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March 2014
Right Thing @ Right Place @ Right Time
By Casey Jacobus

     Sea Express America Corporation, or more familiarly S.E.A. Corp., is an international logistics company providing ocean transportation services to its clients. It strives to be a turnkey operation, analyzing each client’s needs, knowledge and country requirements to successfully export products from door to door.

     “We operate like a travel agency for freight,” quips S.E.A. Corp. President Myra Heavner. “We connect manufacturers and corporate clients with shipping lines to move goods.”

     S.E.A. Port offers its clients complete supply chain management. Services include: warehousing, loading of containers, building customized crates, palletizing cartons, labeling cartons and negotiating specialized pricing. It also offers break bulk services, roll-on/roll -off services for tractors, trucks or anything with wheels, open top equipment, flat rack equipment, refrigerated containers, and airfreight.

     Although Heavner says she inherited her entrepreneurial spirit from her parents, she admits that she never planned on running a global logistics company.

     “I always wanted to be a TV reporter and be on the news,” she laughs.

 

Starting Out

     A native of Lincoln County, Heavner graduated from West Lincoln High School and then Gardner-Webb University with a business degree. She began her career in Cherryville, working for Carolina Freight Carriers International Division. When her division was sold in the late 1990s and her job relocated out of state, Heavner and a partner saw an opportunity for a new career and started S.E.A. Corp. in 1998.

     Eventually Heavner bought out her partner. She credits the company’s 14 years of consecutive growth, from $3.7 million in 1999 to $18.6 million in 2012, to core values and a strong mission. S.E.A. Corp.’s core values are to operate the business with simplicity, efficiency, accountability, caring, professionalism, trust, integrity, urgency, and timeliness.

     “Our mission,” says Heavner, “is to build long-term, mutually profitable partnerships by exceeding our clients’ expectations, while creating an environment of excellence in which every individual is valued.”

     And those values and mission are meeting the test; S.E.A. Corp. grew 30 percent from 2011 to 2012. Since 2011, employment has doubled to 14 full-time and six part-time employees, and the company has doubled the size of its facility in uptown Lincolnton.

     “When we first started out, a representative from the North Carolina State Port Authority heard of a new company in Lincolnton and visited our office,” remembers Heavner. “She didn’t seem to think we would never last or be taken seriously.” Today, that person covers the country as a sales agent for S.E.A. Corp.

 

Growing Pains

     Over the years, S.E.A. Corp. has had its share of challenges to overcome in order to compete with larger Non-Vessel Operated Common Carriers (NVOCCs). It has continually invested in new technology, hired additional employees, and expanded its office capacity to accommodate the growth in business.

     For the first eight years, S.E.A. Corp. didn’t have a contract with a major shipping line. Instead, Heavner piggybacked on competitor’s contracts. She chased a direct contract by making regular phone calls and traveling to New York to make personal contacts.

     “I had to prove that someone in Lincolnton, N.C., had enough business to warrant a contract with a global steamship company,” she says.

     Finally, one firm gave her a contract and S.E.A. Corp. fulfilled it. That was just the foot-in-the-door Heavner needed. Today S.E.A. Corp. has a vast network of dependable steamship lines and worldwide agents at its disposal. It utilizes over 200 agents in over 166 countries, ensuring its transportation services can reach the most remote areas of the world.

     Heavner describes the team at S.E.A. Corp. as working in a collaborative role as they assist customers with analyzing, identifying, and setting up an efficient cost effective supply chain in six continents.

     “Our customers rely on us to be experts in our field of logistics,” asserts Heavner. “They rely on us to provide them with all requirements to avoid having any delays in the supply chain.”

      In addition, S.E.A. Corp. directs clients within S.E.A. Corp.’s professional network for assistance with ancillary services such as letters of credit; USDA and FDA certifications; processing of car title clearances for automobiles, boats and motorcycles leaving the U.S.; preparation of certificates of origin; legalization of documents and pro forma invoices; and individualized customs compliance and training as needed for new exporters.

     “When our booking team makes new bookings for our customers, we advise them of documentation requirements needed at the destination,” says Heavner. “In some cases we go out and help them obtain these documents.”

     For example, S.E.A. Corp. had to obtain a B-13 number for freight being exported out of Canada. This number had to be on the bill of lading before the freight could be loaded on the exporting vessel.

     In another situation, a small furniture warehouse in North Carolina has monthly exports to Central America. This warehouse is a consolidator of multiple furniture suppliers. Due to the complexity of this account, the S.E.A. Corp. documentation team has taken extra steps to obtain all of their suppliers’ pertinent information to prepare the shipper’s export declaration to obtain the Automated Export System Number required on every bill of lading.

     S.EA Corp. also prepares ocean bills of lading from commercial invoices; it is a long and in-depth process, but it is ultimately cost-effective and eliminates any delays when the freight arrives at its destination.

 

Finding Partners

     Heavner has a passion for educating and assisting entrepreneurs interested in opening their own export business. In 2001, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, the textile markets locally and internationally began to decline. When a freight forwarding client who specialized in textiles lost her job, she called Heavner for advice.

