Often, transportation in the floor covering industry is an area that is taken for granted. As changes in technology, regulations and the availability of skilled drivers has changed, transportation professionals have made changes to their approach to moving floor covering throughout the nation. We had an opportunity to talk with Darrel Harris, CEO of Xpress Global Systems, a carrier that specializes in the transportation of both hard and soft surface floor coverings throughout the country, to see how transportation within the industry is advancing.
Following are some excerpts of that conversation, which you can watch in its entirety at floortrendsmag.com/videos.
TF: Has the trucking industry changed a good deal over the past several years?
Harris: I would have to say so. There have been many ups and downs. Right now the industry is thriving with the economy doing as well as it is.
TF: In 2015, Xpress Global Systems was spun off from U.S. Xpress Enterprises. Talk about that spin-off.
Harris: We decided to go in a different direction than U.S. Xpress. Xpress Global Systems has been focused on what makes us special and unique and that is handling nationwide transportation for the floor covering industry.
TF: How important is the floor covering industry to the company?
Harris: It’s everything to us. We’re a specialist in the business. The majority of what we handle is in roll goods, and we are the only carrier that has a nationwide coverage with 33 facilities across the country serving about 90 percent of the population direct with our own trucks. Floor covering is very special and dear to us. We are very proud to be a part of the business and look forward to additional growth in the sector.
TF: Where does a company like Xpress Global fit in an industry with two major players that own sizable fleets of trucks?
Harris: Our entire strategy is to really be the carrier of choice for floor covering. We want to be viewed by the industry as the expert that understands how to properly handle the product. Floor covering is certainly a unique product and is not similar to products one would find on general commodity trucks. As a result, it requires special handling and we pride ourselves on having a network and warehouse facilities that are unique to the floor covering industry. That’s what we do and we do it on a nationwide level and that’s what makes us different.
TF: Could one say that because you specialize in floor coverings, and specifically roll goods, that there would be less damage with your shipments versus other carriers?
Harris: That’s a big part of our offerings. Most people that have been in the industry for any length of time understand that part of the challenge of the product is that many carriers are unable to handle it without damaging it. Often, they will not use the proper tools or exercise the proper care. Since it’s something we do the majority of time, all of our dock workers and drivers are comfortable with the product and are trained to deal with them. We pride ourselves on having the lowest claims ratio in the business and that’s because of the tools we use and the training our people receive.
TF: What about hard surface products?
Harris: Hard surface products are something we handle as well. It’s a component that is growing within the industry. For us, hard surface comingles very well with roll goods where all products do not. Even though we have been handling hard surface a good while, we are currently working on some new go-to-market strategies that will make it easier to ship hard surface products and roll goods with us. Traditionally in the industry, the two products have been handled independently of one another, and we need to make it easier for suppliers because often they are shipping both products to the same locations. Because we have facilities across the nation, we are able to support the transportation of both product groups.
TF: Are labor shortages a problem in the trucking industry?
Harris: It is certainly a challenge and it has been on the radar for some time. There are several factors involved. Whenever unemployment falls to its current level, there is both good and bad in the trucking industry. Currently, it’s hovering just over 4 percent and when that happens, historically, many drivers find other opportunities, which creates open trucks for us. We are constantly focused on keeping turnover down, working on retention practices and staying very diligent and making sure our recruiting practices are matching demand. Unemployment is certainly a factor as is regulation. Most recently, in December, a regulation was put forth regarding electronic logging that has caused some drivers and owner operators as well as independent contractors to exit the business. We are very aware of these factors and we monitor them very closely. Another factor is driver pay pressure, which affects the bottom line. We are certainly working to stay in tune with these factors as the trends go forward. The key is focusing on our customers. We have to have trucks filled to be able to meet demand.
TF: The driver shortage does not seem to have affected the flow of product to retailers and they don’t seem to be dealing with a great deal of delayed shipments.
Harris: It is certainly not creating that level of challenge. It is something we deal with and stay in front of and have contingency plans in place in all of our facilities to ensure that we can continue to see freight flow patterns remain at a high level. Service is a big thing for us; we monitor it, our on time service focuses on meeting our commitments to customers. As a result, we have taken many actions to leverage the network to make sure that service disruptions don’t occur. It’s really about staying in front of it and being smarter about the business, optimizing the network and making sure we are taking advantage of every opportunity to get freight flowing and making sure we are maximizing every trailer that’s moving in our lanes. It’s critical to make sure the network is running as efficiently as possible and that waste is being eliminated.