Featured in Fleet Equipment Magazine | Author: Seth Skydel
When ContainerPort Group Inc. (CPG) and ASF Transportation Group LLC (ASF) merged earlier this year, the combination of the two enterprises formed an intermodal drayage operation with a footprint that covers most key markets east of the Rockies. The merger essentially doubled the company’s trucking capacity and solidified its presence in regions where it has very strong demand from customers.
Headquartered in Cleveland and now operating under the CPG brand, the company operates a multitude of facilities and terminals throughout the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Northeast, Southeast and Gulf regions. CPG provides intermodal drayage, truckload, brokerage, full-service depot operations, warehousing and logistics services for ocean carriers, railroads, shippers and receivers, and freight intermediaries.
CPG uses more than 1,300 dedicated independent contractors to haul containers and chassis. It also fields a fleet of approximately 600 chassis, and has a large inventory of a variety of containers to meet shippers’ purchase or rental needs.
In addition to its trucking terminals, CPG has a network of secure container yards, which provide container and trailer storage, container modifications and maintenance and repair services.
“We partner with some of the most respected providers in our industry to provide full container and chassis service at eight of our container yard facilities,” says Jordan Hunt, vice president of container yard services. “We have multiple shop bays at most locations, as well as mobile repair units and inspection stations.
“With the exception of one location, all of our maintenance and repair work is outsourced,” Hunt continues. “We have an internal maintenance and repair department with several maintenance and repair assistants who serve as a liaison with our vendors, and handle all estimating and invoicing.”
Currently, CPG and the industry as a whole are struggling to attract and retain mechanics due to low labor rates and competition from other industries. There is also a shortage of repair technicians, especially those who are trained to work on chassis and containers.
“Unfortunately, vendors in this market pay a low wage for repairs done inside container yards,” Hunt says. “By comparison, diesel mechanics generally earn a much higher rate, so it is very difficult to attract and retain technicians in our type of operation.
“Chassis and container mechanics are also often working out in the heat or cold and are subjected to all types of weather conditions, so the work itself can be pretty strenuous,” Hunts adds. “This issue is especially prevalent in our larger markets, such as Columbus, Detroit, and Chicago, where mechanics have more choices for working elsewhere.”
The industry-wide shortage of container and chassis technicians is putting an even heavier burden on existing staff at CPG, Hunt relates. “The mechanics we do have are expected to produce more and work longer hours to compensate for the shortage,” he says.
“That has an even more damaging impact as it’s driving more mechanics away from this line of work,” he continues. “From a supplier standpoint, it puts a lot of strain on our customer relationships. From a driver standpoint, it creates delays and raises the possibility of having equipment issues on the road.
“This problem has become so bad that more intermodal companies are getting out of the maintenance and repair business altogether, as we did years ago,” Hunt adds. “Now it’s also becoming increasingly challenging to find reliable partners.”
Number One Priority: Drivers
CPG is also always looking for independent contractors and sees its merger with ASF as an opportunity to offer drivers a wider range of more desirable freight to haul.
“We depend on our dedicated owner-operators to deliver our customers’ goods safely and securely each day,” says Amanda Hall, vice president of driver recruitment. “Drivers are the lifeblood of our company, making recruitment and retention one of our top priorities.
“For recruiting, we use multiple advertising sources to gain new applicants, but also rely heavily on driver referrals,” Hall continues. “Current drivers can earn up to $1,500 when they refer another driver to CPG. We’re also reviewing and revising onboarding practices to streamline the process of hiring independent contractors so they can get rolling as quickly and safely as possible.”
CPG is also focused on retaining drivers. “Driver profitability is very important to us, so we recently increased our pay rates,” Hall says. “We also have a 24/7 dispatch and breakdown line, no forced dispatch and no-touch freight policies, and in some markets, we have the ability to bring drivers home every night.”
Dedicated owner-operators at CPG can also take advantage of fuel discounts through the company’s partnerships with vendors and through the Comdata FleetAdvance mobile app.
Other driver-focused initiatives at CPG, according to Hall, include digital signs at facilities with information on safety, industry news, and more. Each September, CPG celebrates National Truck Driver Appreciation Week with a variety of activities and events at its terminals.
“We view encouraging employees at each of our terminal facilities to build relationships with drivers as crucial to our success,” Hall says. “We recently began holding weekly terminal conference calls so we can proactively identify problems, ensuring that any issues drivers bring to our attention are addressed and remedied quickly and effectively.
“Our goal is to make sure our drivers feel respected, heard and welcomed,” Hall adds. “As a family-owned company, we want our drivers to feel like they are a part of our family, too. Without them, we would not be able to do what we do.”
CPG Chassis & Containers
ContainerPort Group’s fleet is comprised of about 600 chassis supplied by 10 to 12 different manufacturers.
Included in the operation are 40-ft. gooseneck and tri-axle models, and a number of sliders and specialty chassis known as “any-sizers.” Over the past few years, the company has made a concerted effort to equip its chassis with radial tires, LED lights and GPS systems.
While ocean carriers own the majority of the containers hauled by CPG, the company also maintains a large inventory with leasing companies and has a significant number of its own containers for sale or lease. The company also offers container repair and modification services.
In the CPG container sales inventory are a variety of 20-, 40- and 45-ft. models as well as single trip and modified units. Used containers in inventory available for purchase and rental include 20- and 40-ft. standard and double door, and 40- and 45-ft. high cube models.
The Importance of Safety
Without question, CPG is also intent on making sure its dedicated owner-operators operate as safely as possible at all times. “Safety is of the utmost importance at CPG,” says Fred Marsicano, vice president of safety and compliance. “To encourage compliance, for example, we offer our drivers incentives, including bonuses for roadside inspections without violations. We require that all independent contractor equipment is inspected quarterly, surpassing FHWA requirements for annual inspections. Drivers are also issued maintenance kits so they can easily address safety defects on components like lights to ensure they are compliant on the highway.
“Our operation is also fully compliant with the ELD mandate,” Marsicano adds. “All of our dedicated owner-operators are using Omnitracs XRS for ELDs. We’re very proud that we have been ahead of the curve and were prepared for the impact of integrating ELD technology into our operation.”
For more than 45 years, CPG has served the shipping and logistics industry. Through highly effective and valuable relationships with customers, employees, and suppliers, it has prospered and grown steadily.
Today, with its dedication to remaining on the forefront of implementing innovative and beneficial solutions to meet customer needs and industry challenges, CPG has strengthened the foundation that continues to help it grow and succeed.