TRINITY — Shipping small packages was a breeze. But sending the big stuff — Dad's old chair, Grandma's dresser — stumped customers at shipping stores run by Matt and Jim Brosious.
These items might be too heavy for the postal service or UPS, too insignificant for a trucking company.
"Sadly, the people might just say, 'Well, we can't send it,' " said Matt Brosious.
That's when the father-son team first saw an opportunity.
Nearly a decade later, the two men run FreightCenter, an Internet-based brokerage firm that helps consumers and small businesses find a trucking company that won't break their budget.
The company, which recently moved its offices from downtown Clearwater to Welbilt Blvd. in Trinity, has orchestrated the shipment of everything from fertilizer to a totem pole, from ice for hurricane disaster relief to robots for a television program.
"Nothing is too small for us," said Desiree Brosious, executive office assistant and wife of Matt.
Annual revenues are around $14-million, company officials say.
FreightCenter's Web site does for shippers what Expedia does for travelers: Gives instant rate comparisons for shipping a specific item from one ZIP code to another. In other cases, FreightCenter acts like an auctioneer, putting a customer's shipment needs up for bid among carriers looking to fill up their trucks.
The company can offer lower shipping rates because it has contracts with dozens of trucking companies who offer lower prices in exchange for high volume of business.
FreightCenter has contracts with carriers ranging from Roadway, Bekin and FedEx Freight to small owner-operator trucking businesses.
Even with FreightCenter's markup — around 25 percent — the rates with certain companies are in many cases still lower than a customer could get if he called up the company directly and asked for a quote.
"The carriers give us a huge discount," said Matt, "and we push their name."
FreightCenter is one of thousands of companies that are part of the so-called $163-billion "logistics" industry, which specializes in finding efficiencies in the complicated world of distribution.
In the trucking industry, these companies developed after the government deregulation in the early 1980s. Such companies often use sophisticated software and high-level mathematics to help shippers find the least expensive and quickest ways to send their goods and to help carriers find a way to keep their trucks as full as possible.
A number of Internet-based logistics companies started popping up at the beginning of this decade, often as spin-off companies from carriers' IT departments, said John Saldanha, an Ohio State University professor who teaches logistics.
FreightCenter says its major competitor is FreightQuote, a Kansas company with 850 employees and annual revenues exceeding $400-million.
Saldanha had not heard of FreightCenter but after looking at the company's Web site said it appears to appeal more directly to consumers than typical logistics companies do.
FreightCenter is a little different, of course, in that it was a spin-off of a package shipping storefront.
Company officials like to point out just how far they have come. They went from a handful of employees in their early years to 50, including customer service representatives, brokers and software development teams. Salaries start around $30,000, said Matt Brosious.
Despite the economy, business is better now than it was last year, said Matt Brosious. He attributes that in part to more businesses realizing it may be cheaper to outsource their shipping to a third-party such as FreightCenter.
Even though the company touts its appeal to individuals, its work with commercial shippers has grown in the past decade. Nearly 70 percent of FreightCenter's business now comes from small to medium-sized commercial operations, many of which don't ship often enough to secure lower, volume-based rates on their own. Thirty percent is from individuals.
That ratio used to be reversed, said Desiree Brosious.
FreightCenter is also trying to establish a larger presence on eBay. This year it developed an online tool that allows people selling items on eBay to create a shipping calculator and put it on their auction listing. The calculator lets customers get an instant price for shipping.
All this growth comes as the Brosiouses tried to get a little closer to home. They moved their business to Trinity this year in large part because they live there. Both Matt and Jim own upscale homes in the Champions' Club subdivision and say they were ready to cut their commute.
At work, father and son, both former military men, downplay their relationship. Matt, who calls his father "Jim" during office hours, handles sales while Jim is in charge of marketing.
"When I walk through the door," said Jim, "I'm his partner, not his father."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.