The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, December 27, 2020 1:00 am

Firm ensures retailers have wares

Circle Logistics works with stores, trucking companies

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

That bottle of bubbly you're planning to toast the new year with might not have made it to your refrigerator without Circle Logistics.

The local firm works behind the scenes to match independent trucking companies with customers who need loads delivered. The shipments can be almost anything, including stocking stuffers, medical supplies, washing machines and truck parts.

Karl Fillhouer and Joe Donnell, Circle Logistics executives, like to say everything we eat, wear and have in our homes was probably shipped on a truck at some point before we acquired it.

The process of delivering items to Walmart and Meijer stores – two Circle Logistics customers – usually happens so seamlessly that consumers don't even think about it. That indifference changed in a hurry last spring when many shoppers found stores shelves empty of toilet paper and other essentials.

Felecia Stratton, editor of industry publication Inbound Logistics, said the U.S. economy depends on companies such as Circle Logistics. 

“When a pandemic disrupts transportation, boosts e-commerce distribution and fulfillment requirements, and affects supply chain operations in myriad ways, it's (third-party logistics companies) to the rescue,” she said in a statement.

Circle Logistics rose to the challenge in April by working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate shipments of critical medical supplies, personal protective equipment, respirators, cots and groceries. 

In May, the company launched a new bulk division to ship ethanol, a necessary ingredient in hand sanitizer. The firm shipped more than 1 million bottles for customer Sandymount Technologies in three months, a feat considering regulations imposed on shipping the hazardous material, according to Inbound Logistics.

Eric Fortmeyer, the logistics company's president and CEO, commented on the pivot.

“Our entire focus this year has been to help our customers find creative and efficient ways to keep shipments moving despite the continued disruptions,” he said in a statement.

Circle Logistics was named a Top 100 Third-Party Logistics provider for 2020 by Inbound Logistics. The local employer is one of the fastest-growing transportation companies in the country, according to the New York-based publication.

The company, which employs about 260 in about a dozen branch offices, tracks 13,000 to 15,000 truckloads each month, said Fillhouer, vice president of sales and operations.

About 150 of those employees are based in the Fort Wayne headquarters at 1950 W. Cook Road. The majority have worked from home since spring, however.

Donnell, senior director of operations, said the company has adjusted its recruiting to reflect its new flexibility. The firm has expanded in recent months, hiring experienced logistics workers across the country, including in Indianapolis, Georgia and North Carolina.

“It's allowing us to grow quicker,” he said.

Freight brokering is a skill people typically learn on the job from experienced co-workers, Donnell said.

“We can't hire people fresh out of college in Atlanta and expect they are going to learn remotely,” he said.

As a result, Circle Logistics was previously limited to hiring people living in northeast Indiana – or who wanted to live here. But that didn't keep the firm from finding exceptional employees. 

Donnell said interns and employees have come from Indiana Tech, Trine University, Huntington University and the University of Saint Francis.

The company prefers students with business-related degrees and a specific type of experience.

“We like athletes in our office,” Donnell said. “They handle the stress of solving problems really well.”

Officials expect they'll need to hire 30 to 50 more workers by the end of next year, Fillhouer said. After that, things might get really crazy in the freight brokerage world.

Donnell believes the pandemic is creating tremendous pent-up demand for shopping, hotel stays and restaurant visits. In turn, each of those businesses will need shipments of merchandise and supplies.

“We are seeing more opportunity now than ever,” he said.

sslater@jg.net


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