Star Cartage is a transport, supply chain, and logistics company, hailing from Toledo, Ohio. Customer care and attention to detail are vital, but its true strength lies in its ability to know what the client needs before they do. We spoke with its Chief Executive Officer Dennis Rutherford and Chief Operating Officer Joe Collins.
Star Cartage is in its third generation of family ownership. Dennis’ father started the business in Toledo, Ohio in 1976 as a small operation with four trucks. Being in a family business has its rewards and drawbacks. “The advantage is that we can all count on each other. The disadvantage is that we can never leave it alone. It is with us whether we are on vacation, or at holiday dinners, but that is how small businesses are built. Each generation has been involved from a young age being a major participant in the business,” says Dennis.
The focus at the beginning was trailer spotting for a local Tier 1 provider serving the automotive industry. Spotting involves placing a trailer at a site indicated by the client. It also performed local pick-up, delivery, and cartage work. The business grew, and the company started taking in some hundred-mile radius runs.
“Our customers presented us with more opportunities, and they liked the service we were providing which enhanced their capabilities to keep inventory down by utilizing a closed loop milkrun system as well as designing some trailers for special delivery and pick-up,” says Dennis.
Star Cartage delivered product to customers with the use of fork trucks mounted to the rear of van trailers. One customer needed warehousing for additional product, and this presented the opportunity to include warehousing and supply chain management into its portfolio of services.
The next expansion for the company was into Columbia, Tennessee. The company then began cross-docking and supply-chain management for several customers from that location. Growth continued, and Moraine, Ohio became the company’s largest facility with more supply-chain management and short-term and long-term warehousing.
“At this point, our fleet had grown to about seventy-five trucks and close to 150 trailers. We grew from a lot of our dealings with Tier 1 and Tier 2 companies. We also dealt directly with [original equipment manufacturers] over the last four to five years. We have a nice mixed bag with a good customer base,” says Joe. Its service is based on just-in-time (JIT) freight.
The company expanded from its original hundred-mile radius from Toledo. It now reaches as far south as Pensacola, Florida, as far west as Des Moines, Iowa, and to eastern Pennsylvania. Within this service area, the company can enhance delivery time by using its relay system for designing and building optimal routes for customers.
“This ultimately leads to low inventory levels for the customer. When you are giving that JIT delivery, it allows companies to keep inventory levels low. We are an integral part of their supply chain as well and play a major role,” says Joe.
Star Cartage has a healthy business plan, not only for its customers but the environment as it strives to understand and reduce its carbon footprint. It works to reduce its consumption of fuel in every way possible. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SmartWay Technology Program is gaining popularity, and the company has used the program for more than six years, making it one of the early adopters. It is a little costlier to be SmartWay certified, but it pays off and is constantly adapting to new technology in vehicle aerodynamics, emission outputs, and fuel use.
“This is a big selling point for our customers as everyone is becoming environmentally aware. There are customers that appreciate the effort, in going that extra mile, with an added expense, and we do that collectively. We truly see the benefit in helping the environment,” says Dennis.
“Moving forward with our growth, we will continue to be SmartWay approved and use the products cited by SmartWay as being environmentally friendly. This will help immeasurably with Class A trucks and DPF systems (systems that monitor diesel particulate matter in emissions) that the trucks are outfitted with, along with the trailers, skirting, PSI systems (systems that monitor tire pressure), wind guards, and low rolling-resistant tires,” says Joe.
The company has suppliers that are local and international and has been proudly doing business with its suppliers for a long time. “We like to develop relationships with our suppliers. We feel that it is a mutually beneficial relationship moving forward. We keep our communication lines open, letting our suppliers know where they can improve on efficiencies and where we can progress as a customer,” says Joe.
The industry deals with countless challenges, and Star Cartage is not exempt from these. As equipment evolves, it needs to keep up with technology. Retaining and training people is another never-ending endeavor. Its goal is to have drivers home every day, if possible, so they have more family time; however, the company does still operate some overnight routes to satisfy customer needs.
“We can find the special people that want to run the overnight routes as there is a market out there for them. It is always a challenge retaining and keeping driver as you come into a growth spurt,” says Dennis.
Star Cartage is very safety conscious, and one of the benefits of having drivers within a daily drive of home is that it allows for more face time to discuss things that may be a cause for concern. “It could be in the way that they do their pre-trip or post-trip on the vehicles or activities while driving. Having direct contact with those drivers on a regular basis allows for us to reinforce with our team on how safety-conscious they need to be when out on the road. Drivers need to be more defensive minded while limiting the amount of distractions they come in contact with every day,” says Joe.
These have all become key elements in the company’s ability to create a good work environment for its people. Being a small, family-owned business, management is approachable, and that is being improved upon all the time. Drivers have a healthy day-to-day involvement with the company dispatch.
“We want to ensure the drivers know they are a part of the team; they are welcome, and their performance is appreciated in safety awareness and cohesiveness. We have an open-door policy and are accessible when drivers need to talk,” says Dennis.
The company outperforms many companies in driver retention with an average turnover rate of under thirty percent where the industry average for large fleets is 89 percent and small fleets closer to 73 percent. It has people who have worked for the company for over twenty-five years, and several drivers have retired after long careers.
Star Cartage has seen a steady increase in business over the last five to eight years, and there is no reason to assume that trend will not endure. The company wants to further its success in providing the type of delivery service that enables customers to have a little more flexibility within the supply chain. Delivery in a better than standard time frame is key.