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A stealthy 3PL power player, Symbia Logistics gets down and dirty with a fresh approach to supply chain partnership
Can a logistics company be future-forward by getting back to basics? If you’re award-winning Symbia Logistics, the answer is yes. The Colorado enterprise connects a century’s worth of expertise with modern methods to move domestic and international commerce at the speed of change.
A client portfolio that includes legacy giants Lockheed Martin, Exxon Mobil, and Kimberly-Clark as well as trendsetters Canopy Growth, Tone It Up, and CHEP, is testimony to their primacy in the 3PL sector. Founded in 1989, Symbia serves a multitude of markets in both consumer and industrial goods with a refreshingly intentional approach to proactivity and customer experience.
In an industry with formidable barriers to entry and a reputation for prizing healthy margins over customer experience, Symbia is leveraging technology and old-school relationship building to become one of its most transformational leaders. Thirteen years ago, the company spied the e-commerce space as a blockbuster opportunity and collected a team of the best and brightest logisticians to write new rules for moving goods that fit the needs of up-and-coming e-tailers. Today, rapidly growing brands are choosing Symbia as their single source for warehousing and distribution.
“We have a plethora of internal knowledge, and one of the things we're great at is taking that back to basics, breaking down people's problems, and helping them find the most effective solutions,” explained CEO Megan Smith.
A combination of traits comes into play in their approach, starting with being family owned and privately held.
“That gives us a lot of flexibility and allows us to be agile for our customers, whether providing the integration process for whatever software and technology they use, or the material handling equipment needed to successfully meet their goals,” Smith said.
Transparency and trustworthiness also set them apart, as does a flat management structure. “When we say we're going to do something, we do it. That goes a long way in this industry today. With us, you don't have to fight through the bureaucratic struggle that you might have with larger companies,” she added. Smith credits her firm's ability to thrive in an onslaught of change to scrappiness. “Unlike a lot of heavily bureaucratic companies we’re able to move really quickly when we see a problem coming up and communicate with our clients before it hits them.”
It’s no surprise that Inbound Logistics named Symbia a top 100 3PL enterprise along with Maesrk, DHL, Matson, and other stellar performers.
True grit. Strong bonds. Great genes.
To compete with digital-first competitors such as 4PLs that essentially offer strategies and guidance and steer their customers to 3PLs to do the heavy lifting, Symbia invested in what Smith calls “mega warehouse technology” and software to not only beat the new entrants but to outpace them in service and innovation. Securing fiber technology for clearer and stronger internet connections, deploying cutting-edge warehouse management systems, and integrating tablets, wearables, and other technologies are part of the groundwork they’ve laid to fulfill that ambition.
Accessibility is another rival slayer. Because 4PLs are brokers that don’t have actual warehouses, getting fast and reliable information about delayed or missed shipments, fulfillment errors, and other logistical miseries plaguing new e-commerce players can become an unwelcome challenge. “For many, it's so much better to work directly with the provider than it is to go through a 4PL,” Smith noted. “When there’s a mistake and you need to drill down into the data to find answers, if you're working in one of those 4PL/3PL relationships it’s very hard to get around the 4PL because they’re your point of contact.”
Smith’s father, Jim, co-founded Amware Logistics in 1988. At the time, the warehousing industry was at an inflection point, adding automation, new technologies, and embracing lean methodologies and JIT approaches. Succeeding through that era of transformation serves as an inspirational platform for the new generation of logistics leaders that includes his daughter.
The elder Smith’s partnership building strategies are an example of the basics that have been integrated into Symbia. Their flat management dynamic and a holistic approach to solving supply chain problems before they happen come from the younger Smith. “Being on the younger side of the industry, I definitely saw things happening that maybe my dad and some of our other partners didn’t see,” she said of the company’s push to modernize. “That willingness to embrace emerging technologies directly reflects our team's versatility and deference.”
Symbia collaborates with clients in the discovery phase of projects to evaluate needs and create programs that work for their precise needs. “That’s where we shine,” Smith stressed. From getting overseas containers to any one of their 20 warehouses across the country, to offloading, storage, packaging, and kitting, they do whatever their customers require. A vast network of suppliers and serious buying power allows Symbia to keep costs down while driving efficiency through the roof. Symbia’s transportation division, an area they hadn’t entered previously, grew out of a customer collaboration.
“We’ve created an IT consulting firm to better serve our customers. Two years ago you might’ve hired a systems integration consultant to connect your CRM with our warehouse management system,” she said. “It used to be much more complicated. We’ve simplified things and are able to provide collaborative IT solutions that will cut costs and streamline the setup process for our customers.”
The name Symbia is all about forming symbiotic relationships, and the mutual benefits that are realized when everyone puts their heads together. As Smith put it, “Caring for our team members and their families is vitally important. After all, our people are the ones who make this organization great.”
When it comes to collaboration, the biggest and most important tipping point of any project is the handoff from sales to operations. Understanding that the IT segment of transactions is equally important to operations is key. “It's not just the setup, it's the follow-through,” she said.
For the first 90 days of a project, Symbia is shoulder-to-shoulder with customers, from on-boarding to setting up SOPs and more, to add value as a project management partner. “Collaborating during that time not only gives us the most opportunity, it creates the best partnership with our clients.”
An element of back-to-basics toughness is evidenced by one of Symbia’s slogans: True Grit. Strong Bonds. “That's who we are, a group of gritty hard-working people who are extraordinarily connected thanks to technology and the amazing resources that we set up for our team,” Smith said. “We’re kind of an anomaly of Symbia team members all over the country who work together on a daily basis and achieve great things. I really look forward to the future as we continue to hit it hard and grow, and it's just exciting.”
This proud group of logisticians love what they do, and it shows. You can’t get more basic than that.
As a privately held family business, the Symbia Logistics team has provided facility-based fulfillment and kitting services to a variety of industries including dry grocery, health and beauty, apparel, jewelry, electronics, and consumer packaged goods. The team also specializes in traditional 3PL warehousing services for B2B businesses such as aerospace, chemical, and industrial goods.
The Symbia executive team has been developing customized solutions and processes for logistics clients since 1989. They consistently exceed customer expectations and establish long-term partnerships. Symbia is also the largest WBE certified international contractor for CHEP Americas, a division of Brambles.
Symbia warehouses include nine traditional 3PL facilities and fulfillment centers strategically located across the United States. With a total workforce of more than 950 employees, the Executive Team is also responsible for managing a transportation division, plus 11 dedicated service centers for CHEP Americas. The Symbia team has provided support to many Fortune 500 companies with dedicated- and shared-resource distribution facility management.
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