The Furniture Transport Group (FTG) has been growing, through good economic times and bad, ever since company president David E. Brenner founded it as Caldwell Freight Lines in 1986. Today, the specialized furniture transportation company is a single entity that includes Caldwell Freight Lines, Foothills Trucking Co., and MGM Transportation Corp., all consolidated under CF Holding Co.
This spring, Lance Transportation, which serves the Gulf States, was also acquired and merged into Caldwell Freight Lines to create a business that now operates throughout the U.S. and Canada. with multiple warehousing facilities, some 300 tractors from various truck OEMs, and about 1,200 trailers. “The acquisition of Lance gave us a big opportunity with Mississippi-based furniture manufacturers that we did not have before,” says Brenner. “We feel we now have the broadest coverage of anybody in this business. People want to know you have coverage; that is very important. We can direct deliver to about 95% of the population today.”
According to Brenner, FTG should do about $100 million in business this year and grow market share in the bargain. “As our name suggests, we specialize in LTL service to furniture retailers,” he says. “The furniture business has been one of the hardest hit during this recession. Our shippers are off about 35%, and we are seeing smaller shipments and more low-end merchandise. We are also carrying more sold merchandise than merchandise to be placed into stock. Still, we believe we are gaining market share, and now we are also starting to see signs of recovery.”
Acquisitions alone do not account for FTG's growth and success, Brenner notes. The kinds of services the company provides are also critical to its success. FTG designed its own freight management system in-house, for example, and maintains a staff of about five people in the IT group today.
“Transit time is always important in the LTL business,” he says, “but we also offer warehousing and deconsolidation plus light assembly as well as home delivery. We do load tracking, bar coding and document imaging. That means our retailers can track their freight 24/7. They can go online any time to check the status of an order. If a salesperson has a customer in the store who is interested in purchasing something that has been ordered for stock but not yet arrived, for instance, they can check to see when it will be there. This capability can be important when you are trying to make a sale.
“A significant amount of our business comes from Asia in containers,” Brenner adds. “We have containers drayed in from various southeastern ports and from ports in California, New York and the northwest. We can break out that freight, label it and then let shippers, consignees and customers pull their own proof of delivery documents.”
Like other trucking operations, FTG is seeing an uptick in people applying for driving positions. “There are people in the lobby every morning asking to fill out job applications,” he says.
Not surprisingly, however, the company enjoys low driver turnover. “Our trucks go out with an average of 12 to 14 stops per dispatch,” says Brenner, who began in the trucking business himself, loading trucks as a college student in New Jersey. “Drivers go out, get a backhaul and come home. They are not dispatched again while they are on the road.
“If a driver wants to be home on the weekends and once during the week, for instance, we can accommodate that,” he explains. “We just give him a short run. Being able to have a predictable schedule that works for you and your family is a huge plus.”