Strader-Ferris International (SFI) is celebrating 70 years of success in 2023, but the company isn’t taking too much time away from the business at hand to celebrate. As a major player in the Ottawa area logistics scene, SFI is squarely focused on the next chapter of its continuous evolution, which has delivered double digit growth in each of the last five years.
With Canadian and U.S. customs brokerage operations, a fleet of trucks running back and forth across the border, a full-service logistics division moving freight all over North America and just shy of 200,000 square feet of e-commerce fulfillment warehouse space, things are busy indeed.
“Having an end-to-end solution is key to our ability to help customers succeed,” says Jesse Mitchell, director of business development. “When potential partners understand how many bases we can cover, they are really impressed”.
“We’re right-sized, meaning we haven’t lost that ability to provide a personalized solution,” says Mike Ferris, president and third-generation owner of this family business. “One thing we understand from experience is that we are a niche player. We have found a way to offer a successful alternative to the one-size-fits-all approach that some larger players try to force upon companies. It’s key in a business like ours to be comfortable with change and to be on the move strategically all the time. The niche is never static”.
SFI got its start in 1953, about the time that an international bridge was being conceived to link Prescott, Ont., to Ogdensburg, NY. Today that bridge has become a competitive advantage for many Eastern Ontario companies that can take advantage of quick and seamless access to the U.S. market with the help of SFI’s services. With 70 employees, and 90 per cent of customs operations staff holding CCS (Certified Customs Specialist) designations (or U.S. Customs Broker licenses), SFI sets itself apart in terms of front-line expertise.
“Customers enjoy the fact that they get to engage day to day with a partner that can provide answers quickly and efficiently,” Mitchell says. “We hear all the time about the horror stories that some companies have to experience with some of our competitors. There is a tendency to not invest as much in people, not to empower people. Having previously worked for several large North American logistics companies, I immediately saw the difference when I came onboard several years ago.”
While customs brokerage is still a core service that SFI provides, these days the company is seeing rapid growth of its e-commerce fulfillment services.
“We’ve taken our core skills in cross-border logistics, customs brokerage and transportation management and put that together with warehouse management to create a better solution for e-commerce companies,” says Derek Van Schie, vice-president of SFI and overseer of Canadian operations. “We have warehouse space on both sides of the border, but having expertise to manage inbound logistics as well as the final distribution in both Canada and the U.S. sets us apart from competitors in this space. We’re not looking to take on Amazon, but rather create better value for the kind of customer that can benefit from a more hands-on, more strategic partner.”
Customs duty elimination
SFI has seen an increase in the number of U.S. companies looking to take advantage of its strategic footprint and capabilities. A key strategy SFI has been executing for its customers is based upon its ability to eliminate duties on U.S. e-commerce sales that would otherwise apply if orders were fulfilled from U.S.-based warehouses. The U.S. allows most e-commerce orders valued at under $800 to enter under an expedited customs release program free of duty.
“It’s another example of how SFI is always striving to find opportunities to combine our services to create value for customers,” Mitchell says. “When I explain to someone that we can setup a footprint in Canada right on the border for them, manage duty deferral so they don’t pay Canadian or U.S. duties on inventory, and then provide duty-free U.S. market access, they usually think it sounds too good to be true. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy for them to figure out that it’s legit and a bit of a slam dunk. The fact that we can also provide a bit of hand-holding and help them open up the Canadian market is a real win as well. They end up relieved that one company can handle this entirely in-house.”
Another key service that SFI proudly promotes is its proprietary transportation management system (TMS). SFI extends this web-based platform for all of its customers to use to manage their shipping, both domestically and internationally, for outbound as well as for inbound shipments, and for product returns. SFI’s in-house IT supports integrations with customers’ ERP and accounting systems so order data can drive the shipping process to eliminate errors and automate customs clearance processes for cross-border shipping.
