“It’s not a matter of if a company is going to adopt technology transportation management system, but more of when? When are they going to do that? Because you have to if you want to improve anything within your company, it starts with having access to the data and being able see it from what it is.” – Jennifer Braun, VP Trinity Logistics
On this episode of The Chemical Show, host Victoria Meyer speaks with Jennifer Braun, VP of Trinity Logistics, about navigating the dynamics of the chemical shipping industry. They discuss Trinity’s efforts to combat the talent gap through onboarding and communication programs, separate recruiting and reward departments, and advanced technology-driven tools. They also cover Trinity’s focus on customer-centricity and adapting to their needs, as well as its stability during the industry’s current rebalancing period. Other highlights include Trinity’s extensive sustainability efforts and its ongoing expansion and leadership program.
Tune in to hear expert insights and predictions on the future of the chemical shipping industry.
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Navigating the Dynamics of the Chemical Shipping Industry
Hi. This is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. This week, I have the opportunity to speak with Jennifer Braun, who is the vice president and general manager of Trinity Logistics. Jennifer started working in logistics straight from college when she started working with carriers and worked her way through to sales and account management in various leadership roles. Currently, Jennifer oversees sales and operations and develops future leaders for Trinity’s regional service center in Kansas City. Jennifer, welcome to the Chemical Show.
Thank you so much. It is good to be here.
What is your origin story? Why did you get interested in the wonderful world of logistics?
Like many students entering college. I had so many ideas of what I might wanna do as my forever career and ended up just with a very generic business degree. And in college, I started working at a big corporation that had multiple departments. So logistics is really just kinda where I ended up. It was fast paced, interesting, and it seemed like there was a lot of potential for growth. So, here I am. Twenty-some years later.
So it obviously worked out okay?
Yes. I guess you can say that. It sure did.
Excellent. So tell us a little bit about Trinity Logistics, just about the company and what you guys do.
Trinity Logistics is a top ranked freight company, freight brokerage, freight solutions, technology company. We have been ranked, for 21 straight years by transport topics, as a top freight brokerage in the United States. We are a part of the Burrus Logistics group of companies. and we are rapidly growing. We’ve been in business over 45 years, and we have expanded now to 7 different regional service centers and over a 120 agent offices, and this is a great company to work for.
Awesome. That’s really exciting. And so from a freight services perspective, do you guys actually own the trucks, or are you just are you sourcing it for your customers and your clients?
Right. So mostly, we outsource and partner with specially chosen carrier partners. On the Burrus side, we do have many pieces of equipment that we actually own. The Burrus side has cold storage warehouses, and trucks making deliveries every day to food clients. And in most of the other regional service centers that is outsourcing.
Okay. Interesting. So logistics and supply chain has been in the spotlight really since the beginning of the pandemic. And I think you and I both know it’s been a critical part of the economy forever, but it seems to have become really a household topic of conversation in the past 3 years. How did how did the pandemic affect you in Trinity and what did you guys do to respond to the challenges? What were your challenges and how did you respond?
Yes. That is a great question. I mean, supply chain became almost a meme on social media. You know? I got supply chain issues, was the meme for about a year. How this impacted Trinity is we are and we’ve always been customer focused, and we had to really amplify just being there for our customers. During the pandemic, so many customers went through this extreme crash of not having very much business at all going on, but yet we had to be there to service their needs if and when they needed it. To them later having this explosion of growth as the country started reopening and had shipments that they needed to get fulfilled and delivered to their customers.
A lot of the supply chain issues that companies have experienced has been more on the the supply side upstream. Their suppliers not being able to produce whatever the product is or or source that. So, just having it available to ship was the the bigger problem. And then to source the truck became the secondary problem. So oftentimes, we ended up being even more so of a middle person communicating to our customer what we were hearing from the supplier who may or may not have had that product.
So many customers really relied on us to be their just their communication piece and being able to do whatever it would take to service their customers, if that meant making last minute changes to an order or running with a shipment that’s maybe only half full because that’s all the the supplier could get ready at that time. Just really being nimble and flexible to the nth degree, to do whatever it would take to make that customer meet their obligations.
