Written by Curtis Hazel | Director of Marketing & Communications
I recently sat down with AGX Vice President of National Sales, James Bagwell, to learn more about Yard Management Systems. James has been in the transportation and logistics industry since 1992, working in a variety of leadership positions. His main focus today is in developing specialty customized logistics programs for customers, which include Yard Management Systems (YMS). By taking a full 360 view of his customers’ business, James has been successful in developing and sustaining long-term relationships that withstand the challenges of normal market volatility we see today, ultimately benefiting both trading partners. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
Curtis Hazel (CH): Hi James, thanks for spending some time with me today. So, perhaps we can start with an easy question, can you explain what a yard management system is?
James Bagwell (JB): Hi Curtis, my pleasure, thanks for inviting me. In simple terms, a yard management system is a software platform that provides a customer visibility of their yard, specifically, the units on their yard, whether its trailers, intermodal containers, ocean containers and the contents of each. Most companies that have a warehouse typically have a Warehouse Management System (WMS), which allows them to track product once it has been unloaded from a trailer or container. They have that visibility because someone has input data into their WMS. A YMS simply extends that visibility into the yard and to include all equipment as well. A lot of manufacturers today are operating a just-in-time system. By design they don’t have space within the warehouse to unload every trailer that comes in, so they depend on visibility provided by their YMS to tell them what they have available to them in the yard.
CH: So the YMS integrates into existing systems, like a Warehouse Management System or Transportation Management System?.
JB: There are some big box systems out there that have different components. They’ll have a TMS, a WMS, and a YMS and you can buy any combination and they integrate together. But the problem with those is that you have to adjust your business to fit into that system. The solution we provide is custom-tailored to each facility. So, to answer your question, yes, the YMS can integrate into a WMS or TMS, or both, but we focus on the YMS. For example, you could have a customer that is scheduling trucks through their TMS and we can tie that into the YMS for dock scheduling to make their dock flow efficient. We can tie that into a WMS so as they unload a truck, the data from the YMS transfers into a WMS seamlessly, tying the entire system together based on the customer’s design, not the software company’s design, if that makes sense.
CH: Yes, that does make sense. How long have Yard Management Systems been around?
JB: They’ve been around for some time, but I think that probably over the past 10 or 12 years is when it’s really started to gain some traction. I’m sure there were systems around before that, but I’ve really noticed this taking traction over the past 10 or 12 years and there’s a lot more companies out there offering it.
CH: What problem does a YMS solve for an organization?
JB: The simple answer is visibility. A more complex answer to that is the visibility translates to savings, such as the amount of inventory that they’re keeping on hand in the yard at any given time. Let me give you an example; we went into a customer that had seven or eight hundred trailers on the yard at any given time and we were able to cut that in half by giving them visibility into what was and wasn’t being used. We found that they were storing raw material in a trailer and they might unload 2/3rds of the content of a trailer when needed for manufacturing, and then push the trailer back into the yard. Now there’s a third of a trailer load of raw material on the yard that has the potential to get lost in the shuffle. They may mistakenly order another trailer load of the same raw material and now they’re sitting on thousands of dollars worth of extra inventory in the yard. A properly configured YMS helps avoid that problem.
On the outbound side, if a customer is managing ocean containers on their yard, our YMS will help them manage the time each container stays on the yard to reduce or eliminate any potential detention charges they could incur. That would also apply to trailers used by over-the-road carriers that are coming in and doing a drop and hook. They’re typically only allowing so many free days to unload a trailer. We can manage all of that now in a YMS. The system allows us to flag equipment based on time, so a trailer that has only one free day left may have a yellow flag on it, and a trailer on its last day would have a red flag. This translates to significant cost avoidance for a company that is managing hundreds of trailers coming in and out on a daily basis. Again, this can all be customized to address each terminal.
CH: That’s excellent. I imagine a YMS is a good theft deterrent too, does that ever come up with customers?
