From the Savannah Business Journal -
Atlantic Intermodal Services (AIS) is a company that provides intermodal transportation services, specializing in import/export cargo shipments via trucking, port-to-port drayage, local round-trip drayage and more. AIS functions under the umbrella of IMC Companies, a company that was begun in 1982 as Intermodal Cartage and which has since expanded to incorporate a nationwide network of companies to facilitate the transportation of goods entering U.S. ports from all over the world and delivering them nationwide.
Since the company was founded in 2006, Atlantic Intermodal has seen tremendous growth, with an increase in business of 20 percent from 2009 to 2010. Part of its success was due to AIS’s targeting the smaller customer, rather than the larger client. In 2008, before the economic downturn, AIS made a concerted effort to woo smaller customers so that when the financial crisis hit in early 2009, the larger customers began to lose their market share while the smaller customers remained on the whole unaffected. AIS went from serving 15 customers in a week to 60 customers per week which is a positive trend at a time when companies are finding it difficult to remain afloat.
Memphis native and AIS president Jeff Banton says of his customer base: “My niche is a one-way market. I try to take imports to the interior of the Southeast and try to return our exports from Mississippi, Alabama, back to our ports.” Savannah’s marketing in the Far East made it lucrative and attractive for large shippers to send their goods to Savannah.
“Savannah was gaining more market share than Charleston and it became a catalyst for us at AIS,” Banton told the SBJ. Banton feels that until recently, Charleston was not paying attention to Savannah’s aggressive stance and that Charleston’s new port director, Jimmy Newsom (a Savannah native and former vice president for Hapag Lloyd) has begun to implement many of the same programs in South Carolina as those that have proved successful in Georgia.
Banton feels that the super cargo ships that will be coming with 2014 and the expansion of the Panama Canal will require the use of ports on the eastern seaboard and he feels that AIS’s operations in Jacksonville, Savannah and Charleston will put him in an enviable position to deal with the future flow of goods arriving in the United States. Banton also hopes to expand AIS’s operations to other ports like Wilmington and Norfolk.
Recently Banton’s company has tripled the size of its facility in Savannah. Although headquartered in Charleston, the majority of Atlantic Intermodal’s business is done in Savannah, so extra space was required in order to accommodate all new customers. Furthermore, Banton attributes much of this growth to Savannah’s port’s friendliness and openness to business possibilities.
The SBJ recently had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Banton, president of Intermodal Atlantic, a young company that has gone after the small customer in a field which is as old as trade is dealing with transoceanic transportation. Since his days as a college student at the University of Memphis, where Banton studied business marketing and logistics, he has been fascinated by the endless connections of shipping lines and railroad transportation which linked goods from far inland on one continent to another.
In 1986 Banton began working for Intermodal Cartage with its founder, Mark George, who had the vision to start with a single truck and find ways of linking international freight and brokerage firms who needed individuals on the ground to receive goods on U.S. soil and make them reach their destination in this country.
Although Memphis remains one of the principal railway heads linking goods coming from the Far East via West Coast ports, to the rest of the U.S., Banton recognized the growing importance of port cities like Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville for the post 2014 expansion of the Panama Canal and the impact it will have on future transportation of foreign goods to the U.S. (and U.S. goods to foreign markets). To this end, he established Atlantic Intermodal’s headquarters in Charleston in anticipation of what he hoped would be a boom. Unfortunately, the economic downturn of 2008 affected his plans, but despite this Jeff persisted. To his surprise, Jeff discovered that by catering to smaller companies he was able to weather the adversity of the times and come through stronger. To this end his company expanded by 40 percent between 2008 and 2010 and an additional 25 percent in 2011.
This Tennessee native likes to point out that there are pockets of possibilities in this trying economy where it is possible to thrive, and even, flourish. The friendliness of Savannah’s port, and its competitive streak drew him here from Charleston. That is not to say that Charleston no longer counts as one of Atlantic Intermodal’s ports, but rather that Banton has noticed that Savannah’s ambitious approach has influenced Charleston into changing its approach to business. Savannah native, Newsome, a former Hapag Lloyd VP, and now director of Charleston’s port, has applied many of Savannah’s port’s smart strategies to Charleston in order to remain competitive and offer an equally attractive business option to companies like Atlantic Intermodal.
“Savannah aggressively wooed and won many Far Eastern companies to ship their goods to Georgia, despite the long winding river course,” Banton told the SBJ. “Savannah Port has better hours and is open for business on Saturdays something neither Jacksonville or Charleston were and this made it more attractive for shippers, brokers and businesses like ours…” Banton added.
Intermodal Atlantic serves under the umbrella of, IMC Companies, which is a large multipronged business relying on a wide network of truckers, freight services and brokerage firms with transnational and transoceanic links. Atlantic Intermodal has recently set up its Savannah offices at 401 Telfair Road, next to the Amtrak Railroad lines, and in the hub of truck transportation which dominates Savannah’s transportation hub.
Atlantic Intermodal (AIS) has a crack team of dispatchers who work round the clock in order to guarantee quick delivery of goods and a swift turn around of containers and chassis. This logistics involved are elaborate on many levels and Atlantic Intermodal prides itself in offering services which are cost-effective, and time efficient despite the ever-growing increase in the cost of diesel. Atlantic Intermodal does not own a single truck, rather it relies on a fleet of 150 trucks and drivers to receive and deliver goods throughout the Southeast up to Charlotte, N.C.
Banton hopes to expand operations for Intermodal by opening future branches in Norfolk and Wilmington and also plans to maintain a strong personal hold on his employees. At the moment he has six employees in his Savannah office. Banton did not approach any of the usual business partners or guides to the city, but rather, established himself and Atlantic Intermodal, quietly and steadily at on of the major junctions of sea, land and rail transportation.
To find out more information about Atlantic Intermodal Services, please visit the IMC Companies’ Web site at www.imccompanies.com and click on “Companies” and then the “AIS” logo.