And Trinity serves not just chemicals. I know chemicals is a component of your business, but you’re serving across a wide variety of potential customers. So there was a lot of I guess, different challenges depending on your customer and supplier set.
Right. You are so right. We have a lot of food clients, a lot of construction, a lot of heavy machinery, and all of those different companies had the pandemic impact them in different ways. So, having a having a company like Trinity that is so diverse with the industry verticals that we are able to provide solutions for, I think, is is really key to to helping out a wider sect of companies across the United States.
So, the things that you learned during the pandemic, how have they changed your business today? Like, what did you learn and what did you carry forward to how your guys are conducting business today?
We have definitely carried forward our continued focus on being customer centric. We don’t have just one way of doing things and one rock solid standard that customers have to abide by to be a client of Trinity. You know? Whatever the customer needs, that’s what we’re going to do. I think technology really it’s always been a big focus of Trinity, but there were a lot of pieces of technology in the way that the world interacted with technology, and Trinity is no exception to that.
That really was amplified and some things were accelerated during the pandemic. So just being able to quickly transition to that flexible work remote as needed and to be able to have it be completely seamless to the customer. No interruption in phone service, no interruption in typical email service, no interruption with payments and invoicing, any of that. I think just being able to quickly pivot has been one of the things that we did well at the beginning of pandemic, and we have just really accelerated how well we are able to perform in that in those categories.
Let let’s talk a little bit about digital because, I mean, I think the pandemic really accelerated this focus on digitization. And as you referenced, this ability to work from anywhere, which I would imagine many of the carriers already had to have some of that. But what are you seeing? I mean do you have a specific digital strategy and has this increased focus on digitization more broadly across the economy changed your business?
Yes, it sure has. Our technology program is led by a chief technology officer, and we have got several new programs that we have integrated with over the last couple of years to really strengthen the way that we are able to interact with the carriers and the customers both in terms of getting information on GPS tracking for shipments and notifying customers of their orders. Customers are able to place orders online. They’re able to do their other billing and invoicing online.
Cybersecurity has also become a huge focus over the last 10 years or so. So depending on the type of company that we’re working with, I mean, there’s some companies that are that are targets in that, so they need all their business partners to have really rock solid processes when it comes to cybersecurity. Trinity has a very strong education department too, so the whole eLearning and ability to onboard new hires and to be able to train people effectively via technology is important. Our long term strategy, we have a 3 year road map, and that is to just become an industry leader with technology.
We do have a technology service offering and customers are really able to do a deeper dive into their own company and their data to make really strong decisions. Use that business intelligence to have economic forecasting, sales forecasting, being able to rate their partners and to make just better decisions on how they ship and what areas of the country they pull in from. That they can really strengthen their supply chain and that I see as a trend that will just continue to grow.
It’s not a matter of if a company is going to adopt a technology transportation management system, but more of when. When are they going to do that? Because you have to if you want to improve anything within your company, it starts with having access to the data and being able see it for what it is. Having an awareness of what’s going well and where there may be gaps. That’s the critical component before you can make any kind of changes
I think that’s right. I think it’s becoming a necessary requirement. What’s interesting is I think of logistics and trucking as being a bit old school much like people would categorize, the chemical industry. And a lot of times it feels like there’s people reluctant to make change, especially change when you think about digital. And yet, we kind of don’t have a choice. You need a way to process the data. You need a way to be more efficient. Cybersecurity, health and safety, all of that is affected by our ability to interact, communicate, combine systems with business partners, et cetera.
Absolutely. What we have seen is to be able to retain your position and to gain new clients you must be on the cutting edge of new technology development and adopting to different platforms. The companies that choose not to keep up with technology, they risk potentially going out of business soon because companies, the larger companies that are incorporating technology into their business, they will only typically do business with other like minded companies. Like that whole integration piece. If you don’t have the capability of integrating with a companies’ required technology, then they’ll go find a different partner.
Right. You have to keep up or be left behind.
So let’s talk a little bit about chemicals. So we know that you guys serve a variety of different markets. How does the chemical market differ from your other markets that you serve? What do you do differently with it or what’s similar about it to versus the rest of your business?