JB:The real threat of theft is pilferage of freight between the time it leaves a customer’s facility to the end user. While there is not much we can do after the freight has left the yard, some customers have us take photos of the back of the trailer to capture how it was loaded, verify counts and upload that to the trailer file in the system. So, if there’s any pilferage that occurs, we’ve got an image of what that trailer looked like and a verified count when it left the facility, and if it doesn’t look the same when it reaches destination, then we’re going back to the carrier and try to track down where pilferage may have occurred.
CH: What are the key components to a YMS?
JB: So, there’s a couple of options in the marketplace. Some options allow you to attach an RFID (radio-frequency identification) tag to trailers, and you’re able to keep up with those trailers via RFID tag. We’ve found that those systems can be costly when you include the price of each RFID tag and so, we do not use the same technology. We use barcodes instead of the RFID tag. We print the barcodes and attach the barcode to the trailer. The barcode has a typical lifespan of three to five years and only costs a couple cents for each one, so no matter if the same trailer is coming and going to your yard for years, or it only appears once, you haven’t sunk a huge cost into the tracking device. This allows us to keep our system cost effective, while at the same time able to track every single trailer.
We can keep track of everything through handheld cellular devices. We can scan the barcode to pull up all of the data for the trailer, as well as pinpoint it on a map of the yard.
A customer will typically define the zones of their yard and we’ll configure that into the software. Really, the components of the system are determined by the facility, so if they have a guard house and need to scan driver’s licenses, we can build that in – if the system needs to integrate with a TMS, or WMS, as we discussed, we can build that in too. The best way to think about it is we are a consultant that comes in and helps create a system that contains all of the components needed to provide the best solution for each use case. And because of that, we’ve found that no two systems are ever the same.
CH: When you put it in those terms, it seems that AGX is providing high-tech solutions for its customers, not just your typical transportation services. What did companies do before YMS came along?
JB: One of the companies that we’re providing a YMS to employed people to ride around the yard in a golf cart, looking in the back of trailers for product. As you can imagine, that’s not the best use of resources. Needless to say, our technology revolutionized the way they were able to manage their yard. And, yes, to your point – our system is proprietary and we work directly with the developer of the software, so, we are in fact offering high-tech solutions to our customers.
CH: What are the minimum requirements, or minimum size operation to benefit from a YMS?
JB: There’s really no minimum or maximum size. Any company that has a need to manage inventory on the yard, before it comes to a door, before it comes inside the warehouse, they can benefit from a YMS. If they’ve got trailers or containers, we have the ability to barcode them. So, we really don’t have a minimum requirement, but obviously, if a customer has a substantial amount of trailer volume in and out of the yard and storage of trailers or containers on the yard, then they need the visibility that a YMS will provide them.
CH: What about customers that have multiple terminals, is a YMS able to incorporate multiple locations?
JB: Yes, in fact, we’re currently providing service for a customer with a location in South Carolina and Illinois. An individual working at the Illinois location will have a login and their login permission allows them to see the facility in Illinois. Same with the person in South Carolina, they’re only seeing the facility in South Carolina, whereas somebody at the Corporate office located at a different site has the ability to see both facilities at the same time and any interaction between the two facilities.
CH: Obviously, there’s an investment in these systems. How long does it typically take for a company to get a return on their investment?
JB: Just about every customer we work to install a YMS for is seeing a return on their investment within the first year. That includes the time it takes to analyze the operations and develop a custom solution for their facility.
CH: How have these systems evolved since you’ve been in the business?
JB: They’ve evolved by way of integration. In the past, everything was fragmented and operating in silos. Now we can tie a YMS into a TMS, we can tie into a WMS and it allows efficiencies throughout the customer supply chain.
CH: James, you’ve already given us a few examples of how a YMS can improve your customer’s efficiency, can you think of any other examples of how a YMS has proven to be an effective tool?
JB: Yes, so, one thing we haven’t talked about yet is the ability to help the motor carriers that our customers work with. The system has the ability for customers to give a specific login to a carrier that gives them visibility into their equipment that they are utilizing with that customer. For example, if a carrier has five trailers in use at a terminal and two of them are empty, the carrier’s dispatcher can tell a driver where to locate an empty trailer when the driver gets there, decreasing load and unload times. This makes the customer far more attractive to the motor carrier, and in todays’ market, that could mean better access to capacity and better rates.
