FULL TRANSCRIPT – Logistics Over Engineering with Geoff Chasin
Natasha Cary: Welcome to Over the Threshold Podcast, produced by Certification of Delivery Excellence, also known as CODE. I’m your host, Natasha Cary, owner and president of CODE, where we offer online education for last-mile delivery personnel. To learn more about CODE certifications, visit our website: codetrained.com. The purpose of this podcast is to deliver the journey of individuals in the Final Mile/Last Mile white-glove industry. As CODE is an educational company, we hope through these stories, you can learn something new. Maybe we teach you something about an individual you know, or we introduce you to someone you’ve always wanted to learn more about. Above all, we hope we can leave you inspired. Let’s get started.
Natasha: Today, I will be chatting with Geoff Chasin. Geoff is president and owner of NRX Logistics, Inc, a third-party logistics provider for last-mile delivery of furniture and appliances based in Stoughton, Massachusetts. NRX is a provider for companies such as General Electric, Restorations Hardware and Bob’s Discount Furniture, with over 25 locations nationally and an employee and independent contractor base of 500 people. Geoff is also the founding member and vice president of the National Home Delivery Association, which is how we met. Welcome to the show, and thank you for being here, Geoff.
Geoff Chasin: Hi Natasha, great to be here.
Natasha: I’m excited about our chat. I found it interesting that the last mile industry wasn’t really a part of your original plan after you had graduated from Cornell; you started a career in engineering.
Natasha: But you were more drawn to the logistics world. What took place that made you want to pursue that?
Geoff: I moved to Boston to work in research and development for digital equipment, and I had what many people would probably think of as a perfect job: I had no hours, I had my own big office, I was designing filing systems for some of the original personal computers. The fact is, I totally hated it. I hated the isolation. It was, for a primarily social guy, so weird. Let me just say that. Sitting in this giant room with all these machines. I started working as a helper on home delivery, furniture delivery for a friend of mine. I worked on Saturdays. You know how hard it is to get good Saturday help! I really enjoyed it. I liked being outside, driving in the truck, smoking cigarettes, the whole thing. I had an opportunity to become an owner/operator, and believe it or not, at the time, it was way more money than being an engineer.
Natasha: So you started as an independent contractor in the final mile world?
Geoff: I did. By 1980, end of 82 or 83, I had two trucks and a van. I had a little company I called Chasin Landbourne. You probably know and remember as Chasing Sandboard company, but that was my little joke. Chasin Landbourne. And I had that company for a couple of years.
Natasha: Now life is a little different today as we’re all navigating through this pandemic, and some of us, like myself, are figuring out how to work while our kids are at home, who are figuring out how to learn digitally now. Running a business today, no matter what industry you’re in, is very challenging. How has this pandemic affected your business?
Geoff: We’ve always believed that our employees are our most valuable assets, and now the safety mindset has expanded. We’ve got to take care of our employees, but that’s multiplied by ten now, with all the things we have to do to keep them safe, and that has expanded tremendously. We have to consider our employees, our contractors, our customers all with that same care and safety. It’s a whole new world. The amount of time that we’ve spent devising plans to have the proper PPE, to get it to the teams, to make sure they’re using it properly etc., that’s been a big change, of course. For threshold deliveries, a lot of things have changed in that way. I don’t know if you want to talk about what it’s taken to survive the big picture in this environment, but I’m happy to talk about that, too.
Natasha: Please do share.
Geoff: What we’ve done to hold onto our employees and hold onto our customers, there’s a couple of parts to that. One is that you really need to have a vision for what it’s like on the other side because this is not forever. You need to have that vision, and you need to communicate that to everybody, so that your customers know you’ll be there, so that your employees and contractors know that you’re going to be there, that whenever we have to go through, we’ll go through it together and all be there on the other end. So that communication is key. Next step is to make sure you have the cash to get to the other side. As an owner of a small company, that’s critical. And then use this time to get better. We have most of our staff on, thanks to our own strategies and help from the government, so we’re using it to train people in things that they don’t know. We’re using it to do cross-training. We can focus more on standards; things are a little quieter. And the plan is we need to scale back much better than we are now.
