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When it comes to shipping items across the country, there's a huge difference between sending an antique vase and the similarly aged cabinet that would display it.
Plenty of parcel carriers are available for the smaller item, but what about the big one? What's it going to cost with a bigger shipper, and what if you only need that service a few times or once?
FreightCenter.com claims the solution. Born in the era of eBay, the Trinity-based company promises individual and small business customers the same type access to major freight haulers as bigger companies, including similar discounts on bulk shipments or heavier items.
“Our system sells itself,” says Matthew Brosius, president and co-founder of FreightCenter. “We're really much more of a software company that makes our money based on transportation.”
It's doing well lately, posting an 11.2% increase in revenue last year, from $11.1 million in 2008 to $12.3 million in 2009, after expanding its emphasis beyond household goods following the housing bust. Besides making money from handling fees for connecting customers with carriers, FreightCenter also develops proprietary software and programs aimed at making online shopping easier.
The only apparent obstacle to FreightCenter's growth is getting people to actually use the Internet for finding shippers at the lowest available price. It still fields incoming calls from a toll-free line, but the company's Web site is set up so that customers can examine choices for themselves.
“When times are hard, people look to the Internet for the best pricing,” Brosius says. A visitor to the site can easily find a favorable rate for getting items — from home furnishings and heirlooms to engines and tires — anywhere in the shortest time possible, including the freight classification.
Instead of long-term contracts requiring credit reports and other due diligence, FreightCenter operates a lot like one of those discount hotel search sites. Advance arrangements for discounts are made with more than 100 carriers, depending on where their trucks are going and if there's room to carry an item, and those savings are passed along to clients who don't need frequent access to big rigs.
“We do everything with a credit card,” Brosius says. “For the occasional, one-time shipper, we're always going to save you money.” (He adds that the company will soon roll out its own best-price guarantee to clients without their own shipping contracts.)
Brosius and his father, James, started FreightCenter in September 1998 as American Freight Cos., which brokered shipping services for smaller, occasional users. As they combined their knowledge of moving heavier freight with the Internet's growing power, they developed better ways to keep customers — particularly those buying and selling items on eBay — from having to make their own shipping arrangements.
“We're kind of the old dogs at this,” remarks James Brosius, FreightCenter's vice president of operations. Before the company got started, he says, freight brokers in limited regions were the ones handling these types of transactions.
Through the years, FreightCenter itself has become more sophisticated. Its customer service representatives at its Welbilt Boulevard headquarters now ask a lot more questions when taking calls with the understanding that any one successful transaction can generate three sales leads.
The company's nearly 100 employees are becoming more tech savvy, particularly in the areas of online training and electronic documentation. “We exchange a lot of paper, but we rarely print it,” James Brosius says. “We're digital everything here.”
FreightCenter believes it can continue to grow despite consolidation in the freight industry, including the consolidation two years ago of the Yellow and Rodeway lines into YRC Worldwide Inc. YRC is now the nation's largest less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier, with sales exceeding $5 billion last year, yet is facing growing competition from parcel carriers such as UPS and FedEx.
However, Matthew Brosius points out that any carrier of any size is not likely to turn away business, even if it's a one-time shipment. Besides, potential customers are still going to need help getting connected.
“Most people don't know which carrier to use,” he says. “Because they don't know, that's good for us.”