CH: Yeah, that’s a great point because, you know, Chris (AGX CCO, Chris Reeves) recently published an article on the “Top 5 Best Practices Every Shipper Should Know”, and one of them was “protect your reputation” by having efficient loading and unloading times. So, a YMS could actually enhance your reputation and make you more desirable to carriers.
JB: Absolutely, and I think I’ve given you two examples of that; the one I just mentioned of a driver having the ability for his or her dispatcher to go in and identify where an empty trailer is located on a particular facility; and, then the one we discussed earlier about being able to flag equipment to denote dwell time, which is also a great benefit to the carrier to make sure nothing is incurring unnecessary penalties. So, in my opinion, a YMS gives you the tools to be a more desirable shipper to some of the trucking companies out there.
CH: James, this has been really good, is there anything else that comes to mind that we haven’t covered?
JB: Well, I think I would just like to add that AGX is not just a trucking company, you know, point A to point B, we are a full-service logistics consulting company. We listen to our customer’s problems and we provide a custom-tailored solution to fit their needs.
CH: I think you have done an excellent job of illustrating that for us today, and I sincerely thank you for taking the time to meet with me. If someone reading this has more questions, or wants to schedule a meeting to analyze their facility, what is the best way to get in touch with you?
JB: Thank you. I can be reached at (904) 222-6479, or by email at email@example.com.
Market conditions suggest now is a great time to consider rail as an alternative to truck load for your freight transportation.
By Greg Harrison and Peter Masterson
When was the last time you quoted an intermodal solution for your freight? Chances are you will be surprised how competitive rates are compared to truck load. It’s no secret that capacity limitations, driver shortages and other factors have caused load to truck ratios to skyrocket in recent months. Consequently, freight rates keep pushing higher with no end in sight. While many shippers are adjusting to the market by increasing estimated freight expenditures for 2021, there is a growing number of companies transitioning to intermodal to reduce cost.
Intermodal is the term used to describe the movement of shipping containers (or truck trailers) utilizing railroads, combined with truck trips at either or both ends of the journey. These truck trips are commonly called drayage moves. An intermodal strategy allows for shippers to take advantage of various modes of transportation, including railroad, ocean carriers and trucking to build the most cost-effective freight management strategy. Intermodal pricing often yields significant savings for shippers. Rail transport is generally more fuel efficient than over the road, contributing to lower costs and its reputation as the most environmentally friendly choice for shipping.
We have found that its not uncommon for rail to get overlooked as a slow and confusing option. When capacity is not an issue, shippers and agents naturally rely on trucks for convenience and speed of delivery. Often though, when capacity is tight, rail begins to look a lot more attractive, and we are seeing that play out now in the market with fantastic results.
Let us take a closer look at a recent shipment we handled as an example of how rail compares to truck cost. Our customer, who has traditionally used trucks to haul freight from Dallas, TX to Riverside, CA requested that we compare intermodal for the same trip. Just by adding a little flexibility, the shipper reduced their cost from $2,000 to $1,500, saving 25% on rate. The difference in delivery time increased slightly from 2-3 days to 3-4 days of transit time.
You might be asking, if rail intermodal is so great, why aren’t more shippers using it? Fair question, rail doesn’t work for all types of shipments. If your cargo is time or temperature sensitive or traveling less than 500 miles – it’s likely trucks are a better option. As a rule of thumb, if your shipment can be containerized, is traveling greater than 500 miles and you have some flexibility in schedule, intermodal is definitely worth considering.
Intermodal imperatives for success
- Shippers need to be flexible. Patience is a virtue for intermodal shippers, with potential huge gains as their reward.
- Plan on having more open windows/time frames for pick-up and deliveries.
- Expect quick-turn arounds – which means its important to assist transportation partners with loading and unloading when needed.
- Blocking and bracing your freight is critical – there are lots of resources available.
Using a combination of trucks and railroads to move your freight can seem overwhelming. At AGX, we work with all the major rail lines and coordinate shipments from door to door with one invoice to help simplify the process. Our customers benefit by taking advantage of rail as a solution to help reduce their costs and avoid the challenges created in the market by capacity limitations. If you haven’t compared shipping via rail versus truck recently, we encourage you to investigate to see if it makes sense for your business. If you need any assistance, let us know, we would welcome the opportunity to get a quote started for you.
