Staying loaded is good business
North Carolina imported $42.5 billion of goods last year. That’s a lot of shipping containers. They’re trucked inland and unloaded at retailers and distributors, but then containers have to be returned to the ports. If they’re empty, importers have to pay — runs from Wilmington to Charlotte cost about $700, not including fuel — for transporting air. This is the problem. Wilmington-based LoadMatch Logistics Inc. wants to be the solution. “Imports drive the whole show,” says President Gary Winstead, who, with Vice President Scott Anderson, founded LoadMatch in 2006. “The steamship line delivered the container to the importer’s door with the expectation that it was going to be returned to the port empty. … We’ve changed that dynamic.”
Importers go inland. Exporters go the other way. They both need containers. And truckers are looking for short hauls in between long runs. LoadMatch serves as a matchmaker, connecting importers’ empty inland containers to exporters who need them, while also arranging trucking transportation. The 14-employee company had about 1,100 transactions in September. Its success is reflected in its revenue, which has almost doubled annually and is expected to hit $13 million this year.
“I’d worked for the N.C. State Ports Authority in business development, and I’d had customers ask me to help them find import containers that were going back to the port empty so they could reduce their transportation costs,” Winstead says. “The more I looked, the more I realized nobody was doing that.”
In essence, LoadMatch is selling a markup. It contracts with trucking companies and owner-operators who will work at a discounted price — say, hypothetically, $300 for the Wilmington-Charlotte run — and offers those services to importers and exporters for $500. So a container shipment that typically costs $1,400 round trip goes for $1,000. Shippers save money, haulers get work, and LoadMatch pockets the markup. Its first client was a Catawba County fabric maker. “I knew the guy there from when I worked at the ports. He said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.’