Axle Logistics LLC takes the entrepreneurial spirit to new heights
Third-party logistics (3PL) trendsetter Axle Logistics LLC may be in a position to add a new abbreviation to the industry’s jargon: FTF. That stands for “face to face,” which is the Tennessee company’s bedrock approach to working with employees, customers, and carriers. On the cusp of its 10th anniversary, being up close and personal is just one part of the enterprising firm’s success.
The non-asset-based, privately owned operation provides advanced truckload, LTL, intermodal, port services, and warehousing logistics services throughout the continental U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and was recently selected as one of the top 60 logistics firms in the nation, in the company of CH Robinson, XPO, J.B. Hunt, and other heavy hitters.
At Axle, entrepreneurial spirit, ambition, and passion underpin a fresh approach for developing new talent that the company promotes as more of a mission than a job.
“What makes us stand out the most in the industry is simply that we do provide a unique internal experience,” said company president Shawn McLeod. “The approach to management that we have with our leaders, our employees, our customers, and carriers sets us apart from everyone else and has allowed us to grow at a rapid pace and control the business that we have.”
In January of last year, Axle was home to 100 employees; today, they are at 255 and are hustling to hire. The Knoxville News Sentinel chose Axle as one of the city’s top workplaces of 2021. The company benefits from a strong pipeline coming from area universities, and Axle is seeking out the most enterprising among them.
Axle’s tagline, Build Your Empire, is precisely what they allow their workers to do. As McLeod put it, “You come in, you land your own business, you need to develop and grow it.” Leadership gives staff the freedom to manage their own small businesses, and that organizational structure is attracting attention. “It’s the best that’s out there in our opinion,” he added.
Private ownership allows the people of Axle to be agile and creative, and to make rapid decisions that optimally benefit the company, its customers, and its partners. That flexibility and flat management structure is necessary to make their inventive business model effective.
Unlike much of their competition, Axle houses two different models under one roof. First, a traditional split where sales, account development, and operations are segmented into different divisions. The second, a unique 360 model which combines all three job functions together into one fast-paced and dynamic role. Providing both allows Axle to align the type of model that works best for the client, delivering streamlined communication and infinite scalability.
Several Axle representatives have either created or tried to launch their own businesses. “I have an employee here that excels internally on all facets of the business and also runs a small business on the side. These are the kinds of people that we want because they’re going to be creative, they’re not going to lose, and we need them to take that mentality to every customer we have,” he explained. “This helps us to stay ahead of the competition and allows us to scale at a rapid pace.”
In addition to offering unlimited access to their leadership team, Axle provides comprehensive professional development programs. The training program on the operations side takes roughly 30 days, after which graduates are put through a shorter sales training course.
“We have fine-tuned our hiring process to find the best talent, and we have the best training programs in the industry,” he said, noting that Axle’s low turnover rates are the envy of the industry. “That's a huge necessity and makes us the best at who we are. At the same time, we also compensate employees for their hard work and we know that this will attract the talent that we want to provide the service that we need.”
3PL goes FTF
As a non-asset-based 3PL, Axle is the intermediary between multiple players and manages a formidable array of complex variables for their customers. “Your success or failure can affect quite a large chunk of the supply chain within any organization, and you’ve got to be on top of it,” McLeod said. Creating a collaborative environment where employees and management work together is an important aspect of staying ahead of such challenges.
Last January, the company moved into its new $13 million dollar corporate headquarters, which has an open concept workspace evocative of tech companies. That’s a fitting comparison, considering the use of state-of-the-art technologies in every aspect of the business. While the setting has private offices, they’re rarely in use; the sales and management teams, including McLeod, share the sales floor.
“We do not put our people in cubicles; we have open floor plans, and we give them all the resources they need to be successful,” he said. “There are so many moving parts, but the process that we have in place works. If we sat in our own cubicle or office each day, we would be less effective to those around us and our partners that work with Axle. Anyone can come up and ask myself or anyone on the leadership team a question, and that’s something you can’t find anymore.”
Face-to-face meetings help Axle to keep close ties with their customers and carriers. “Each representative meets with our partners multiple times per year,” McLeod said. In his view, there’s no better way to understand how customers truly feel. “You can talk about pain points during a quarterly business review, but to really understand how hard that pain point affects their supply chain, you need to get in front of them and really dig in and ask the right questions. So that's exactly what we do.”
In McLeod’s view, asking how Axle can do better is nearly as asking customers what solutions they need. “I never want to leave a meeting without getting some sort of feedback on our teams and our performance. We can always improve. We can always get better. We’re adamant about obtaining that information.”
Carriers get the same kind of attention. “We see our top 25 to 50 carriers yearly as well, just to get an understanding of what we can do better because we want to be that partner.”
Quite a few of Axle’s workers are sports enthusiasts, and that competitive nature helps to encourage progress, build strong teams, and engenders trust. “We’re on top of every metric. As one of my VPs says, ‘Every day the scorekeepers win.’ We keep score,” he admitted. “We stay on top of the business all the way down to the most minute details.”
Differentiation is a relentless battle in the crowded and expanding universe of 3PLs. For Axle, going above and beyond to care for their customers and carriers sets them apart. “Our job is to make sure that nothing reaches the doorstep of the customer. Once we take control of that shipment and assign a carrier, we do not want problems to get to them. It’s our job to reduce the noise and that’s why it’s important to have the right hires and practice operational excellence. We work hard to find the customers that we work with and we need to be on top of each scenario as they occur. Our proactive communication is our competitive advantage and has set us apart from the competition.
“Our team has worked extremely hard over the past few years. Now when I look back at it, as much of a struggle as it can be at times, we’ve done something great here. We can tackle any problem that any customer has. If we can’t, we’re very open and honest about it but we will find a solution that will add value and assist with their needs,” McLeod said. “I’m looking forward to what the next 10 years are going to look like. We’re definitely doing things right.”
AXLE LOGISTICS is a different kind of third-party logistics company, providing customers throughout North America with a safe and reliable carrier network and the diverse expertise of a large multinational company, but with the personal service and exclusive capacity of a private fleet.
We are a one-stop shop offering competitive pricing and a confident, single point of contact for every customer.
We are constantly looking for driven business professionals to join our growing team.
835 N. Central Street
Knoxville, TN 37917