So with the chemicals, you can definitely see a a bit more of a trend line of the chemical shipping and the volumes being in alignment with construction and manufacturing, So when you have periods of boom for construction and manufacturing then you also see the increased need for chemicals. So it can be a little bit more varied. Consumer products or food, that oftentimes will stay fairly consistent because people don’t just quit eating. You know? They’re gonna continue to eat. They’re gonna continue to use whatever daily consumer products that they might use.
The chemical companies can pull ahead orders or delay orders oftentimes depending on price advantages with tariffs or with different discounts, like, companies may have different ordering thresholds or discounts that they may get. If they perceive that there’s gonna be a new tax starting on a certain date that maybe they can pull those orders behind or push ahead. So I will say that the chemicals definitely have a more of a vetting process when choosing your partners.
There are many things that need to happen to be safe and in compliance with the DOT regulations and with that, customers regulations. Getting the information on the chemical itself, the safety data sheet, making sure that the packaging and all the labeling has been completed by the shipper. Making sure that the driver the company hired meets the safety requirements, say for hazmat registration or for tanker endorsement. So there’s a lot more vetting that goes into that just to make sure we’re keeping our communities safe having chemicals on our highways.
Absolutely. Well in fact, when you talked about cybersecurity earlier, it also made me think really about this the safety and security aspects of handling chemicals because as you say, it is very different. It’s a higher standard and a higher threshold than perhaps some other products that get transported. So understanding those rules and regs, both from a legal perspective, but also just from a custom customer and company point of view is critical.
What are you seeing in freight markets today? I know things were really crazy the last couple of years. We thought that 2023 was gonna settle out. Maybe it has. Maybe it hasn’t. What are you guys seeing from that perspective?
The past several months have definitely been a pretty significant downturn. Demand is way down, and the word for it is rebalancing. The industry is definitely undergoing a significant rebalancing from the inflated numbers of 2022 where everybody was trying to build their inventory levels up. We’ve gotta restock because we couldn’t get enough of whatever it was that we needed to have available for our customers. Most companies, no matter what their industry, couldn’t get their hands on enough product in 2021. So by the time that product started being available in 2022, it was all about replenishing and then there started to be economic downturn or at least talk of that.
Some industry segments have definitely slowed down, which led to some over inventoried companies over the wintertime and maybe still early 2023. So there have been quite a few trucking companies and independent contractors who have left the market, left Heather MC revoked, and It’s just a big time of rebalancing. The market itself is still somewhat in the state of oversupply and the demand has been waning, as I mentioned, for several months. So at some point in the second half of 2023, they will probably reach some kind of threshold where those 2 are even again. Right? The demand and the supply. It’s been an interesting year as much as there was a significant crazy ride to the top from mid to end pandemic. This year, and it really started mid 2022, has been a pretty significant decline.
So it’s meant for us that we continue to do what we do well every day and that’s really be there for our customers and whatever they need is what we’re able to supply them with. It hasn’t change our business that much per se. I mean, Trinity is a stable company that does not believe in over hiring. We haven’t had any layoffs, like some of our counterparts have, and we’re still in growth mode honestly. Because if we do sense that there could be some opportunities for growth in this market and there’s rebalancing. Some of the companies that maybe aren’t in it long term, if there’s any customers that are left in the dust that weren’t being taken care of if a company goes out of business. We sure wanna be able to position ourselves as helping out in every way we can. So it’s definitely been a different year.
Yeah. It seems like it. I think that’s true across the industry. You mentioned these opportunistic companies that came in when they saw the opportunity, but it’s hard to maintain a real business. And then you find it out when the market starts softening.
You started talking about keeping your customers and and suppliers happy. When you think about your customer experience and your supplier experience, how does Trinity differentiate itself? And what do you find to be really important in those relationships?
I know I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but it’s really customer first and our tagline is people centric. That’s what we mean. We put a lot of training and careful thought into how to deliver the best experience to internal customers and external customers. Try to have happy, well trained teammates who are in Trinity hopefully as a career so that there is less turnover within some of the key account management roles.
Servicing customers we lead within integrity. So when we make a promise to a customer or have information about a shipment and the timeline for that or what the pricing may be on that. We hold firm for that. You know? We do. So, gosh, some offices have customers that have been loyal to Trinity for 25, 30 years.
