Bobby Harris is all for efficiency.
That's why he started Blue Grace Logistics, a transportation management company that uses specialized information technology to match businesses with appropriate freight and shipping providers.
The company had sales of $1,000 in 2007, its first year. Last year's sales totaled about $80 million. The corporate office was moved from Apollo Beach to Riverview to accommodate the 120 employees, and Harris expects to sell 15 franchises across the country this year.
Harris sat down with the Tampa Bay Times to discuss work, play and Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters, which for him are all the same thing.
What service do you provide for your customers?
We help businesses ship their commodities. We're a third-party logistics company. In laymen's terms, we reduce shipping expenses for businesses. The software is kind of like an Orbitz for shipping. With us you just go onto our website, which we customize for you, you type in the origin and destination and you hit "quote.'' You'll get 12 quotes from 12 different carriers and how long it's going to take them. If you would call one of those carriers up directly, your rate would probably be two or three times as much.
You were previously a franchisee with United Shipping Solutions. You created Blue Grace Logistics because you wanted to be able to ship larger orders for businesses. How did you get started?
United Shipping was a company I was involved with in the past. It is a DHL resell model, so it was more of a small-pack, door-to-door type office environment. I purchased the larger logistics capacity from the providers (we partner with).
The concept was to serve the small and medium-sized businesses they typically couldn't reach. It's very expensive to have the type of technology that we have, and large companies have that and they prosper from it. But we found a way that we could deploy that and offer not just the technology, but the provider relationships at a higher discounted price for (smaller businesses). What we found is that as we built that infrastructure and kept developing the technology and bringing in more intellectual capital, we could also service the larger companies as well
How does Blue Grace set itself apart from its competitors?
We spend more on technology, for our size, than anybody else in our market. We put an extreme emphasis on making sure the strategies aren't just good for us but for our clients to prosper. We put things out that are new, and we come up with concepts and strategies that help them down the path. That's what makes us so easily accepted into the marketplace.
Blue Grace Logistics has experienced quite a bit of growth since you started it. How did you adapt your strategy in the face of the tough economy?
We actually didn't adapt our business strategy. We knew that what we had was something people needed, and we weren't going to get wrapped up in the negativity that's surrounding the economy. We have a statement here that we'll create our own economy. We're still a very, very small percentage of the transportation sector. So there's still more than enough out there for everybody to get. You just have to take it from your competitors by offering a better value to your clients.
What does 2012 look like in terms of business and growth?
We're looking at about 70 percent growth again this year. Right now we're above that projection because we started off the year very strong. We think the economy is getting better. There's a lot of goods moving through the U.S. right now, exports and imports are increasing. We think it's a good sign for everybody, but especially for us. We're going to seize that as another opportunity.
You have some openings for sales representatives. What does the year look like in terms of making new hires?
Every day someone gets hired here. Our projections are to add about 80 people for this year, and right now we're keeping in pace of that. We had a pretty audacious statement in the last two years for how many people we were going to hire, and we exceeded the goal in both. We were going to hire 50 people last year and we hired about 75. We just hired two more recruiters to help us get more people in here.
You pride yourself on maintaining good relationships with your employees and creating a fun office atmosphere. Why?
People measure success in different ways. I always measure success in how much you like what you do. It's not about the revenue numbers and projected profits. I want to come to a place where I like everybody and everybody likes each other. Why live any other way? You spend half of your life at work, so let's make it a fun place.
And how do you do that?
Everybody knows about Free Beer Friday — after 4 p.m. — and that's a hit. We play "responsible beer pong." We have an open social media policy, so we encourage our employees to get on Facebook and Twitter. We have peer-to-peer bonuses. Anyone in here can grant somebody else a $50 bonus if they think they're doing good.
Blue Grace has sponsored numerous UFC and MMA fighters in the past couple of years. What made you want to get into that?
We sponsor fighters all the time. We looked at the market demographic of the people we're trying to reach. We're looking at our customers and what they like, but also the employees that are yet to be here and what they like, as well as the employees that work here and what they like. Added to that, after we did a marketing study to decide where we going to put our money, we found that UFC is extremely savvy and progressive in social media, more than any other sport. And we wanted to tie into the world of having a partner that believes in the same things we do. We're huge on social media.
How does Blue Grace utilize social media?
Social media for us is about getting everybody involved. It's integrative. It's not a silo approach. We make it a part of every piece of our marketing. We want to market where our customers are at — marketing 101 — and our customers are in social media.
Speaking of marketing, how did you come up with the name Blue Grace for your logistics company?
My daughters' middle names. It wasn't a go-to market name. We pride ourselves on being pretty smart in marketing and we typically would have a name that would describe what we do. Blue Grace does not do that. I needed a holding company to hold my intellectual property so I called it Blue Grace, my kids' middle names. We came out of the gate so fast that I just used that. It was incorporated and it just stuck real fast. It was recognizable. And once my daughters found out their names were attached to it, I couldn't change it.