David Broering, president of the freight brokerage division of NFI Industries, recently told the Wall Street Journal that the average rate-per-mile for freight transportation has increased by 20% to 30% so far in 2018.
NFI is the largest privately held, family-operated, vertically-integrated 3PL in the country, with more than $2 billion in annual revenue and more than 10,000 associates. NFI is also a FourKites customer.
We recently called David to get his perspective on how NFI is leveraging technology to deliver for customers amid rising transportation costs, and to talk about the evolution he’s observed over his twenty years in the logistics industry.
He spoke to FourKites’ Director of Product Marketing Abe Lubetkin from NFI’s headquarters in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Q: Dave, what are your customers looking for in a transportation partner today? How do you win in such a competitive environment?
David Broering: I think I’d start by taking a quick look back. NFI was founded 86 years ago; we’ve been around a long time. Commitment and execution have been core principles from day one. Internally we call it bleeding blue. It’s this idea that we go above and beyond for our customers, and everybody operates like it’s a big family. What it really comes down to is that we have a bunch of very wonderful employees who are extremely committed to making sure the customer’s needs are fulfilled.
We have a very entrepreneurial mindset. And that mindset empowers our employees to do whatever’s necessary to make sure we fulfill those commitments.
Adding onto that is this idea of the ecosystem. We’re providing a broader, more holistic solution set for our clients, and connecting that technologically to the value of data, and really getting the customer a bang for their buck on the throughput in our network. By that I mean – things like mining information that’s flowing through the warehouse, or KPIs on the performance of our fleet, or predicting the cost for a certain project on the non-asset side. Those things are all really important overall for the business and are things that continue to grow in value for our customers.
Q: What key factors are driving your customers’ purchasing decisions?
DB: Well obviously price is still a big one. They want to know you’re cost-competitive. But in a lot of cases today, customers may not be choosing the lowest cost provider; what they really want is the ability to execute, and the ability to integrate and assimilate quickly. Creating an agnostic approach to getting data into the system and managing it effectively and efficiently and bringing that instance up quickly is really important to a customer today.
Customers make decisions around their business so quickly today. You have to move fast, and you have to impress them every single time they consume your product or service. Recognizing that you need to have a standardized platform for integrating with your clients and providing meaningful value from day one of operations – that’s super important.
As for our existing customers, it’s really about continuous improvement. How do you bring things to them that help them and us continue to be better at what we do? For us, it means being real about what the two of us can do together to reduce or control costs in an accelerating cost environment. That comes in many forms. It could be dwell time of dropped trailers at a facility, or the way in which a vendor engages on a backhaul, or being able to load operations onto second or third shift to double-utilize tractors. Anything that helps customers get the best use out of the network they’re committing to upfront.
Q: When you compare what drives customer decisions today with when you first started out twenty years ago, what’s changed the most?
DB: Transparency. If I go back to 1998 when I started in this business, and a customer asked me where a truck was on a longer haul run, it would have been acceptable for me to call them back six hours later with an update. Today, if I’m not giving them an update in an hour or two, they’re frustrated. And in a lot of cases, they’re frustrated if they aren’t getting an update from our website or via an email.
The other thing is – back in the day, the shipper would make a decision to use a broker based on a couple of things—price, of course, but also commitment to execution; ‘If you’re going to take my load, are you going to cover my load?’
I think today, the decision factors for shippers go way past those two. Price and commitment are certainly still important, but it’s also about ease-of-doing-business, facilitation of standard reporting on a daily and weekly basis, ability to electronically track shipments online. Those are all table stakes for the ability to win and maintain business with many customers today as a 3PL.
Q: How has your group used technology and innovation to deliver for your customers amid the current capacity crunch?
DB: It’s a challenging environment, no matter what rabbits we pull out of a hat. But a lot of it comes back to transparency. We use our systems and the visibility we get via those systems to be really transparent with our customers about prices served in the market. We also engage our carrier base and ask them to help us reduce friction. We’re really engaging both sides of the fence in communicating in a more streamlined format. In the end, it’s about continuing on with that commitment to our customers, even though times have gotten very tough.
Q: When you think about the logistics industry today and where it’s headed in the future – what excites you the most?
DB: You know, seriously, it’s a long list. There’s so much to be excited about. We’re at the beginning of this tidal wave of change for our industry. The digitization of everything on this planet is certainly beginning to creep into our everyday lives in logistics. And the way we manage business today is certainly not the way we’re going to manage it two, or three or five years from now. The most exciting thing is working through that and trying to figure out how to be best version of ourselves for our customers and our carriers.
What we hear time and again from the shippers and carriers who are sorting through all the white noise in the market about new technology is: it’s not about crazy fancy complicated stuff; it’s just about automating mundane tasks and continuously getting better. It’s about helping employees who are operating be better operators by having them not focus on things that computers can help them do, and focus on the things that they use to bring value to the customers and carriers.
Someone asked me the other day: what’s happening in our industry today that’s revolutionary, what’s happening that evolutionary, and what’s hype? I really think the solutions with staying power are the ones that are evolutionary. Revolution gives you this idea of taking what was once and discarding it and moving onto the next thing. Hype flames out and dies. But evolution is a continual build-up upon what already exists. Certainly there are technologies that are being added on the periphery of that core execution of the load, but even those solutions are creating more value from an existing process, not replacing the process. What’s exciting about these new technologies is that they’re empowering our employees to be really good at what they do and where they create value.
About David Broering
Joining NFI in 2012, David is in charge of NFI’s North American Brokerage, Transportation Management, North American Intermodal, and asset-based drayage businesses.
David is leading these rapidly expanding divisions by offering a more robust suite of services to new and existing NFI clients. His focus on customer service and diversity is the key to the future growth and success of the business.
He began his career working for American Backhaulers, in Chicago, which was acquired by CH Robinson in 2000. David spent the next 12 years at CH Robinson in its Chicago Central Location. David was an integral part of both building his client base and helping others to create and develop their own. His primary focus was North American transportation and its many modes.
David attended the University of Dayton and graduated in 1997. He currently resides in Moorestown, NJ with his wife Jennifer and their two daughters.