One feature of SFI’s system is that it allows Ottawa-based customers to prepare shipments to be tendered to carriers care of its Ogdensburg, NY, warehouse dock. The shipments are picked up by SFI trucks, customs cleared by SFI brokerage staff, and then cross-docked by SFI warehouse staff.
“We’re at the point where our technology can automate the preparation of hundreds of courier and LTL (pallet) shipments onto one cross-border entry and then inject customer deliveries into the domestic networks of Fedex, UPS, USPS and a mix of trucking companies,” Ferris explains. “The goal is to bring the right options to the table to minimize costs and eliminate border-related delays. A mandate of ours from day one has been to simplify cross-border logistics for Ottawa area companies.”
Van Schie is quick to add, “Over time we have expanded our focus to include domestic logistics, including supply chain support where we warehouse materials for customers and deliver replenishment on-demand. Our technology provides real-time visibility to our customers and keeps us on the same page. We will never lose sight of our goal to provide a superior solution to empower our partners to successfully manage their supply chains and grow their markets. When our technology can help we’re happy to oblige.”
An added benefit of SFI’s cross-border service is that it provides an easy footprint for customers to use when ordering supplies from U.S. vendors or managing product returns from U.S. customers. An interesting twist is that cross-border shoppers can also take advantage of SFI services care of myUSaddress, a consumer-focused offshoot among the SFI mix of services.
“When we started myUSaddress, we were able to leverage a lot of our freight handling and warehousing technology to be able to provide a winning service for cross-border shoppers,” Ferris says. “Everything is managed electronically, from receiving, to package notifications, through to an ability to have your package customs cleared and delivered to your door anywhere in Canada.”
SFI now counts tens of thousands of Canadian individuals among its ranks of satisfied customers.
Keeping it personal
SFI is doing something right as its long-term roster of clients has included scores of high-profile companies across a multitude of industries in and around Ottawa over seven decades.
“We’ve had the privilege of working with some of the greatest partners you could ever hope for,” Van Schie explains. “Take a company like Ross Video. We have been partners since 1978. There is no doubt in my mind that having a customer like that makes you a better company over the long term. It has to. You will do anything to not let them down, and knowing they appreciate when you perform is a key driver for team satisfaction and growth. We’re also fortunate to have very low employee turnover. This provides for a consistent point of contact and allows us to build great relationships with our customers. When it comes time to troubleshoot a situation it makes a big difference when you know the person you’re working with, when you have that level of understanding about that customer’s operations and unique needs.”
The one thing that SFI can be sure of is that change will continue to dominate its landscape. 2023 will most likely see the launch of a revamped government framework applied to Canadian imports, referred to as CARM (CBSA Assessment and Revenue Management).
“There will be a number of fundamental changes for any Canadian importer,” Van Schie says. “At the end of the day it’s going to be especially beneficial to have a customs broker like SFI that provides a hands-on approach.”
Adds Mitchell, “2023 has really started off with a bang in terms of new opportunities. One thing that continues to set SFI apart is that we try to be patient about finding the right partnerships. The discussions we’re already having this year indicate that SFI is going to continue to add to its success. With every new opportunity, we learn something and we try to use that to improve our capabilities. We want growth that benefits all our customers.”
SFI at a glance
- Years in business: 70
- Almost 200,000 sq ft of warehouse and e-Commerce fulfillment space
- Cross-border fulfillment strategies to eliminate U.S. duties on shipments to U.S. buyers
- Single point of contact for customs clearance anywhere in Canada or the U.S.
- Fleet of tractor trailers as well as box trucks with tailgates providing same-day cross-border linehaul
- Full-service logistics department capable of arranging truckload, less-than-truckload, as well as ocean and airfreight
- Integration capabilities with over 50 top ERP and e-Commerce platforms for data sharing
- Duty deferred warehousing in both Canada and the U.S.
- myUSaddress personal cross-border shopping service has over 30,000 customers
- double-digit growth each of the last 5 years
- 70+ employees, over 20 Certified Customs Specialists/Licensed Brokers