Carrier Profiles

Express-1 Targeting Mexico For More Business

By Evan Lockridge
Posted Jan 28th 2008 10:06AM

In July of last year, the company brought on board Sebastian Boling as its first director of international operations. He came to the carrier with seven years of international experience in the logistics area for Dana Corp. and is fluent in not only Spanish but also other languages. This gives the company access to Boling’s “tremendous contacts” in Mexico, says Express-1 President Jeff Curry.

Unlike the few carriers that have gotten involved in the Bush administration’s controversial long-haul cross-border one-year program that began last September, Express 1 isn’t taking its rigs to and from Mexico. Instead, it’s partnering exclusively with carriers based in the country. Those Mexican carriers move U.S.-bound freight just inside the narrow trading zone where they are allowed in the U.S., where the freight is then picked up by Express-1’s owner-operators. For Mexico-bound freight, Express-1 drivers take it to this same area inside the U.S., where Mexican carriers pick it up.

The benefit of this program for Express-1 drivers is simple, Boling says. For example, when we talked with him late in 2007 he cited a situation he had at the current time. Two shipments were coming out of New York and going to Laredo, which he says is about 1,900 miles. “It beats those 200 or 300 or even 600 mile runs that we get for our drivers. These longer hauls obviously mean better pay.”

Such a long haul is not uncommon with freight going to Mexico, say Boling and Curry. Domestically, an average haul for an Express-1 driver is anywhere from 300 to 400 miles, but if the cargo is bound for Mexico, it’s typically about 1,400 miles in the U.S. Additionally this new opportunity is available to all company owner-operators. And whether a driver is taking a load that’s Mexico-bound or picking up one coming from the country, Express-1 says it works to make sure deadhead miles are minimized.

While the overall U.S. trucking industry as well as some expedite carriers and drivers faced big challenges with their businesses last year, which are expected to continue into 2008 with the slow economy and high fuel prices, Curry says he’s encouraged this new venture will do well.

“We are projecting…pretty strong growth [in 2008] in the face of what appears to be a year that might be very difficult, at least from how the economy is going to treat us,” he says. “But we feel this international effort with Mexico may supply anywhere between 10% and 20% of our growth for [2008].”

With such optimism, drivers may be inclined to think there is a big possibility Express-1 could get involved in cross-border trucking, meaning Express-1 drivers and Mexican partnering companies would be hauling into the interior of each other’s country. However, Curry says, that is “not something that is probably going to take place within the next two or three years,” if ever. “If you look at the market and you start allowing these [Mexican drivers] northbound, it’s going to decrease the wage that you are paying your drivers here in the States.”

The key to this operation being a success, say both men, has been finding the right kinds of Mexican carriers to partner with to make sure they are able to meet certain levels of service and have minimum equipment standards. This means they basically have to mirror the domestic operations of Express-1 trucks, including having satellite communications and tracking, running team operators and so forth.

While Express-1 is working with only a “handful” of Mexican carriers, the number of trucks they provide is about equal to those in Express-1’s domestic fleet. This makes it possible for Express-1 to cover every import and export city in Mexico just like it is in the U.S. On top of this it can move anything from a cargo van to a tractor-trailer into and out of Mexico.

Such quick success for Express-1 in this new venture and the realization more freight in and out of Mexico is time-sensitive is expected to lead to more expedite carriers jumping aboard this bandwagon, but Curry believes his company is ahead of the curve.

“I know some of the customers that are using us now, almost exclusively, for a good reason. That’s because they figured out we know what we are doing and can provide them with seamless service from somewhere in the United States to Mexico.” He points to one recent month in which every one of their Mexican-bound loads delivered at least a day earlier than expected.

Boling adds that another reason for this success is the business model that Express-1 is using. Rather than trying to move freight themselves in Mexico, he says it’s been better working with partner carriers based in the country. “I think there is maybe one or two carriers that say they do that, but every time we tested it, we have provided better transit, better cost and better cost avoidance at the border" through using partner carriers.

This new service, Boling says, also has allowed Express-1 go get it’s foot in the door with some customers that were previously unattainable.

“They’ve started seeing that we could do the Mexico lanes … and this is when that wheel starts spinning in their head and they start saying if [Express-1] can do that with Mexico, how are they doing domestically?” he says. “And it’s actually been better for us domestically than it has been internationally, because they are starting to utilize us more and more on the domestic side because we do it so seamlessly on the Mexico side.”

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Evan Lockridge is a freelance trucking writer and is also the host of the radio broadcast Expediter News Break (hot link to ENB web site), which is broadcast during the Dave Nemo Show on XM Satellite Radio.