Readers’ Choice: Top 10 3PL Excellence Awards 2012

Tags: 3PL

What elevates a relationship from a workable collaboration to a truly great partnership?

We try to describe this elusive state in so many ways:

"He just gets me."

"She's the yin to my yang."

"It's like he can read my mind."

Sometimes you work with someone and everything just clicks. In working relationships, this kind of understanding yields innovative ideas, streamlined workflows, and game-changing progress. For shippers building partnerships with third-party logistics (3PL) providers, this translates to efficiency gains and bottom-line benefits: "Ryder continually finds operational improvements and positively trending key performance indicators," explains P.S., manager, finance and logistics.

A great 3PL partner sticks with you when the going gets tough: "J.B. Hunt goes above and beyond for our company during perilous situations," states L.T., sourced products manager.

They share your burden so you can concentrate on the task at hand: "Menlo manages our inventory and quality issues along with our logistics requirements," says S.J., order fulfillment manager. "This makes my job easier and allows me time to focus on my customers."

And don't underestimate the importance of personal connections: "Our contacts at C.H. Robinson are more like a family than a business," says M.V., dispatcher. "They are all easy to work with and extremely pleasant."

True partners depend on each other, thrive on each other's successes, and share their appreciation for one another—which is where our 2012 Readers' Choice Top 10 3PL Excellence Awards come in.

Casting 8,638 votes, Inbound Logistics readers offered their input on the 3PL partners that rock their world—and 3,182 of those shippers took the time to offer examples and kudos. (See Partner Appreciation for just a few examples.)

Respondents covered the supply chain spectrum—from shipping clerks to CEOs. They work for mom-and-pop shops and global leaders such as Home Depot, Halliburton, Coca-Cola, Avery Dennison, ConAgra Foods, Domino's Pizza, General Mills, Big Lots, and Toyota. They spend millions annually on a range of logistics services. (See About the Survey Respondents.)

Whether they've enlisted one 3PL partner or several, one trait shippers value is reliability.

"Transplace takes care of our freight, and takes care of us," says E.B., load coordinator.

"BNSF Logistics delivers with the fewest issues, and resolves them if any arise," states C.R., operations manager.

Other readers have great esteem for 3PLs that demonstrate agility. "Unyson Logistics adapts rapidly to changes that occur both internally and externally," reports J.P., logistics analyst.

Above all, shippers appreciate 3PLs that deliver great customer service—and they're willing to pay for it. In fact, despite 66 percent of survey respondents citing cutting transport costs as their top challenge, 79 percent report they would choose a 3PL that delivers customer service over one that delivers cost savings. And half the survey respondents cite poor customer service as the primary reason 3PL partnerships fail.

"Echo Global meets our needs, along with our customers' needs," says D.S., business manager. "It is the most cost-competitive, flexible, friendly, and responsive provider."

A shipper who can speak that highly of its 3PL has found a true supply chain partner. On the following pages, we spotlight shippers' most valued partners—the 3PLs behind the scenes who help shippers succeed. Read on to find out which providers were voted this year's MVPs.

And the winners are…

1. C.H. Robinson

Why They Won: If anyone knows the value of nurturing shipper partnerships, it's this year's top-rated 3PL.

"C.H. Robinson is a long-term strategic partner that has continually provided a high level of service while improving our overall costs," says customer Scott Farmer, executive vice president of global purchasing, Berry Plastics Corporation.

The Eden Prairie, Minn.-based 3PL helps shippers take a big-picture view of their supply chain. "More opportunities exist today because of globalization," says John Wiehoff, C.H. Robinson's CEO and chairman of the board. "We help our customers by developing proprietary systems, strategies, and processes that allow them to accelerate their competitiveness in the global marketplace."

Client Roster:

  • Metalfrio Solutions
  • Associated Grocers
  • General Cable
  • Jel Sert
  • Harvest Time International
  • ChemPoint.com
  • Evergreen Packaging

Case Study: Metalfrio Solutions

Metalfrio Solutions, a producer and marketer of plug-in food service refrigerators, employed multiple truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) providers, but none supplied white-glove delivery services for in-store coolers. The company could not offer final-mile deliveries or handle other special customer requests.

C.H. Robinson established a strategic account manager for Metalfrio to handle all LTL, special handling, and truckload needs. In addition, the 3PL structured a more cost-effective U.S./Mexico cross-border program to improve shipping efficiency and reduce risk.

