The Art of Specialist Heavy Haulage

Unified Logistics

Transportation is one of the toughest industries out there. Building a legacy business in this rough-and-tumble world of high-pressure schedules and long periods spent alone on the road is a lot harder than it may appear. Despite this, Unified Logistics has proven itself more than capable of adapting to this continuously evolving industry.
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The Unified Logistics family has a passion for complex, customized transportation services. As its name suggests, the company unifies a number of transportation operators under one banner to create a unique business model that serves many industries across North America. Clients include those that deal in industrial equipment, the manufacturing industry, freight forwarders, the world of extra-large art, and more. In fact, it is rare to come across a transportation provider that is so skilled in hauling unusual fright that even sculptors entrust it with moving their most prized works.

Unified Logistics is so well versed in this line of work that it has become the first choice of many museums. “We move a lot of museum art and outdoor sculpture. These pieces are very fragile and have to be moved in a certain way. We have to be an artisan in managing and handling that material just as [the artists] do when they build it,” says Chief Executive Officer Geoff Davis.

This fresh approach to transportation comes with large capital injections for smaller companies which are then able to collaborate nationally and offer services of which only larger companies have traditionally been capable. “We take family businesses and invest in them so that they become ongoing enterprises rather than one-generation operations. We relieve their economic and technological constraints by bringing their capital status onto a corporate level,” says Geoff.

This model finds good businesses that are lean on working capital and technology and so find it hard to compete against larger companies, and it allows them to continue running their businesses and to become legitimately competitive in the greater market at the same time. These companies then receive access to the technology and capital they need. This makes them even more competitive by freeing them from managing tedium in favor of the important tasks of selling their services, engaging with clients, and enjoying the process.

The company is always on the lookout to add existing businesses that suit its structure. It serves both regional and national clients throughout North America from physical locations in Montana, Minnesota, New York, and Michigan.

While some customers carry their own insurance, Unified Logistics prides itself on always exceeding legal requirements. “We are extremely heavily insured because of the nature and value of the equipment that we move. [We also take out] supplemental policies for certain materials from time to time to aid our customers [according to] their needs,” says Geoff.

The company chiefly partners with National Interstate Insurance. “National Interstate Insurance is very skilled in what it does and understands the difference between heavy-haul transport and traditional trucking,” says Geoff.

Being well insured is not Unified Logistics’ only secret, however. The company can modify its equipment to accommodate its customers’ haulage needs. In the event that no adequate equipment exists in the market, its experts set out to either adapt existing equipment or manufacture what is required.

To achieve this, the company employs a custom-made in-house software system built by MTI Horizon as well as all the standard technology like satellite tracking and automated billing document imaging. “There is nothing else like this bespoke [MTI Horizon] system of ours on the shelf today. We provide [our partners with] the resources they need to move faster. We really are artisans. In our world, we could be moving a brewery tank, a large piece of machinery, or assembly robots where you have to be able to craft each movement based on the object at hand. There is [an element of] artistry to it, as opposed to just loading something onto a trailer,” Geoff says.

United Logistics’ system is as flexible as its internal structure and services. It also offers engineered trailers and transport units that incorporate both hydraulics and a large amount of proprietary design to complement its operators’ vast experience.

The business started in 2007 when Geoff created a base of specialized transport providers. The innovative CEO got the idea for unifying all these operators under his own company after he sold his original freight company which mainly hauled foodstuffs for multiple producers. The original business dealt with an estimated forty percent of the country’s grocery chain stores, leading him to the decision to do something entirely different with his next business.

Despite trucks forming the mainstay of his current business, Geoff maintains that the way in which the company combines specialized expertise, trucking, and real-time data makes it very different from the regular trucking industry, as it is a mainly technology-based business that works with trucking partners.

