American Shipper: Charleston Freight Station Meets New Conditions

American Shipper: Charleston Freight Station Meets New Conditions

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has tentatively selected ATS Logistics Inc. of North Charleston, S.C., as the new operator of its Central Examination Station for the Port of Charleston, replacing incumbent Charleston Freight Station, spokesman Sean Crep said.

Charleston Freight Station has, for the pas 17 years, been the designated warehouse location where Customs handles physical examinations of containers to check for potential contraband, trade violations or security threats.

Charleston Freight Station is still providing space for Customs exams until the switch is finalized.

The loss of the CBP contract is forcing CFS to quickly adjust and go after more private sector business.

At its core, Charleston Freight is a cross-dock operation that strips the contents of ocean containers and swaps them into truck trailers and vice versa for exports. It mainly exists to serve the small, or irregular, shipper that doesn’t have its own distribution center near the port. A large chunk of its business comes from non-vessel-operating common carriers and freight forwarders which arrange for ocean transport, but don’t have their own facilities to consolidate less-than-containerload cargo, store containers and shuttle them to and from marine terminals.

One of its largest accounts is the Vanguard Group.

As a Customs bonded warehouse, Charleston Freight Station also offers crate disposal, fumigation, heavy forklift service, packing, container steam cleaning and repacking cargo that has shifted in containers.

The company plans to expand to Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami; and Atlanta, and has hired Andrew Adams as chief executive officer to take over day-to-day operations.

David Blair, Charleston Freight’s founder and president, told American Shipper that Adams is a former Wall Street executive who has experience building distressed companies, knows how to execute an expansion strategy, and brings a finance acumen the company needs.

Charleston Freight has always been successful as a local concern, “but for us to survive we need to get out there” in new markets and types of services offered, Blair said.

Once Customs vacates the space used for inspections at its 50,000-square-foot Daniel Island facility, Charleston Freight plans to convert it to a cold storage/transfer unit for pharmaceuticals, food-grade products and other cargo that needs to be shifted from refrigerated ocean containers to domestic equipment, or temporarily stored.

Blair said setting up a container freight station in Jacksonville depends on when the Army Corps of Engineers gets around to deepening the St. Johns River to accommodate bigger container vessels.

The company hopes to rent space soon in Miami to start moving freight for customers, but has already expanded into the market by shipping consolidated export boxes with cargo collected from the Northeast and Southeast by rail to Vanguard’s warehouse there. Motor carriers are used to haul cargo that needs to catch a vessel in Jacksonville, Blair said.

His shipping pattern is a further reminder of why the Florida Coast Railway continues to capture intermodal business for South Florida. It connects to CSX Transportation rail network in Jacksonville, but truckers don’t like going to the end of the state because the lack of manufacturing there limits opportunities to pick up a return load.

Blair said he got started in the freight business more than 20 years ago when he realized there was an opportunity for companies to help shippers deal with the complexities of international shipping. At the time, he was an executive for an automotive component manufacturer. He was amazed that a large order of copper rods from France took 10 days to arrive in New York, but another 90 days to get to Philadelphia because of Custom[sic] issues associated with the letter of credit, currency exchange problems, and highway restrictions on overweight loads.

Eventually, he moved back to his hometown and started Charleston Freight Service in 1995.

Now, Blair is embarking on a new adventure to make the company he started viable for many years to come.