Freight Expectations

The partners at New England Deliveries are on call when air freight shipments must be met

by Rosalyn Graham

Brian Jenkins (left) and Michael Pendergast launched New England Deliveries as a courier service with two Astro vans and an office in Jenkins' condo. Now the focus of their company, with a fleet of nine trucks, offices and a warehouse on Commerce Street in Williston, is on air freight around the globe.

These winter mornings, the sun isn't even a warm glow in the east when Brian Jenkins and Michael Pendergast arrive at their Commerce Street office and warehouse in Williston. If the complicated shuffle of trucks coming and going with shipments from the size of a book to the size of a car is going to go smoothly, they have to start early and often stay late.

Jenkins and Pendergast, both 31, are the owners of New England Deliveries, an air freight cartage company that connects Vermont businesses with suppliers and customers around the world.

In the two years since founding the business, they have made New England Deliveries a vital link in a chain of transportation that might begin on the other side of the world when a vital part is picked up from its manufacturer, destined for a waiting firm in Vermont. The movement of that essential widget on its voyage around the world is coordinated by air freight forwarders such as Pilot Air Freight, Team Air Express or Seko Worldwide, which call New England Deliveries when they have shipments headed for Vermont.

"We deal with all the forwarders," says Jenkins, the company president. "There are tons of them out there. We're also an agent for a lot of them, and in that case, someone would ship something through a forwarder and they would always use us for the trucking."

An example Jenkins gives is a Vermont company buying a product from France. "We have a contract with Air France, so the shipment comes from France comes into the country. It's in bond; we clear it through customs and bring it to its ultimate consignment."

The reverse path is also typical, he says. "Husky [which manufactures plastic injection machines] needs to have a 7,000-pound machine from Milton, Vermont, in Puerto Rico by tomorrow. We would pick it up, take it to Logan, put it on an aircraft, and it would be delivered to its ultimate destination."

Says Dave Bolio, traffic coordinator at Husky, "Brian has always come through when I needed them." Bolio might call New England Deliveries for a truck to take a plastic injection machine from the Milton plant to a mold maker in this country or overseas, or to the mother plant at Husky headquarters in Bolton, Ontario. The crates might weigh 1,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds.

According to Jenkins, 90 percent of the work is air freight, and the typical shipment has a high dollar-value or an urgent need to be moved from Point A to Point B in a short amount of time. He describes the process as "complex but at the same time kind of simplistic," adding that it boils down to good logistics and operations skills to make sure every truck goes out full and comes back full.

The Monday-through-Friday operation that keeps the nine vehicles and their drivers moving in and out of the Williston terminal resembles a giant minuet (or perhaps a square dance).

Early in the morning, shipments are sorted and put on trucks for delivery on local routes that cover most of Vermont and New York state. The pickup and delivery drivers fan out, dropping off those shipments to their destinations, picking up shipments along their routes that are heading to far-away places.

By late afternoon, the trucks and drivers have returned to Commerce Avenue, where the shipments are sorted and loaded onto the line-haul trucks that will make evening trips to airport destinations. There, they will unload their outward-bound shipments and pick up freight heading for Vermont and New York. When they arrive back at Williston early in the morning, the cycle begins again.

Although Logan Airport in Boston the northeast hub for air freight is the company's most frequent destination, New England Deliveries also connects to Albany and Burlington airports. Most of the shipments are destined for airlines, but the company does handle cargo traveling by ship or train.

Pendergast says his "gig" is seeing to the warehousing phase of the operation. His sister, Marylou Pendergast, handles the company's sales and marketing.

"Busy" includes a marriage for Jenkins, who met Pendergast's friend Marlow Sheltra and married her in December 2002.

Jenkins and Pendergast were not thinking of planes and boats and trains when they had their first talks about going into business together. They were thinking "local." The background they shared in driving and deliveries for local businesses seemed like the perfect foundation for a courier service, and in October 2001, they launched New England Deliveries with two Astro vans and an office in Jenkins' condo.

In eight months they executed a lot of local deliveries, carried a lot of mail and rushed electrical parts and automobile parts all over Vermont. They also realized that the courier business would succeed only if it were moving an amazing volume of small deliveries a typical day's work encompassing maybe 80 stops on a route.

When the Air Cargo company of Annapolis contacted them and offered them a contract to deliver air freight "all over everywhere," says Jenkins, the partners shifted gears. "We knew right away that was how we were going to make our money, and we focused our niche on that," he says. "Our business plan was built around the courier business, but we immediately changed directions and went the other route."

Signing that contract with Air Cargo was a big step. "They are partners with all the airlines and all the forwarders," Jenkins says. "They publish us in their directory, so if you need deliveries and you look under Vermont, we're the only company."

Patrick Toma, part-owner of Seko Worldwide, a freight forwarder with 37 offices in the United States and agents around the world, says he also calls on New England Deliveries as his exclusive Vermont carrier.

From his office in Latham, N.Y., Toma calls the Williston office to tell them he has a shipment arriving at Albany airport for delivery to Vermont. "They cover the Vermont area very well for delivery, and they do pickup, too," Toma says. "From residential deliveries to major businesses, including a lot for General Electric, they do a good job. They are very personable and have a good service."