Natasha: Right. It’s a double-edged sword at this point because you’re usually so busy running the business that you don’t have time to spend on your business. So it’s kind of a blessing in the sense that you’re able to take a step back and do the things that you might have always wanted to do to propel yourself forward. Certainly not the circumstances you’d hoped for. How has your workforce been affected? How is the morale and the culture surviving at this time?
Geoff: I think we’re doing well. Even though we’ve been a little slow, we’ve kept most people on, and I have a check-in call with our managers every Friday. We have one of those Zoom calls, which I used to hate, and I’m still not a huge fan, but I like to be able to see all their faces…
Geoff: …so I can really see how they’re doing. I actually find that a lot of fun. I apologize every time we do it that they have to indulge me. I’m like their dad; I like to look at their faces and see how they’re doing. So that I think is very positive communication, that they know that we’re a team. That we’re thriving, that we’ve picked up some new business. That we’re starting to ramp up there. I think morale is very good.
Natasha: Well, that’s good to hear! I saw a post on your company’s LinkedIn page, which I thought was very poignant about the situation right now. It was an image, and the caption read: ‘Healthcare workers, grocery store employees and truck drivers are now more important than pro-athletes, actors and famous musicians.’ and it’s so true. The world has really been flipped, but like you said, this will move on. We will all move on from this at some point. And it’s seeing the future moving forward and working on the business so that once this pandemic slows down, the business is still surviving, and things are still going. So, where do you see the last mile industry moving to in the future? How has the industry innovated in the past, and where do you think it needs to innovate in the future?
Geoff: How far back do you want to go? [Laughter] When I was a contractor, the most highly prized scale was being able to read a map book.
Geoff: We had map books, we had no cell phones, we had hand-written orders and manifests, we had cash CODs that got stolen or lost. I mean, some of the things that we take for granted are gone now. I mean, everyone has a GPS now. Think about it, in the old days, you’d have ten map books all held together with scotch tape…
Natasha: Oh, yeah.
Geoff: …and you’d have the previous page and that page. That’s way back. Of course, a lot of that has totally changed. Going forward, I think these innovations are just going to continue, and I’m really happy that the industry is getting the recognition it deserves. To me, it’s like the blood system of the country. You could say that firemen and policemen are the white blood cells, but the delivery guys, all the intermodal parts, whether it’s rail, (freight), or last mile, we’re like the blood system. We bring the stuff to your home. If we weren’t there, the whole of commerce would collapse, and you see that in what’s happening now. People are working at home, but our men and women are still out there and bringing you things. They’re bringing you food and, in our case, appliances. You need dishwashers to clean your dishes, laundry to clean your clothes, refrigerators to keep your food cold…and other things like exercise equipment, right? Or sofas. The family’s at home all the time now, you need to have the proper furniture to live your life in this new style.
Natasha: Now more than ever.
Geoff: Now more than ever, right! I don’t know what will come of that, but certainly, I love the fact that the hard-working men and women in the transportation industry are looked at with a lot more respect now than they were a year ago.
Natasha: Yeah, I need to figure out how to get more wine delivered to my house. That’s for sure. [laughter] During this time with the kids at home!
Geoff: My wife is at Costco now, and we buy a case at a time.
Natasha: I mean, it’s cost-effective, right? It’s a smart decision.
Geoff: Right. Wine and toilet paper.
Natasha: That’s right; stock up! Now the last mile delivery driver is very crucial to the industry. The customer experience is hinged on how they present themselves and how they deliver their product. They’re the ones that are going to make the last impression on the entire buying experience based on their performance and their customer service. With so many locations and people to manage, how do you and your team ensure consistent service across the board?