Every year, Faith Baptist Church hosts a Bar B Q fundraiser in June to support its summer youth programs. This year, AGX Freight gave the church event an added boost by purchasing 40 dinners for Beaches Habitat for Humanity families. AGX reached out to BEAM to find out if there was a community partner in the Beaches area that might appreciate a hot meal. BEAM Food Bank Manager, Meagan Anderson, suggested that AGX contact Beaches Habitat for Humanity and the groundwork was laid for a plan to have Faith Baptist Church deliver Bar B Q dinners to Beaches Habitat on June 11. BEAM contributed by bringing fresh produce and bread donated from local grocers. Habitat families were treated to a nice lunch as well as plenty of food to take home. Church volunteers, Amanda Barnett and her daughter delivered the food to the community center and assisted with set up and distribution. AmeriCorp member, Cameron Edwards, assigned to Beaches Habitat was on-hand to help, as well as Beaches Habitat Familiy Services Director, Joyce Freeman. Beaches Habitat for Humanity President and CEO, Curtis Ford stopped by to show his appreciation, as well as greet community members.
Photo description: (left to right) Curtis Hazel (AGX Freight), Meagan Anderson (BEAM), Cameron Edwards, Joyce Freeman & Curtis Ford (Beaches Habitat for Humanity)
Check out this short video to see more.
Chris Reeves | Chief Commercial Officer, AGX Freight
We often get asked what shippers can do to contain costs and navigate the volatility in shipping rates during a tight market. In this article, we’ll review the top 5 best practices that shippers can leverage in their business that will return competitive rates and the highest probability of insulation from market volatility.
When the market gets as hard as this, there is a tendency to want to adapt to the market, which could inadvertently conflict with your organizational principles. We think it’s better to have a process that works in any market, and a tight market is as good as any to analyze your process for strengths and weaknesses.
The conditions that have led to this market certainly are unique, that’s for sure, however the current driver shortage is no surprise to anyone. Any observers of the trucking industry have known this for a long time, in fact, here is an article dated January 28, 2000 declaring the arrival of the driver shortage: It’s Official: The Driver Shortage Threatens the Economy. It’s astounding how little has changed in the last 2 decades with respect to the driver shortage, and yet the industry continues to persevere.
While some things remain the same, we’ve seen more than our share of unexpected challenges recently. The supply chain has been rattled in ways we never could have predicted, including a global pandemic, extended closing of the Suez Canal and the Colonial Pipeline attack. Combined, these events have resulted in labor fluctuations, ships drifting offshore California ports, fuel shortages, rail line interruptions, LTL carrier embargoes and more.
Throw all of these conditions in with an economy beginning to heat up and the result is a market wreaking havoc for shippers looking for any semblance of predictability. We’re convinced the best protection from market uncertainty is a disciplined and consistent process.
This brings us to our top 5 best practices every shipper should apply in their business:
1. Start sooner
We can’t emphasize this one enough to our customers. Don’t wait until the last minute. Teach your sales and service teams to encourage customers to order products earlier when possible. The sooner you can get data to your logistics coordinator the better. More time equals greater flexibility and allows the chain to creatively adapt to your requirements. Some companies are not sure what proactive planning looks like, if you are unsure, reach out to me and let’s have a conversation about it. It’s probably a lot simpler than you think. There is an inverse correlation between time and cost, the more time we have to arrange your freight, the lower the cost.
2. Manage expectations
Our best customers have a good sense regarding the complexity of the market. They appreciate the challenges associated with moving their freight and they set expectations accordingly. That means knowing when carriers have leverage and when they don’t when booking freight. It also means communicating within your organization to make sure everyone on your team is working with the same expectations, especially your client-facing staff. Great communication of expectations leads to better decision-making. The more intelligence you can acquire through your broker and available technology, the less likely there will be any surprises.