2. Ryder

Why They Won: According to IL readers, Ryder's strengths include its "ability to adapt," "hard-working and driven employees," and "innovative and creative solutions."

Ryder customer Joe Smith, president of Alabama Metals Industries, shares this high opinion of the Miami-based 3PL: "We selected Ryder because of its proven ability to design, manage, and optimize transportation, resulting in reduced transportation costs and improved flexibility and customer service across all our locations."

Performance and innovation set Ryder apart, says John Williford, president, Global Supply Chain Solutions, Ryder System Inc. "Great execution comes from our well-trained and passionate employees, and a culture that emphasizes continuous improvement for all of our clients," he says. "We've been able to innovate by understanding the needs of clients in key industry groups, and investing in new capabilities and solutions for them."

Client Roster:

  • Toyota
  • CVS Caremark
  • Bacardi
  • Dean Foods
  • Kraft
  • PepsiCo
  • Cisco Systems
  • Overhead Door Corporation

Case Study: Overhead Door Corporation

Overhead Door Corporation, an integrated garage door systems manufacturer, used to wrestle with excessive product damage, and drivers who weren't invested in maintaining a high level of customer service.

Partnering with Ryder allowed the company to implement a solution that comprises a mix of inbound and outbound supply chain management and dedicated contract carriage. Ryder also put in place a progressive fuel program to reduce consumption and increase backhauls. With these solutions in place, Overhead Door Corporation realized immediate benefits. It reduced in-transit product damage, improved customer satisfaction by 10 percent, reduced fuel costs by three percent, cut transportation and distribution costs by four percent, and generated $1.5 million in third-party backhaul revenues.

3. Menlo Worldwide Logistics

Why They Won: San Mateo, Calif.-based Menlo Worldwide Logistics makes itself an integral part of customers' business processes. "It's no longer good enough to provide a one-time reduction in costs or be really good at the discrete execution of a logistics function. Those are table stakes," says Robert L. Bianco Jr., president, Menlo Worldwide Logistics. "We apply Lean principles to drive efficiencies, continuous improvement, and ongoing cost reduction. We focus on optimizing the flow of products through a supply chain. It's a continuum of repeatable process and action."

The 3PL's dedication to serving customer needs has not gone unnoticed. "Menlo goes above and beyond contractual obligations," says one reader.

Others praise Menlo's "outstanding, reliable, flexible service," "lean warehousing processes and thought leadership," and "quick response."

Client Roster:

  • Bobcat
  • Caterpillar
  • Cisco Systems
  • Comcast
  • Dow Chemical
  • Electrolux
  • Navistar
  • New Era Cap Company

Case Study: New Era Cap Company

New Era's warehouse challenges included insufficient capacity, constant SKU turnover, and shifting lead times for globally sourced products. It enlisted Menlo to help enhance inbound product delivery date visibility; improve service and reduce overall operating costs; and decrease New Era's involvement in distribution operations.

The 3PL consolidated New Era's warehouse operations; upgraded its enterprise resource planning systems; and integrated with Menlo's warehouse management system. Thanks to these improvements, the capmaker gained advanced visibility of inbound products and delivery dates, and improved fulfillment efficiency.

"Menlo has transformed from a commoditized distribution provider to a valued supply chain partner that continues to push the outsourcing envelope in new directions," says Jim Patterson, COO and senior vice president, New Era Cap Company.

4. UPS Supply Chain Solutions

Why They Won: IL readers value the Atlanta-based 3PL's "fast and efficient information flow" and "worldwide recognition."

"UPS' quality of products and services are highly regarded in the industry," notes one reader.

UPS returns its customers' high regard. "We've become one of the world's largest third-party logistics providers because we serve as an extension of our customers' business," says Brad Mitchell, president, logistics and distribution, UPS. "We make logistics a competitive advantage for our customers by developing flexible supply chain solutions, streamlining their operations, reducing their supply chain costs, improving their customer service, and helping them expand into new markets."

The 3PL's strategy works for customer Derek Brown of Sprint. "UPS Supply Chain Solutions has far exceeded my expectations in price, service, and quality, and has allowed me to meet my organization's budget goals," he says.

Client Roster:

  • March Networks
  • Sprint
  • Toshiba
  • Philips Healthcare
  • Embraer

Case Study: March Networks

March Networks, a global leader in intelligent IP video and business intelligence applications, partners with UPS on its global field stocking and repair operations, leveraging UPS' Louisville, Ky., warehousing and distribution facilities.