While the majority of their customer base, like Air Cargo, is out of state, New England Deliveries plays an important role for local businesses as well. Lisa Fay, office administrator at Fleetpride in Williston, says New England Deliveries is a cost-efficient way to fill the gap when Fleetpride's two full-time delivery people are stretched too thin. The heavy-duty parts distributor might send anything from a half-pound package to a 10,000-pound shipment to destinations ranging from the Canadian border to Rutland, throughout central Vermont, and occasionally to Plattsburgh, N.Y. "The last shipment they took for us was close to a ton of parts," Fay says.

As a major supplier of parts and expert service for the trucking and heavy equipment after-market, Fleetpride's shipments are typically axles, brake shoes and brake drums for tractor-trailers, dump trucks and school buses. "We like to do business with New England Deliveries because they are good people and they never let me down," Fay says.

More fragile, though sometimes just as heavy, are the shipments New England Deliveries handles for Pottery Barn, the home furnishings store that opened in the Burlington Town Center a year ago and considers New England Deliveries its delivery arm.

Scott Gray, stock room coordinator for the store, uses the company to deliver furniture that customers can't carry away. "For larger pieces like tables, chairs, rugs, they pick up the item here at our store and deliver it to the customer, maybe as far away as Quechee or Ludlow," Scott says.

With nine vehicles covering 2,000 miles a day on their interstate routes, New England Deliveries has grown from the two-man operation it was when Jenkins and Pendergast had their original idea.

It now boasts a staff of 10 full-time employees and quite a few subcontractors. The compact office on Commerce Street provides space for Jenkins and operations manager Scott Brown to focus on the logistics of the operation.

The owners credit Brown with being "the brains of the operation," who handles dispatching, keeps track of the trucks, and knows who needs deliveries and pickups, and whether a truck is the right size for the job.

They also rely on a sophisticated dispatch program designed for their type of business that resolves the complexities of customers, destinations, scheduling, pricing and invoicing. Pendergast's sister, Marylou Pendergast, handles sales and marketing for the company.

While Jenkins is usually in the office working on the computer, talking to customers on the telephone and researching new connections and directions, Pendergast handles the drivers, the maintenance of the fleet and the warehousing operation. "We do a lot of warehousing and pick, pack and ship for our customers," says Pendergast. He describes the company's 2,500 square feet of warehousing space adjacent to the office as filled with inventory "from small, little tiny electronic parts up to crates as big as this room. That's my gig," he says of the warehousing phase of the operation.

Both partners are native Vermonters. Pendergast grew up in Bolton and moved to Williston with his parents a week after he graduated from Mount Mansfield Union High School. He went to work as a delivery driver for Burlington Foreign Car Parts and later was a delivery driver for a wholesale heating products company, where he first worked in a warehouse.

Jenkins (right) credits Scott Brown, operations manager, with being the "brains of the operation." Brown keeps track of the company's fleet of trucks, making sure they're the right size for the job and get to the right place at the right time.

He polished those warehousing skills at Harvey Industries in Williston for five years before having the direction-changing conversation with Jenkins in which they discovered they were both "sick of working for someone else."

Jenkins says he's been in the trucking industry his whole life. He grew up in Burlington, and moved to Williston when he was 16. After graduating from Champlain Valley Union High School, he worked for a while as an auto mechanic before landing a job with R. R. Charlebois Freightliner as a partsman and, eventually, parts manager. While working there, Jenkins met Pendergast through Marlow Sheltra, whom he was dating. Four years later, Jenkins took a job as parts manager at J&B International, where he worked for a year. After he had tested the waters of entrepreneurism as a FedEx ground delivery contractor, he and Pendergast teamed up.

Jenkins and Sheltra were married in December 2002.

The business has grown fivefold in staff and more than that in fleet size, and the white trucks with the crisp red logos are becoming more visible on local highways and beyond. Growth has caused a space crunch, and the partners are seeking larger quarters.

"We both have a lot of drive and we want to be successful," Pendergast says. "That's the biggest thing for me. We wanted to see if we could do it on our own."

Jenkins admits that having a lot of energy has been important, but he also attributes some of the company's growth to their willingness to be flexible. "Where the business is today wasn't something we planned for or anticipated," he says. "We've had to change and fine-tune along the way to get where we are."

He adds that while they have had good advice from supportive people along the way, there is one piece of advice he is glad he ignored. "I had been told by people throughout my life to never start a business from scratch, to always buy an existing business," he says. "Starting a business from scratch is a very hard thing to do, and we've worked many hours, many nights, many weekends. It's nothing for the pager to go off at 11 o'clock at night with a call saying something has to be taken from here to somewhere."

Still, both say their proudest accomplishment is to have survived when they know that lots of new businesses don't make it past a year. Maybe Jenkins was more visionary than he realized when he registered the name for his original trucking business with the ambitious scope of "New England" instead of Williston or Chittenden County.

Originally published in November 2003 Business People-Vermont