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April 2013
Creating Cargo Connections
By Casey Jacobus

     Although one might expect the initials in CFS Logistics to stand for owner Cathy Fisher’s name in some manner, they actually stand for Container Freight Station, which defines the type of business it is. CFS Logistics provides a wide range of services for its customers in the shipping community, from providing bonded storage space for cargo being imported and storage for freight being exported around the world to trucking that cargo to ports around the U.S.

     It also provides support for its customers’ special projects ranging from printing labels to distributing product with inventory control, and shipping or receiving cargo according to customer requirements.

     “Our goal is to provide the very best service possible to our customers and to continue to expand our services to meet our customers’ growing requirements within our ever changing industry,” explains Fisher.

 

Getting Assembled

     Fisher, who has over 30 years experience in the warehouse and trucking industries, grew up in Charlotte. When she was 19 years old, she went to work for a Michigan-based company, Zantop International Airlines, which was one of the largest airlines in the commercial freight business during the 1980s.

     Fisher started off in customer service with Zantop and soon advanced to the position of assistant manager. After working for DHL and USAir, she was employed by AAA Express, a trucking company, where she did billing, dispatch and customer service jobs before becoming a manager.

     When AAA Express was sold to two brothers in Mobile, Ala., Fisher encountered what she says was the first and only gender discrimination of her career. She recollects that the brothers would begin weekly staff meetings with a greeting “to all our guys and that little gal in Charlotte.”

     “They wanted me to go out selling,” says Fisher, “while I wanted to be in operations, which is the heart of the business.”

     So, in 1997 Fisher decided to strike out on her own to create a new shipping and warehouse business in a building off Westinghouse Boulevard, taking the two biggest accounts from her former employer with her: Black and Decker Corporation and the largest NVOCC (Non Vessel Operating Common Carrier) company on the West Coast.

     “We started in November 1997 and by March 1998 we held 97 percent of that former company’s business,” Fisher asserts. Such immediate growth necessitated moving to a much larger facility and more central location. In April 1998, the company relocated closer to the airport in West Pointe Business Park, off Interstate 85.

     Just last year, the business relocated again, right in the heart of the Charlotte Airport Cargo Community, on Oak Lake Boulevard, just off Yorkmount Road. Fisher says the need to be even closer to the airport necessitated the move.

     With its open, upscale appearance, the new facility doesn’t match any clichéd image of a “warehouse.” Although it is a remodel of an older building, it appears brand new and has startling “eye appeal.”

     The 42,000-square-foot building includes a light and airy entryway with glassed-in office spaces, a large sunny conference room with a table that seats 10, a pleasant “break room” for employees, and a small gym complete with exercise machines and a personal trainer for use by both employees and customers.

     “We wanted to create a good work environment for our employees,” says Chris Fisher, Cathy’s husband and director of operations for CFS. “We also needed to be closer to the airport and more convenient for our customers.”

     The center of the new facility is the warehouse itself, complete with two huge fans that both have 10 12-foot blades to cool the storage area. The warehouse is equipped with 15 overhead doors and van ramp, as well as closed circuit cameras, monitored security protection and monitored fire protection with a sprinkler system.

 

Cargo Solutions

     Today, CFS Logistics continues flourishing, counting among its customers Samaritan’s Purse and Caterpillar. In addition to its new headquarters, it occupies two other facilities. Within the past four years, it has added 75,000 square feet of warehouse space, more than any of its competitors, and, at a time when a lot of companies have been downsizing or going out of business.

     The company has also added two new operating divisions: a courier company and a trucking division. Errands by CFS, LLC, opened two years ago. It provides daily airport and customs courier services, including document processing.

     “We run documents between customs and the airlines, getting documents to the broker forwarder,” explains Fisher. “We have three notaries on staff and can provide notary or chamber service to our customers, letters of credit and certificates of origin for cargo.”

     Fisher is working with long-time friend and colleague Jerry Cooper to establish the new trucking division, called CFS Translogix, LLC. Cooper has 27 years of experience in the industry and heads up CFS’s local and regional transportation services.

     “The new trucking division will complement CFS Logistics’ core business and provide an additional revenue stream,” states Cooper. “The transportation part of the business will help grow the bonded warehouse business; at the same time, bringing the trucking division up to the same level of customer service provided by the logistics division.”

     Cooper, who has worked for an expedited carrier for the last 19 years and most recently acted as a consultant within the trucking and air cargo industry, has a thorough knowledge of the new federal regulations governing the transportation business. In February 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation implemented new rules revising the hours of service safety requirements for commercial truck drivers.