Previously, March Networks' global repair operations were located in Ogdensburg, N.Y., but relocating to the UPS Louisville facility reduced the overall time for products to be repaired and returned to the shelf from up to seven days to fewer than two.

UPS also worked with March Networks to establish its Global Advanced Replacement reverse logistics model for reclaiming millions of dollars worth of defective assets from the field. By reusing and recycling these assets, March Networks can prevent them from entering landfills.

5 (TIE). J.B. Hunt

Why They Won: "We have never questioned our decision to award J.B. Hunt our business," says customer Ken Cromwell, senior logistics specialist, CertainTeed. "Its ability to manage our entire business from inventory management, on-time delivery, and commitment to safety continues to impress and add value—all of which is only possible through the efforts and dedication of the on-site staff."

The Lowell, Ark.-based 3PL makes it a point to look out for its customers' interests. "As shippers continue to face challenges ranging from fluctuating fuel prices to tight capacity, we provide capacity-oriented solutions centered on delivering customer value and industry-leading service," says Shelley Simpson, president, Integrated Capacity Solutions, chief marketing officer and president, J.B. Hunt Transport Services.

Client Roster:

  • Heinz
  • Sports Authority
  • Lowe's
  • Anheuser-Busch
  • Nestlé
  • Coca-Cola
  • Scotts
  • Dollar General
  • Amazon
  • Sysco
  • Certainteed

Case Study: CertainTeed

When J.B. Hunt began working with building products manufacturer CertainTeed, staff at the company's New Jersey location unloaded about three rail flatcars of gypsum board daily. Trucked-in merchandise supplemented inventory shortages of up to 20 truckloads per week, resulting in hefty costs to the company.

Today, J.B. Hunt staff operates the entire supply chain, seamlessly functioning as an extension of CertainTeed's business. Production has doubled to about six rail flatcars daily—each the equivalent of four truckloads. The 3PL receives, unloads, warehouses, and ships product to job sites and retail locations.

J.B. Hunt's inventory management of the nearly eight million square feet of warehoused gypsum board has eliminated approximately 90 percent of the need to cover shortages with truckload shipments, cutting costs without sacrificing CertainTeed's focus on customer service.

5 (TIE). Landstar

Why They Won: "Landstar is a true class-act company that honors its commitments," declares one IL reader.

"Landstar's unique operating model sets us apart from other 3PLs by coupling agents and technology to improve a customer's supply chain," says Landstar Chairman, President, and CEO Henry Gerkens.

Long-time customers come to rely on the Jacksonville, Fla.-based 3PL's resources. "Cooper Standard began developing a relationship with Landstar a decade ago," says Michael Silvio, director, supply chain management, for auto component producer Cooper Standard. "We knew inventories were going to be reduced, and the stresses of just-in-time operations made service a critical factor in developing the partnership.

"What keeps the relationship intact is the service our Landstar agent provides," he continues. "The 3PL has evolved from an expedited provider to an integrated part of our transportation and materials management strategy.

"Consultants often ask, 'What keeps you up at night?'" Silvio adds. "But when Landstar says my load is covered, I don't lose sleep."

Case Study: A Top-Tier Automotive Supplier

A Tier-1 automotive supplier was looking for single-source premium freight management. The company wanted transactional visibility, as well as financial visibility and accountability for its expedited freight.

Landstar developed a customized, single-source solution that provided the supplier with a fixed pricing schedule for transportation services. The 3PL also created a team to implement processes for the customer, including pricing, and carrier procurement and management; recruited carriers to participate in the program; and trained workers at the customer's facilities on using Landstar's tools to set up and track shipments via the Web.

6. Unyson Logistics

Why They Won: IL readers can't say enough about the Downers Grove, Ill.-based 3PL's service and dedication. "I always feel like I am Unyson's only customer," says one.

"Unyson has been a pleasure to work with," says customer Jennifer Parks, Owens Corning. "We get fast response and quick deliveries."

Taking a unique approach to each shipper's needs plays a key role in Unyson's service strategy. "We do not provide a cookie-cutter solution," says Donald Maltby, chief supply chain officer, Unyson. "Flexibility, commitment to savings, service, and visibility are the drivers of our success. We constantly communicate with our customers about market changes through routine e-mail blasts and customer quarterly reviews. These alerts keep our customers attuned to the market, and allow us to collaborate on strategies that mitigate any changes that may impact their network."