3. Protect your reputation
Yes, your reputation. Most shippers don’t realize it, but your warehouse or distribution facility is scrutinized thoroughly by drivers, dispatchers, and 3PL’s. Do you know how long your load and unload times are? How about the quality of interactions with your facility staff, including security guards? Are they making it easy for drivers to do business with you, or are they creating issues? Chances are good that if there are common problems, drivers are sharing it with one another through various message boards and at the truck stop, which could hurt your reputation. Having a great reputation for loading and unloading is something every facility manager can control. Some things to keep an eye on include: unnecessary detention times, disorganization, overloaded trailers, poor packing, lack of assistance with loading and unloading – these are all simple things to pay attention to that will improve your reputation with drivers. The better your reputation, the more competition for your freight and ultimately better rates.
4. Avoid the churn
We always recommend developing a relationship with a logistics professional and giving them first right of refusal for your freight business versus canvasing the market. If you are just starting out with a freight broker/carrier, or having trouble with one you have been working with – try setting up a grading system and holding them accountable to your expectations. Actively listen to what your providers are seeing in the market. Just churning loads in the marketplace creates a lot of inefficient work for brokers, agents, and carriers and ultimately drives up cost for everyone. Your best bet is to select a company that has assets, a strong network of carriers and an excellent track-record of communication. Even when capacity is plentiful issues are going to come up in this business, it’s unavoidable, therefore it is critically important to know who you are working with.
5. Embrace safety
Finally, no discussion about best practices is complete without highlighting the importance of safety. The reality is we are in a business that has significant consequences when there is accident. It is incumbent upon all of us to be vigilant and exercise discipline in our risk management process. Do you know what that process looks like for your transportation providers? Perhaps now is a good time to have that discussion with them and find out if there is anything you can do to help them adhere to their safety protocol.
It is always our goal to be our customers’ first choice for their freight and we welcome the opportunity to earn the right to be yours. Taking a relational approach, rather than a transactional one, is far more cost and time effective. Let us know if we can assist you with your freight business.
Mike Williams | President, AGX Freight
We have a lot of bridges to mend in our country. I mean, literally, a lot of bridges. The current administration’s infrastructure initiative, The American Jobs Plan, proposes to fix over 10,000 bridges in the US, including a focus on the ten most economically significant in need of reconstruction.
America is at a crossroads. Our country has failing roads and bridges and the proposed infrastructure initiative is an invitation to pick up a shovel and begin the hard work needed to turn things around. It might also represent the best chance we have to reinforce our democracy.
Our country is resilient when setbacks happen and we are courageous in the face of adversity. When our backs are against the wall, whether it’s a threat to our national security, natural catastrophe or disease, together, we have achieved more collectively than we could have as individuals. A great example of this is the response of our supply chain to covid-19 related challenges over the last year. Not only did the freight sector recover quickly and thrive as more Americans shopped from home, but we helped deploy nearly 275 million total vaccine doses in a matter of months.
The pandemic showed us that our reliance on commerce and the strength of our supply chain does not have to be diminished by a global health catastrophe. If anything, it clarified what we in the transportation industry already knew, that the economy and more broadly speaking, the livelihood of Americans are dependent on a fully functioning and safe transportation sector. Now that we are transitioning from lock-down to something approaching pre-pandemic norms of living, we should consider the benefit of focusing our efforts and investment on the health of our national infrastructure.
If we think of America as a living organism, then its network of highways and roads are the circulatory system. The transportation & logistics industry is the heartbeat of our country, and we should no more neglect our highways, bridges, roads, tunnels and waterways than we would our own organs. There are achievable gains to be had by investing in our physical infrastructure. The most recent Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, published by the American Society of Civil Engineers, states that “40% of the (road) system is now in poor or mediocre condition”. Moreover, “47% of the nation’s urban interstates are experiencing congestion during peak hours, and 30% of trips taken are impacted by severe or extreme congestion”. Fixing our roads will improve safety for motorists and pedestrians as well as our quality of life by shortening travel and delivery times.
