Jason King, president and CEO of Transportation & Logistical Services Inc. (TLS) in Hoover, had served in the trucking industry as a terminal manager and logistics manager for AAA Cooper, but after he earned his MBA in 2003 decided he wanted to start his own company.
King had friends in Birmingham who worked in freight brokering, something he was aware of but had not done before. They told him he had the talent and drive it took to be successful and encouraged him to create his own brokering company.
Thanks to some start-up funding from his father, King was able to begin his own one-man freight brokering company out of his bedroom in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2004. The next year as he struggled to get his company going, he and his wife were surprised to learn that triplets were on the way. “My wife was the breadwinner at that point, and she was soon going to need to retire, so we moved to the Birmingham area where my family lived,” says King, a 1996 University of Alabama graduate.
King kept his start-up company rolling and was soon able to invest its early returns into buying a 53-foot dry van truck and hiring a driver. His company ran trucks as well as brokering from 2004 to 2011, and at one time the company owned as many as 15 trucks. “We would run as many loads as we could on our own trucks, and then broker out any extra loads we got,” he says. “But over time the costs and liabilities of maintaining trucks, etc. really began to get discouraging. We weren’t large enough to have the economies of scale of a company with say 50 trucks.”
Then one day on the way back from a solo trip, King began taking a hard look at his business. As he drove, he considered where his company had come from and where it might go. King noted that his 10 trucks and 10 drivers generated $1.5 million in revenue while the freight brokering and logistics business, with only four employees, brought in $4.5 million. “Brokering was basically generating four times the revenue of the other division and running at a fraction of the cost,” King says.
So, King decided to get TLS out of the trucking side of the business. Because of his bold decision, revenues in 2012 were “spectacular,” King says, and have “grown steadily pretty much ever since” thanks both to a booming economy and his third-party logistics company’s customer focus. “We were listed for the past two years as one of the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies and are on track to produce somewhere between $15 and $18 million in revenues this year,” King says.
TLS mostly deals with the “spot market” for small- to medium-size companies negotiating for the movement of a load vs. for large companies that tend to have contracts for moving multiple loads over a certain amount of time.
The industry is highly seasonal. When trucks are scarce from the end of February through November, typically because of the availability of more produce, prices tend to go up.
“Transportation prices, like everything else, are based on supply and demand,” King says. “Companies often shop their loads around with multiple brokers and trucking companies looking for the best price. But it can be a gamble to wait too long to lock in on an offer because the truck may be gone, especially in a strong economy.”
While even Uber is getting into freight brokering, without logistical support, customers potentially can be left in the lurch, King says. “The value we add for our customers is trouble shooting any problems that arise,” he says. “If a truck breaks down and can’t finish delivering a load in a timely manner, for example, we find another truck to finish the job.”
COVID-19 had little effect on the company during 2020, King says, except for last June when revenues “fell to nothing” but picked back up in July. “We’ve been blowing and going ever since then.”
As far as future trends for TLS, so much depends on how the economy evolves in the near and far term. “My worry now is that companies may be building up too much inventory and that there eventually will be a slowdown, but it’s hard to know,” he says. “One thing about this business, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. If you look at your home or office, almost everything in it came in a truck, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”
Among its offerings, TLS provides dry van services for non-temperature-controlled freight such as canned goods and merchandise to be shipped across the continental United States and Canada. It also provides temperature-controlled services for the transport of refrigerated foods, frozen foods, beverages and candy. In addition, the company specializes in flatbed shipping services for loads such as steel coils, lumber, machinery and pipe. TLS has relationships with flatbed “hotshot” carriers for rush and partial loads.
“We are all about building and keeping strong relationships, helping get everyone what they need,” King says.
In keeping with its strong growth mode, King’s company, located in class A office building in Hoover, is in the process of expanding its footprint within the building, as well as revamping its website. Currently TLS has 15 employees and is looking to add more now and in the future. “We’re hoping to double our workforce within the next two to four years,” King says. “Our business is 100% customer service, so we are concentrating on finding the right people to add to our team.”
This story appears in the June 2021 issue of Business Alabama magazine.