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Visionary Holt Logistics maneuvers to remain a few steps ahead of industry needs

GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ — A few months ago, Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp. had a problem. As part of his Delaware River region operations, Holt runs the Gloucester Marine Terminal here. There, an ancient crane needed to come down to make way for a gleaming new $5 million mobile unit with many times the lifting capacity and much more versatility.

Demolition crews wanted a fortune — and a long timetable — for the project. Holt instead chose to turn to his best resource: his employees.

Holt-2Holt Logistics President Leo Holt and Tom Mastromarco talk things over in a warehouse just off the dock at the Gloucester City, NJ, terminal. (Photo by Chip Carter)He put the word out that he was looking for a plan to bring the crane down. A handful of staffers devised a scenario and took it to the boss. Once the plan was vetted, the crane came down, efficiently, quickly and at a fraction of the projected cost.

“We gave these guys, sort of our MacGyvers, the green light to come up with their own plan and they did that in a way that was driven first by safety and second by efficiency and speed,” Holt said. “As a result we did it in six weeks less time and at less than 25 percent of the projected cost. When all was said and done, we had a clean berth, no damage, everybody was safe and it was a lot of fun. That’s an example of how if you give motivated employees the tools and the open field to run with they’ll do it.”

It is also a perfect example of Holt’s forward-looking approach to business. Ever-progressive, the company focuses on sustainable practices that support not only the business but the community that depends on it.

Another example is the $42 million rooftop solar panel array installed atop the main Gloucester warehouse three years ago that generates nine megawatts of electricity, enough to run its operations and sometimes generate energy for the region’s power grid. The system will pay for itself halfway through its life cycle and become a profit center.

A recent focus has been on “driving the customer service experience, principally at the level of the truck driver and truck delivery,” Holt said. “The tropical fruit business has benefitted throughout the year from an increased focus on delivering a great experience to the truck drivers. That means we’re driving down truck delivery times, driving up the accuracy of the delivery data tracking and just really keeping a very sharp eye.”

At the Gloucester Terminal, vessels arrive regularly from Chile, Brazil, Peru, Spain and South Africa laden with fruit from around the globe. In the last 12 months, that facility has become the first pier-based terminal in the country to become certified by the Safe Quality Food Institute.

“SQF is usually obtained by people in the processed food business, but we were presented with that challenge by a little grocery outfit in Bentonville, AR,” Holt said. “So we took the necessary steps, the training, the people, and obtained our certification and have been very happy about it. We want someone who walks in here as a buyer to feel like they’re getting a quality product. It’s not just a bragging point. It gives a whole new awareness to our people in terms of what’s happening.”

Part of what is happening is a burgeoning interest in fresh fruits and vegetables that is driving domestic consumption and international imports.

“That’s why we decided unilaterally to step ahead and undertake an effort that we were not quote-unquote required to do either by government or customer regulation. We just decided it was the right thing to do and it’s definitely paying dividends at a variety of levels and we’re very happy about it,” Holt said. “But it was a pain in the butt to do. All these things are, but you have to do them, and I think Walmart would say the same thing. When they say three degrees left, that’s not just turning your bicycle three degrees left — that’s a big organization. So we’re happy to work as an import distribution center for them and we think taking those two or three extra steps ahead is necessary to stay a thought leader in the industry but, more importantly, do the job right.”