     “Trucking is a tough business and very competitive,” states Cooper. “The new hours of service rules are concerning to us since we believe it will exacerbate the current driver shortage. Still we know we have opportunities we can build on.”

     In the past, most of CFS Logistics’ trucking has been within a 200 mile radius of Charlotte with daily trips to Greensboro and Raleigh Durham airports. It has also provided a daily line haul service to Atlanta. Cooper expects to expand the number of cities CFS services, first on a regional basis.

     “Eventually, we will look to join with parties that have transportation networks that can expand our reach,” he says. “Ultimately, we plan to serve customers nationwide.”

 

Customs Capabilities

     CFS Logistics location at Charlotte Douglas Airport has been vital to the company’s growth and competitiveness over the past 15 years.

     “We’ve benefited from the excellent management of the airport and we expect to continue that trend with the opening of the Charlotte Regional Intermodal Facility,” says Fisher.

     The company has also benefits from its contract with U.S Customs as a Central Exam Site. CFS was first awarded a five-year contract in 2002 as a CES for Customs. This contract was renewed in 2007 and then again in 2013. As a CES, CFS works with Customs, Homeland Security’s Border Protection, and the Department of Agriculture to ensure that goods entering the country at Charlotte Douglas International Airport are compliant with all of the government’s rules and regulations.

     The CES system was developed in 1986 because of significant increases in the volume of merchandise imported into the U.S., as well as the increase in the number of container freight stations, bonded warehouses, truck and rail terminals and other facilities which receive and hold imported cargo that need to be examined and cleared by Customs.

     CFS Logistics has the facilities and the experience necessary to make the Customs exams as expeditious as possible so that the cargo can be quickly released for entry. This involves timely communication, as well as providing the necessary security and equipment.

     Occasionally, a cargo will fail the inspection. Fisher tells the story of a moped which failed to meet U.S. emissions standards and was denied entry to the U.S. The importer abandoned it and, as a courtesy, Customs gave it to CFS Logistics to try to find an owner for it. Of course, this owner had to be outside of the U.S. It took 10 years, but eventually, through Samaritan’s Purse, a couple in Somalia was located and today they are enjoying ownership of the vehicle.

     CFS Logistics often goes above and beyond in order to serve its import/export customers. When the Department of Agriculture denied entry to a shipment of Christmas trees intended for a retailer because of the type of bark, CFS employees removed the bark.

     When a shipment of textiles were held up because they didn’t have the proper labels, CFS brought in employees with sewing machines to get the labeling completed. In one instance, a CFS employee identified an unlawful beetle in a shipment of wood and notified Customs. She received a special award for her efforts.

     “Attention to detail is our hallmark and one of the primary reasons for our success,” asserts Fisher. “Customers know they can count on CFS Logistics to provide excellent service and unparalleled value.”

 

Customer Care

     Over its almost 20 years of doing business, the CFS Logistics has been dedicated to serving its customers. It has grown to include three operating divisions and, depending on the services required, may use one, two or all three divisions to meet customers’ expectations.

    “From the onset we are in constant communication with the customer,” says Fisher. “First, we evaluate their business and then we work together to build dependable supply chain solutions.”

     Some customers use the services of CFS every day, some every week, and others, once a year. A lot of the company’s business is seasonal with every holiday bringing special shipments of cargo to be stored or transported, examined or distributed.

     Father’s Day and the spring gardening season are busy times for tool companies. Easter brings candy and decorations. Back to school in the fall sees increased shipments of office supplies. And, of course, December is always busy with Christmas ornaments and gifts.

     During the recent economic downturn, Fisher reports that import accounts were down, along with distributions. A lot of inventory just wasn’t selling. However, export accounts are currently at an all-time high and she is confident of the future.

     She points out that CFS Logistics has never hired a full-time salesperson to grow the business; the majority of its growth has come from word of mouth.

     “If our customers are satisfied then they’re going to be our best sales team,” Fisher says. “Our primary goal every day is to take care of the customer and our employees, which is the key to our success.”

     The company’s devotion to customer service and the determination of its employees to get the job done right is evident. Cathy Fisher has provided the experience, dedication and drive to take her company to the forefront of the Charlotte airport shipping community. She has been able to connect talented hardworking employees with the technology and structure to build an efficient, effective and strategically focused company.

     “I have a lot of respect for this woman and her business acumen,” states Cooper, who knows Fisher well. “She is very sharp.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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