PLS expands despite logistical challenges


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PLS Logistics Services doesn't own trucks, but it finds ways to get its clients' goods from point A to point B.

If that's been a little harder than usual in recent months -- given the storms that have moved across much of the country -- it hasn't slowed the rapid expansion of the Cranberry company that last month opened a new facility on Pittsburgh's South Side and plans to hire 100 people to bulk up its staff at both area locations.

"It was a tough January, with all the weather challenges," said Bob Janeda, PLS vice president of human resources, who spoke from the company's new office on Wharton Street a few days before it was officially open for business. "Finding trucks in a popular area could be an issue, but customers needed their freight delivered."

Founded in 1991, PLS is what is known as a non-asset based logistics company, which means it doesn't own its own vehicles but rather coordinates with carriers in its transportation network. When it acquires a client, it matches up a truck owned by a shipping company to the client in order to get the freight delivered.

PLS ships everything from steel coils and pipes to produce and Christmas trees. Anything that can be put on a truck, the company claims, it can ship.

Investing time and resources into shipping products can be a costly endeavor for companies to attempt on their own, Mr. Janeda said, noting that even small delays can be costly for a business working on a client's deadline. PLS has access to multiple shipping carriers, so it can find the fastest route or least expensive option most readily, he said.

The company declined to provide sales figures or to name specific carriers it works with, but a spokesman said PLS makes more than 1 million shipments annually. Most of the new hires will be inside sales positions.

PLS opened its first satellite office in Jacksonville, Fla., three years ago. That office now has 75 employees, and there are plans to add more.

The Jacksonville office was chosen as a strategic location, because there is a major port in that city. Within the past several months, PLS opened an office in Tampa, Fla., which has about 30 employees, and one in Houston, now with 50 employees, to capitalize on the resurgence of the energy sector there, Mr. Janeda said.

Mr. Janeda didn't identify specific economic drivers for the company's expansion, but said having greater geographic reach would allow it to serve areas outside the northeastern U.S. area where it has an established presence.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, spending in the U.S. logistics and transportation industry reached nearly $1.3 trillion in 2011, the most recent figure available, and accounted for 8.5 percent of annual GDP. As with most sectors, the logistics industry slowed during the recession, but the Commerce department's industry snapshot finds that industry analysts expect growth in the logistics sector to be closely aligned with overall economic growth.

Mr. Janeda said PLS chooses new locations based not just on its clients' business objectives, but also on proximity to colleges, which supply much of PLS's labor force. Recruiting and hiring recent college graduates is a big part of the company's growth strategy, as well as its promote-from-within philosophy, he said.

That growth will include expansion into Dallas next month and continued growth in 2015, he added.

Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly.


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