Client Roster:

  • Big Lots
  • Home Depot
  • Southeastern Container
  • General Mills
  • Toys "R" Us
  • Hussmann
  • Western Container
  • WD-40
  • Rexam Plastics

Case Study: WD-40

In early 2007, WD-40, maker of the household problem-solver, began searching for a third-party logistics partner to which it could outsource the tactical execution of its strategic transportation program. The company's 3PL to-do list included managing day-to-day transportation planning and execution of all shipments; providing transportation savings and driving total supply chain cost reductions; and offering strategic network design services.

Soon, WD-40 was working with Unyson's transportation management system to control shipments and optimize transportation through effective carrier/mode/service selection, pool distribution, and consolidation strategies.

Within months, WD-40 realized transportation savings of more than 18 percent, with a 20-percent increase in on-time customer deliveries.

"Unyson just makes things work," says Ryan Talbot, operations analyst, WD-40. "We can rely on them to handle our freight needs efficiently and reliably."

7. UTi

Why They Won: "UTi is a critical part of our global logistics strategy, network development, and supply line management," says UTi customer Alan E. Wenzloff, senior operations manager, Veyance Technologies. "It has been a pleasure developing a relationship with a service provider we can trust to plan, execute, and perform at the service levels our business required."

Ed Feitzinger, executive vice president, global contract logistics and distribution, UTi, stands ready to help the Long Beach, Calif.-based 3PL's customers face the challenges of today's market. "In the past decade, most companies figured out landed costs and how to move production and warehouses to optimize their supply chain," he says. "Now that more companies have that expertise, they will react more quickly than they did before to changes in factors such as production and fuel costs."

Client Roster:

  • Ansell
  • Diversey
  • Elizabeth Arden
  • Panasonic
  • Veyance Technologies

Case Study: Veyance Technologies

Veyance Technologies is the exclusive manufacturer and marketer of Goodyear Engineered Products. Faced with supply chain inefficiencies, Veyance created a plan to consolidate multiple distribution centers into a central facility servicing its North American customer base through a hub-and-spoke distribution network.

The change to a new distribution network required collaborating with a single provider, UTi, to execute Veyance's initiative, which included crossdocking, warehousing, sealed-loop backhauls, specialized services, transportation management, freight forwarding, light manufacturing, and postponement.

This supply chain transformation resulted in a 47-percent reduction in international trade lanes, a $50-million or 30-percent reduction in inventory, and a $14-million reduction in logistics services cost.

8. BNSF Logistics

Why They Won: Readers who voted for Springdale, Ark.-based BNSF Logistics cited the 3PL's "philosophy of partnering," "consistent creative solutions," and "superior level of commitment to integrity at every level of the logistics chain."

Others praised the 3PL's dependability. "The staff goes beyond scheduling. They make sure the shipment is delivered on time, and are proactive in resolving any shipping issues," says one shipping and receiving manager.

For BNSF Logistics President Ray Greer, the 3PL's advantage lies in its commitment to exceeding customer expectations and maintaining a can-do attitude. "We have expanded our physical presence into seven new markets to get closer to clients and gain understanding of the challenges unique to their area of operations," he says. "We've also invested in greater shipment visibility and service reporting tools. Together with the customer, we can identify and address opportunities to continuously enhance service."

The 3PL helps its customers meet the challenge of maintaining leaner inventory levels, while ensuring they can meet their customers' service and supply requirements. "BNSF Logistics assists through design and deployment of more effective supply chain solutions, and managing a broad and diverse network of professional capacity providers who consistently deliver globally," Greer says.

"We are investing in expanding our global reach—both through organic growth and acquisition—to better serve North American clients domestically and around the globe with a suite of multi-modal solutions spanning ground, rail, ocean, and air," he adds.

These efforts add up to customer satisfaction. "BNSF Logistics' commitment to customer service and drive to provide customers with the most reasonable prices and reliable service are why I consider them number-one," says one project manager.

Client Roster:

  • Gamesa
  • Owens Corning
  • Rio Tinto
  • La-Z-Boy
  • Schlumberger
  • Amazon
  • Home Depot
  • The Clorox Company
  • Pioneer

9. Echo Global

Why They Won: Technology tools play a starring role in Echo Global's strategy for supporting shippers' supply chain success. "We help our clients simplify and streamline their transportation management process through our proprietary technology platform and significant buying power," says the Chicago-based 3PL's CEO, Doug Waggoner. "Our transportation management applications allow us to streamline that process by providing additional capacity, and giving our clients complete visibility into their transportation."

