Pilot Air Freight: The Sky's The LimitBy David F. Carr Print
Pilot Air Freight offers the same services to customers as much bigger haulers, thanks to the Web. Sales have tripled, but it is gunning for more.Pilot Air Freight 314 N. Middletown Rd., Lima, PA 19063
Business Forwarding cargo
Key Business Executive CEO Richard G. Phillips
Key Technology Executive Eugene Malcolm, executive vice president for technology and operations
Project Customer self-service Web site.
Objectives Offer freight bill entry and shipment tracking services comparable to those of larger transportation companies like FedEx.
Technology Used Web development using Microsoft technologies. Most recent update tied to a customized version of Air-Trak, a freight management package.
How it gave edge over bigger companies Gave Pilot equal footing in Web services to customers, making it possible to compete head-on with rivals of any size.
A lacquered wooden propeller hangs from a wall in the lobby of Pilot Air Freight's headquarters in Lima, Pa. But the company owns no planes.
Pilot won a "carrier of the year" award from Wal-Mart this year, placing it in the company of Yellow Transportation and 10 other companies who excel at carrying cargo. But strictly speaking, Pilot isn't a carrier, either.
Pilot is a freight forwarder, procuring air and ground transportation on behalf of its customers, and piecing it all together into a coherent service. Typically, Pilot works with local trucking companies and airlines such as American, United and cargo specialist Kitty Hawk.
But Pilot is not a typical freight forwarder, either. Most of its 98 locations in the U.S. and Canada are owned by a local franchisee. In Miami, for example, franchise owner Javier Torrens leases warehouse space in an industrial park about seven miles from the airport to handle imports and exports. He delivers items such as flat-screen TVs for Wal-Mart.com.
With sales of $250 million last year, Pilot is a little more than 1.5% the size of FedEx. But it has more than tripled its revenue from $73 million in 1994.
One key reason: Its portal, Co-Pilot, which offers customers the same kind of freight bill entry and shipment tracking capabilities as FedEx or United Parcel Service. For instance, a customer that sends hundreds of shipments can log in to Co-Pilot to see the status of each one or get details on a delay.
"More than anything else, from a sales perspective, we're trying to eliminate reasons why someone won't do business with us," says Eugene Malcolm, Pilot's executive vice president for information systems and administration.
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