippers, the carriers, the receivers, and all other relevant parties have to be satisfied with the service from the beginning to the end for agents to establish relationships that last.
Because Swan’s roots are in technology, it knows how the right software toolset can significantly improve operating efficiency and, as a result, increase the value that can be offered to customers. The company uses its proprietary management software alongside a number of other platforms to ensure that it is providing the best, most effective service to its customers.
“At Swan, we have our own, custom-built Transportation Management System (TMS) and also rely on third party software solutions to manage our business data. As we’ve grown, the need to enable our agents, customers, and partners with data has grown, as well. We engaged Perpetua Advisors as our Chief Information Officer to help us professionalize our technology approach and align our use of technology to our business strategy. After less than a year, we are well-positioned to prioritize and adopt the technologies which allow us to focus on our core competency – our service to our customers and agents.”
As Mike Wind, Partner at Perpetua Advisors, says, “We’re excited about shaping the digital and organization strategy for the great, growing services brand at Swan. Our focus is to guide them in evolving the right mix of internal and market technologies to enhance those services to their customers, agents, and carriers.”
As technology continues to push the industry forward at an ever increasing pace, Swan recognizes the challenge that poses for independent brokerages. Innovations will improve communication and allow brokerages to serve their customers better, but adapting to advancements can be well outside the scope of agents’ ability.
Regulatory changes are a continual hurdle that the company is committed to monitoring closely so that it can ensure that its agents are always aware of the rules and operating within them. Swan aims to help its agents stay in line with industry best practices by incorporating up-to-the-minute information into its service.
Swan is unique in that it is owned by people who have experience running independent freight brokerages. The company’s ownership has decades of combined experience operating in the same space as their clients, and this has given them the ability to design the services they offer based on the challenges their clients are facing in the industry.
“Our service is really the vision of people who are in the industry and who operate in those roles,” says Martinez. “It gives us more insight into what we should be doing for these agents to help them be successful.”