According to IL readers, these efforts are paying off. "Echo Global is an incredibly valuable partner to have in growing our business," says one.

As shippers continue to face a difficult market, Echo stands ready to help. "The economy has softened in recent months, but if there is suddenly a five-percent increase in GDP growth, it could pose a challenge for many shippers," Waggoner notes. "Tightened capacity is good for us, because one of our strengths is finding capacity in a tight market."

Client Roster:

  • Daymon Worldwide
  • EcoWater Systems
  • KX Technologies
  • Daktronics
  • Surface Shields
  • Archway
  • Culligan
  • LKQ
  • Samuel Strapping

Case Study: Culligan

With roughly 800 franchise dealers in more than 90 countries, global water products company Culligan has a complex transportation setup that required a top-of-the-line logistics service. The initial wishlist Culligan presented Echo included trimming transportation costs, streamlining logistics operations, enhancing pickup and delivery accuracy, and improving documentation.

Echo has provided all that and more, taking the time to analyze Culligan's transportation flow and develop customized solutions for the company.

"Echo has brought a level of accuracy to our logistics that we had never experienced before," says Donald Avent, director of sourcing, Culligan.

10 (TIE). Transplace

Why They Won: Transplace customers appreciate the Frisco, Texas-based 3PL's "top-notch people, communication, and honesty," and determination to "help us achieve our goals at reasonable prices."

Providing innovative supply chain solutions is where Transplace excels, according to customer Rick DeVore, director of transportation planning and logistics for industrial and specialty chemicals distributor Univar. "Choosing Transplace as our transportation technology provider supports our core value that requires continuous improvement for our customers, improving results for all our stakeholders by doing the right things better every time," he says.

The 3PL strives to find creative solutions to shippers' challenges. "Transplace is a non-asset-based, multi-modal transportation management expert," says Transplace CEO Thomas K. Sanderson. "We find the best transportation solution for each customer, without prejudice in utilizing our own equipment. Our Lean Six Sigma approach to continuous improvement and our proprietary TMS SaaS technology, set us apart from other 3PLs, but our people are our ultimate differentiator."

Client Roster:

  • Anna's Linens
  • Baker Hughes
  • Huhtamaki
  • Del Monte
  • DIRECTV
  • Elementis
  • Intertape Polymer Group
  • National DCP

Case Study: Huhtamaki

For Huhtamaki, a Finland-based global supplier of consumer and specialty packaging, getting retail and food service products to customers and from suppliers around the globe is a challenge. The Transplace International team set out to identify business requirements, challenges, and opportunities. It established procedures and processes, and utilized its expertise to streamline and consolidate multiple components and vendors into a single system.

Transplace's ability to enhance Huhtamaki's program helped the company gain visibility to its logistics operation, allowing it to optimize. By merging Huhtamaki's information and logistics components, Transplace provided the power to make informed critical decisions, and created numerous opportunities to reduce costs, create efficiencies, and leverage Huhtamaki's spending power to realize better pricing.

10 (TIE). Exel/DHL

Why They Won: Exel's record of supply chain excellence goes a long way in inspiring customer confidence. IL readers call the Westerville, Ohio-based 3PL "a collaborative partner in rooting out waste," and applaud its "strong knowledge, experience, and wealth of resources."

A track record this strong doesn't happen by accident. "The customer is at the center of everything we do at Exel," says Mike Gardner, chief development officer, Exel. "We use specific processes and tools that allow us to understand and respond to their needs effectively—while retaining an unrelenting focus on operational excellence and core continuous improvement disciplines."

Client Roster:

  • DuPont
  • ThinkGeek
  • Chrysler
  • Goodyear
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Volkswagen
  • John Deere
  • JCPenney
  • 7-Eleven
  • Williams-Sonoma

Case Study: ThinkGeek

ThinkGeek is a rapidly growing e-tailer that experiences an intense peak season. In order to position itself for growth, ThinkGeek partnered with Exel.

Exel's solution included implementing vertical mechanization so ThinkGeek could control costs and still meet peak volumes. Exel moved the operation from a distribution center in New Jersey to an existing shared-use DC in central Ohio that offered the needed scale, capability, and favorable location. The new facility's automated three-level pick towers reduce congestion by storing product up instead of out, which ensures efficiency during peak seasons.