Company: Express-1, Buchanan, Mich.

Operation: Regional expediter recognized as one of the fastest growing private businesses in Michigan

Mike Welch, president

PROBLEM: What do you do when your big customers start asking your small fleet to deliver large-scale technology solutions?

"In the 1980s you could still start a trucking company with two trucks, a cargo van, and a telephone, but shippers today expect a host of technology-enabled services that did not exist when we started Express-1," explains Mike Welch, president. "Two or three years ago, we started noticing that shippers were asking for new services. For instance, they wanted to know if we had satellite communications. If we said 'no,' it was a mark against us. To be a top-flight expediter, we needed satellite, period. Service, not cost, had become the issue."

SOLUTION: Today, Express-1 considers its technology-enabled capabilities to be 'selling tools,' rather than competitive problems, according to Welch, and the company has grown from 2 trucks to 100, building a fleet that is presently two-thirds owner-operators and one-third company-owned vehicles. They've also opened a new office in South Carolina.

It's their corresponding 40% average annual revenue growth, however, that fleets of any size admire most. "We had never been afraid of technology, but we did take a 'wait and see' approach to satellite communications, and now we wonder why we didn't act sooner," Welch says.

"Today, we can go in anywhere and compete. We have automated dispatch, satellite communications, and Internet capabilities. Last July, we integrated our American Mobile Satellite system with our TMW Systems TTS dispatch. It has saved time for our customers and for our operations people, and that means cost savings as well."

The Internet also figures in Express-1's current success and in plans for the future. "The Internet is very important to us," Welch says. "We're trying to be a leader among companies our size, and the Internet is helping us to achieve that goal.

"We recently hired a vice president of information systems, Joe Campbell," Welch continues. "Right now, we're getting some loads online [directly from shippers, through DAT Services, and from various Web sites]. Our real goal, however, is to have Express-1 customers use the Internet, not only to schedule and track loads, but to look at where we have empty trucks they can utilize, perhaps at reduced rates for backhaul miles. We also want to e-mail our newsletter and information about new services or specials.

"If you can improve service and do a better job for your customer, it sends the message that you really are concerned about their business," Welch adds. "Technology is helping us to do just that every day. We can't imagine doing without it now."