     Heavner encouraged her to use her experience and knowledge to continue helping exporters in the U.S. by applying for a Federal Maritime Commission License (FMC). Heavner walked her through the application process to obtain a license and open her own minority, woman-owned business. Heavner introduced her to tariff filing requirements and educated her on the rules and regulations of the FMC. Heavner also recommended companies she could work with to secure her bond to meet the FMC’s requirements.

     Eleven years later that woman is still devoted to textiles with 15 employees, and has diversified into exporting furniture for schools and hotels, pharmaceuticals, and aircraft parts from the U.S. She has also hired a customs broker and is involved with imports.

     That former client turned to Heavner at S.E.A Corp. “because of the dedication and quality of service their team displayed at my previous company; I knew I could count on them. The foundation we built has turned into a lifelong partnership.”

     Heavner also helped and encouraged another friend in the organization and startup of trading services to match U.S. exporters with international buyers. That person attests, “Without the assistance and experience of S.E.A. Corp., I would never have considered starting my own company. S.E.A. Corp. opened the door and assisted me with the startup.”

 

Planning Ahead

     Heavner has also focused on helping exporters increase their exports and expanding the growth of U.S. products and trade in various parts of the world. In one case, S.E.A. Corp. worked closely with Caudill Seed, a seed producer in Granite, Okla. Caudill began working with Asian cattle ranchers on cultivating rye seed for the Asian geographics and climate. Caudill was successful in developing a hybrid seed in the U.S. that needed to be exported to Busan in South Korea and delivered within a six-week period.

     S.E.A. Corp. worked with Caudill Seed to position empty containers from the farms in Granite to Busan. Once the items were loaded and cleared by USDA for export, S.E.A. Corp. returned the loaded containers to the port of Houston. It prepared all of the export documentation and tracked and traced the containers to ensure the product arrived at its destination on time and within the terms of the letter of credit.

     As a result of the collaboration with S.E.A. Corp., Caudill Seed has expanded to cover South Korea, Italy, and Durban, South Africa. Caudill is now anticipating an expansion involving Brazil, Asia, Europe and South Africa.

     S.E.A. Corp. also worked with Indiv, a company located in Springfield, Mo., that sells products associated with the poultry raising and processing industry. Its clients are third world countries in need of economical solutions to provide their populations with adequate protein diets.

     Beginning in 2008, S.E.A. Corp. began assisting Indiv on opening up markets in Guatemala, Venezuela, and Honduras. Through constant communication with steamship lines, S.E.A. Corp. worked to secure competitive pricing and provided Indiv with the necessary documentation required to open doors for new opportunities. Their expertise was needed to ship goods and clear customs without delays.

     S.E.A. Corp. was also able to assist Indiv in expanding its business to Russia. A meat processing company in Novorossiysk wanted Indiv to help turn barns into poultry houses. Indiv turned to S.E.A. Corp. to coordinate all of the logistical aspects of the project and to provide the required documentation. The project was successful and projects for 2014 include new markets in Kenya, Asia, Managua, Nicaragua and Trinidad.

     “The key to our success is our employees,” says Heavner. “We only hire dedicated employees who care about providing excellence for our clients and who are willing to go the extra mile. The customer is the most important person in our business, and we only hire people that understand and treat the customer as the lifeblood of the business.”

 

Looking Forward

     As Heavner looks ahead, she sees the growth S.E.A. Corp. has enjoyed during the past decade continuing. Although the growth in U.S. exports has slowed down during the past two years as a result of a changing global economy, Heavner says that is expected to change. She says U.S. exports are expected to gradually pick up through 2017. In order for S.E.A. Corp. to keep up with the growing demand, the company’s five-year plan is to strengthen the company’s infrastructure.

     “Global logistics can be handled in New York, Long Beach, Asia or Lincolnton, N.C.,” asserts Heavner. “A company’s customer service center can be located anywhere in the world that has the technological resources of the 21st century.”

     Heavner keeps her pulse on the market trends of her industry, including new regulations and related issues. Members of the S.E.A. Corp. team attend global networking conferences throughout the year. These conferences, such as the TPM Conference in Long Beach, Calif., are attended by the world’s most senior international logistics experts. They offer speeches, panel discussions and roundtables to address the major challenges faced by the industry.

     Heavner, herself, spoke at the International Logistics Network in Vancouver, Canada, in 2013. The conference was attended by 1,700 members from 166 countries. Heavner spoke on pulling resources from each member to develop a seamless supply chain management that would benefit organizations exporting from the U.S.

     These conferences also provide the S.E.A. Corp. team members an opportunity to meet and get to know personally the leaders in the logistics industry.

     Heavner attributes the success she has achieved as a woman business owner to the parents who taught her to work hard, and she has no intention of relaxing anytime soon.

     “Hard work and a never-give-up attitude are the two key components to my success,” she asserts. “I believe in going the extra mile, treating others as you want to be treated and setting the bar high. These qualities will lead S.E.A. Corp. to continued success.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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