A national infrastructure plan as proposed by the current administration will create jobs. An investment in our roads and bridges leads to a healthier transportation sector that currently employs nearly 10% of the US workforce, according to US Dept of Labor data. There are few things more rewarding in life than the sense of accomplishment that comes from an honest day’s work. Jobs that earn a living-wage empower people to bootstrap themselves out of poverty. Our sector has a great opportunity to help the economically disenfranchised, including the millions of Americans who lost jobs last year.
We recognize that it will take more than a reliance on public expenditures to course correct, and it’s why we recognize and applaud the great work performed by nonprofits such as Corporate America Supports You and Operation New Hope. Both organizations provide no-cost training and placement services to their constituents, for the benefit of those they serve and the employers they partner with. A healthy and sustainable economy will require increased cooperation between public, private and nonprofit entities.
The American Jobs Plan signals an attachment point for us to build bridges in a truly American way that exemplifies our shared values of patriotism, hard work and equal opportunity to achieve prosperity. We acknowledge that determining how to fund the program will be challenging for our lawmakers. We support their commitment to work in good faith towards initiatives like this one that build hope and unity among all Americans.
We love our Chamber, we love our city, and we love logistics at AGX. The politicians in Washington, now that’s a different kind of love story. In June of this year I had the opportunity to participate in a “fly-in” to DC with the Transportation Intermediaries Association. We chased our elusive Florida representatives around the capitol all day advocating for commonsense legislation for a national carrier selection standard for brokers. DC is an amazing place to visit if you can’t make it down to the Florida Everglades.
Every step we take has a purpose and an effect. Success and happiness, good health, meaningful relationships at work and at home.
Some of us will sacrifice too much for our mission, and others not enough. Finding a productive, satisfying balance between your unbridled aspirations and relaxing on the beach or hiking the Grandfather Trail in NC or whatever your heart desires is a personal decision for each of us.
Jack Welch, former legendary CEO at GE, and one of my favorites, said “there is no such thing as work-life balance. There are work life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” Forget about all the others, study Jack Welch’s principles of business organization leadership and Jack will set you straight.
That being said, the freight logistics business takes no prisoners. Freight Life is 24/7/365. Its global. Its multi-modal. The speed at which data moves surpasses human pace. Big Data, Predictive analytics…the automation revolution is threatening entire segments of the supply chain. But freight is freight. A container of lawn furniture from Asia will always take about 38 days to reach JaxPort through the Panama Canal. The speed limit for big trucks will remain 65, even if R2D2 is driving.
Nevertheless, freight logistics remains a marketplace of opportunity for people who like to work collaboratively with others, innovate solutions for their customers, and determine the size of their own slice of the pie. Its intensely capitalistic, and highly attractive to entrepreneurs.
AGX is both a motor carrier and a broker, that makes us a logistics company. Through our network of relationships, we help freight professionals on their mission to achieve their greatest success. We are a safe zone, a sanctuary of sorts, for people of any persuasion, who want to chase the biggest paycheck they’ve ever seen or not. Work 7 days a week, or 4 days a week, it is a choice. Remember what Jack said, life choices have consequences.
AGX offers an operating platform, including Finance, Technology, Risk and Insurance, and outsourced business administration services, from which freight professionals and their teams can launch their own business, chart their own course, and achieve their own missions. We offer scale in critical back office services while our network remains focused on sales and freight logistics execution.
We measure our success exclusively by the quality of our engagement with customer service excellence, which includes continuous communication with the freight professionals who trust us with their business, and of course cash flow. All of the spin, marketing and buzz words don’t mean much without cash flow.
Our corporate team in Jacksonville is one of the all-time greats: it includes a winning combination of capable, collaborative, and frankly, very likable people. I predict that they will all earn gold watches and have their pictures on the AGX Wall of Fame before all is said and done. In a nutshell, they are individually and collectively energized to create and sustain great value in our network relationships.
Together with our network, we provide truckload, including vans and flatbeds, specialized and heavy haul, dedicated shuttle and yard management, highway logistics, railroad intermodal logistics, and with a shout out of gratitude to our friends at Jax Global Cargo, Robert Fox and Chris Sloope, we offer warehousing, foreign trade zone capabilities, and international logistics and freight forwarding.
The future is bright at AGX and we look forward to doing our part to make Jacksonville “America’s Logistics Center.”