And these are big companies, these aren’t someone’s cousin or brother that ships, a couple of shipments a month. Although, that’s great too. But, we have companies that are Fortune 500 Companies that are choosing Trinity for 20 and 30 years. These are smart, well-run companies that have stringent supplier evaluations every year and Trinity exceeds their expectations time and time again. So just that integrity of putting the customer’s needs first and having great communication to keep the customer apprised and we do a lot to make sure we’re in alignment across many platforms with that customer.
Whether it be sustainability and green initiatives or safety and compliance. A lot of companies serve their communities and have community service as a part of their company culture, as does Trinity. A lot of companies are privately held or family owned and operate on a set of guiding values, as does Trinity. So these are some of the ways that we really try to connect with our customers so that they feel like it’s not just a number or a profit mark for us, but a real relationship.
I think your comment about leading with integrity is really critical. Right? It starts to define what those relationships are, who you do business with, how you do business with them. That keeps, as you say, some of the consistency for 20, 25 years with customers because they know that you’ve got that value and alignment.
So let’s talk a little bit about talent. For a lot of years, we’ve been hearing about a shortage of truck drivers and talent and logistics. I mean, certainly over the past several years, we’ve seen the shortage of talent everywhere. But when we think about the logistics world, what’s Trinity doing to help close the talent gap? First of all, do you see a talent gap? And secondly, how are you closing that?
We do see a talent gap. So to combat that, there are many programs and initiatives that Trinity has been doing for a number of years and some that we’ve even increased what we’re doing. First and foremost is that we treat our teammates right from the get go. So I think it starts with a great onboarding process, a great education training process. There is visibility and communication through all levels of company. Intentionality is the word that I’d want people to think of us at Trinity as intentional with how we treat people and how developed relationships.
Our president Sarah Rufforn, she will have coffee chats with just a random sampling of Trinity teammates every quarter. That extends throughout the entire executive leadership staff. So imagine being someone that’s with Trinity 3 months or 4 months or 6 months and you’re in a coffee chat with our CFO or our president. I mean, that’s pretty neat. Right? You know your voice matters. So that definitely is a component of it to try to retain that talent once we have it in the door. Regular communication, regular reviews, a lot of feedback, coaching, all that is helpful.
Now when we talk about finding talent, we do have a separate recruiting department. A whole department of professionals that are working for the good of the whole company and really trying to focus on finding as the best candidates. Having that recruiting department is key. We have several partnerships with universities around the United States, specific partnerships where Trinity is sponsoring different events at the college. Sending Trinity teammates and leaders to these colleges, and meeting with the students. Trying to hire them as interns, trying to hire them as actual teammates if they’re seniors and graduating.
We definitely have ramped up our social media presence trying to trying to find candidates where they’re at. So really trying to interact with the candidates in a multitude of formats. A lot of technology driven tools to try to find teammates, a lot of assessments and surveys that are sent out to potential candidates to try to find the best fit. Best fit for the candidate and for Trinity. Right? This is a people job.
We do have some admin functions that aren’t quite as heavy in the people component. But in my office, if you don’t like people and you don’t like talking on the phone, this may not be the job. You’re gonna be on the phone and on email all day long trying to help people with shipments and working with the trucking companies trying to get them the best load and trying to help a customer out of a jam that maybe forgot to order some material. So now, oh my gosh, it’s 2 o’clock on a Wednesday, and I’ve gotta have this stuff picked up tomorrow morning to deliver Friday. So there’s a lot that Trinity does.
We do get great reviews on Google. I think Google’s where we get a lot of reviews, oh and on Indeed. So, people typically love working at Trinity. We have found that people just need to get through the first 6 months of logistics because it is chaotic. If you are a very orderly person and it has to be black and white, that’s not the way a lot of businesses work and certainly for logistics. that’s not the way it works. So you have to thrive in a fast paced environment and like people. That’s what our recruiting department does, they’re finding us all those people that wanna thrive in the fast paced environment.
Yeah. How do you work with your carriers and your partners to help them in their talent challenges? Do you guys partner together or do you really just work to help support them with those teams?