“Some of these artisans have been in business for thirty, forty, fifty years. [Therefore, our success] is not just in our [own] expertise; it’s in the business expertise that’s within each business that we invest in. The [combined] management teams of these businesses have hundreds of years of experience,” says Geoff. With this specialty aspect of the business in mind, choosing partners is a painstaking process of identifying sustainable, multi-generational businesses in the field and incorporating them into the Unified Logistics group.

The result is a business that is composed of a collection of carefully selected partners, each with its own brand, fleet, and client base. Geoff tells us that not a single partner fleet is blended into a greater fleet, allowing for individual maintenance and the same flexibility that they would have as independent operators. Customers can count on the nimble, personalized service at which smaller operators excel, combined with the financial strength and security of a large corporation.

Thanks to this structure, an estimated forty percent of its business comprises engineered freight solutions for large items where every move is tailored to customers’ specifications. Another sixty percent of its business specializes in hauling fragile items that must be delivered on a carefully timed schedule or large, heavy items like railcars that cannot be lifted onto a flatbed truck, but instead have to be rolled on and off the backs of trucks with the help of specialized equipment.

When Geoff refers to engineered transport, he really means what he says. A significant amount of planning and, therefore, engineering goes into every contract – especially those with more complex loads. Before each such journey, entire routes are carefully surveyed to confirm that bridges have the weight-bearing capacity for a safe crossing and can be cleared in terms of height. Traffic lights and sharp, short corners in villages are also carefully noted and circumnavigated whenever possible.

As a result, Unified Logistics is very invested in hiring truck drivers with extensive experience in specialized trucking. Prospective drivers have to pass its stringent entry-level requirements which include a minimum handling capability of standard flatbed transportation of up to 45,000 pounds. Once accepted, drivers receive further training throughout their careers.

And of course, remuneration increases as its drivers’ capabilities grow. “Our drivers are exceptionally well paid. They make a lot more than your basic computer programmer,” says Geoff.

All the company’s employees pride themselves on running relationship-based operations. They come from backgrounds such as the software industry, trucking, construction, and even law enforcement agencies but have to be good collaborators, as this industry is about a lot more than haulage. Building bridges between the company and its customers, contractors, maintenance people, and drivers and orchestrating each move to run perfectly on time, consistently, are vital.

Teams work with local government to ensure that the necessary permits and permissions are obtained for oversized loads. This includes route surveyors and state police departments who assist in escorting large hauls in transit through states. Then there are the regulators who work with the Department of Transportation as well as the environmental and safety compliance aspects that must be addressed. Naturally, this presents the company with OSHA inspections and training to ensure sustained quality. For this reason, it is not only its people’s technical skills but also their soft skills that ensure the company’s valuable industry relationships.

“There are a lot of achievers in our company. We regularly qualify for exceptional safety awards, which we’re very proud of. Our companies also win a lot of quality awards, best contractor and carrier awards and awards for their individual businesses,” says Geoff. The company’s business model is also to be featured on Modern Business TV and will air in the spring.

Customer and employee satisfaction is not Unified Logistics’ only concern, either. The company takes its social responsibility very seriously, and each partner contributes generously to its community. These business leaders volunteer as scoutmasters, working with disadvantaged children in programs like Reading is Fundamental – a non-profit organization that supports children in discovering the magic of books – and other youth projects and programs that aim to improve the futures of kids.

Unified Logistics is also positive about its own future as a leading American service provider in the transportation industry. The company anticipates healthy expansion through acquisition and customer growth and is currently considering five new possible acquisitions of heavy haul transportation companies that are spread across the United States and serve various industries. This development comes in the wake of manufacturing finding its way back to American shores from abroad and the company’s customers adapting their own business models to supply in the ever-growing demands for goods.

“We’re seeing joint manufacturing happening between America and Europe and [goods] being shipped elsewhere altogether. There’s a lot of industrial merging happening at the moment,” says Geoff. As new ways of collaborating are changing the face of the country’s manufacturing industry, United Logistics is perfectly equipped to support its customers’ latest developments.

May 25, 2019, 5:30 AM EDT

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