There’s a national truck driver appreciation week that’s held every September, and that’s a national event. So Trinity is always a big supporter and sponsor of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week. We have specific metrics around relationship carriers and partnerships. We try to get to know our trucking companies on a first name basis. There are different reward programs that Trinity has in place to make it easier for the truck drivers. We have a load board that they can look at our shipments.
We’ve got, as I’ve mentioned earlier, many offices and obviously we’re all hooked up to the same technology and computer systems. So if I’m helping a driver with something in one area of the country and if he has a need in a different part of the country, I can help find him what he needs just by sourcing through the computer and maybe finding him a shipment that another office has and pairing that together.
Serving it down to the individual driver.
Yeah. We do that. The trucking companies themselves when they’re trying to place drivers that’s a whole another element. We try to help in an indirect fashion as much as possible. by being easy to work with and just keeping the lines of communication open on what we’re seeing work well with different drivers or not. And on the Burrows side, they do actually employ drivers.
We have another business unit called Honor Foods, and then another business unit called RWZant. So I’m sure that there’s some great training programs, benefits, and a lot of good things to help those drivers succeed in their roles and have a lot of mentorship so that they can be a long tenured teammate with those companies.
That’s very cool. Alright. So Jennifer, what’s next for you and for Trinity? If we look out ahead to the rest of 2023, what are you guys looking What are you expecting? What are you working on? What’s next?
Oh, wow. There are so many awesome things that we have in the works. We are always looking to strengthen our position in the company and with our customers. So we’re constantly looking to expand both in terms of relationships and locations. In early 2022, we had expanded it with an office in Scottsdale, Arizona, and that’s going very well. The RW XANT location. they’re out in California. That’s a Burrus Logistics, that’s another company on the food side, but nevertheless, it’s another company, another position strengthening the overall company with a presence out on the West Coast serving those customers out there.
Trinity is definitely expanding in a couple of key areas, the technology is a big one. We’ve got definite aggressive goals to keep expanding that technology offering to our customers, both current and perspective, and just expanding our presence within the industry. There’s an increase in community involvement, Trinity’s foundation that serves the different communities and the locations that we are. There’s a goal to expand our generosity and what’s happening in that realm.
And we’ve greatly enhance our leadership program. So we’re really trying to make sure that the education that I spoke of earlier is for entry level people, new hires, onboarding, but it’s also for the entry level and mid management leaders so that we can make sure that we’re really strengthening and supporting them as well.
Also the sustainability piece that I mentioned earlier with Net 0. The Carbon Fund Board is one that companies committed to helping the environment and getting to that 0 emissions. It’s joining with other companies and planting trees and really helping them to help the earth and so sustainability is going to be a key thing as we move forward.
I haven’t specifically mentioned responsible care in this in this interview. One of things that does differentiate Trinity is responsible care. We have been a responsible care partner since 2009. So that’s that’s critical. That’s sponsored by the American Chemistry Council, and that’s really critical for any chemical company. Most of them are members of the responsible care organization and follow those principles as does Trinity.
One of the things that we’ve seen happen and will continue into the future is a way to really assess your suppliers and the companies with whom you work. So there’s another platform called EcoVadis that helps those companies really assess and make sure that they are in alignment with all the companies that they’re doing business with. So Trinity is on the process of becoming EcoVadis certified. It’s all about being where your customers need you to be, and they need you to have technology, and they need you to care, and they need you to have good people, and they need you to care about the earth and be sustainable. So it’s all of those things.
Well, Jennifer, thank you so much. This has been great. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and getting to know more about Trinity Logistics. So thank you for joining us today on The Chemical Show. And thanks everyone for reading. Keep reading following, sharing, and we’ll be back with another episode soon.
About Jennifer Braun:
Voted one of Women in Trucking’s Top Women to Watch, Jennifer Braun serves as Vice President Kansas City Regional Service Center at Trinity Logistics. Trinity is a top ranked freight brokerage and solutions company. Starting in logistics right after college, 2023 marks Jennifer’s 20th anniversary.
Working her way up from entry level position to VP, Jennifer considers herself fortunate to serve both internal and external customers. Positive attitude, integrity, effective communication skills and grit are qualities contributing to her success. Ever the optimist, Jennifer is passionate about empowering others to accomplish their goals.