Geoff: This is a huge problem, right? I shouldn’t say problem; it’s a huge challenge. I very much believe in the independent contractor model. I was one, and I think you put the responsible party in the vehicle or very close, let’s say a guy’s running three trucks, and then you have someone that’s totally accountable, both personally and financially from a reputation point of view, and then they have to manage the training based on the standard set. There’s a general standard, but every customer tweaks it a little bit. Every client tweaks it a little bit. So that is a challenge. How do you get a contractor the training he needs? I have to be careful here because I’m not allowed to train them, but we have to help them find resources to get the training they need, whether it comes from a third party like CODE or the manufacturer who’s going to have subject matter expertise on how to best install and demonstrate your washing machine. And you would hope that the trick is to find these contractors who know that it’s not only the right thing to do, to work towards a standard, it’s personally very satisfying, but it is also better service to the customer, more appreciation, the availability to expand your business. Tips are part of home delivery. We don’t encourage or discourage, but it is the service industry. Sort of dancing around how do we get them the training that they need. A lot of it has to be the contractors themselves who have to see the value and lead that charge.
Natasha: Right. That’s what we do. We train drivers. We have our appliance and furniture certifications to get them those best practices, but we’re looking to innovate and find ways to reach them and to help them understand that this is something that’s beneficial to them. As an independent contractor in the past, what do you think motivates an independent contractor to be better? Is it the environment? Is it the business that they’re helping? Do they want to feel like they’re part of the team even though they’re independent contractors and there are gray lines there? What do you think motivates them to find the value or to want to better themselves?
Geoff: I think the first and most important thing is anyone who goes into being an independent contractor has the same entrepreneurial spirit as anyone who goes into their own business. And they are proud, right?
Geoff: Having your own business is a source of pride in our country. For a lot of first-generation Americans, it is a way to have your own business, and that means a lot: I started with nothing, now I have a couple of trucks, and I’m a respected professional. I’m putting my kids through college, and I have a house… everything that owning your own business means is about being proud and professional, and being well-regarded is its own reward, I think.
Geoff: It also puts money in your pocket because you’re asked to expand. Our retailers often serve their customers, and there’s serving money to be given to their most successful contractors, etc. But I think there is something about tying into the American Dream.
Natasha: You recently shared with me that you are a Mastermind, which should come as no surprise to anybody, but you are a Mastermind and a mentor, and you teach a class at Babson College’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership. Now on the CWEL website, I read that, ‘…at the Center of Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership we are closing the gender gap in business one female leader at a time.’ Tell me more about that and how you became involved with it, and what you do with them?
Geoff: I’ve done a lot of political work over the years. I was an Executive in Residence at Bay State College here, working on writing a syllabus for an Entrepreneurship 101 class. I met a woman met Samira Menon, who was helping me do that, she is part of CWEL at Babson, and through her, I became a Mastermind. I’ve been called a lot of things, but never a Mastermind. [laughter] That’s been interesting. It’s quite a name! What they do is they have a program called WINLAB…I can’t remember what that stands for…Women Invading…and they have about 20 women entrepreneurs, some are grad students, many are in the world doing their thing. They have a fantastic program where they train and support these women over a 5 to 6-month period during the school year. What I do is I work with another Mastermind, and we meet with them a couple of times, five or six times over the course of the year, and we act almost as their board of advisors, if you will. We follow their progress, and we comment and help them. In the Boston area, and it may be true for other areas, there’s a ton of these incubators, right. There’s a Greentown Labs incubator for small businesses helping to change the climate and work on greenhouse gas remission. There’s all kinds of these incubation labs. This is one that’s primarily focused on helping young women entrepreneurs who have their own set of problems. They have the same problems as, well, I don’t want to say problems, but the same challenges as all entrepreneurs, and they have some additional obstacles, I’d say. I love it. I really love doing it.
Natasha: You mention that they have additional obstacles. What is your most trusted go-to advice that you give them as women who are entrepreneurs and perusing their own path? What’s the biggest, most impactful advice that you give them?
Geoff: We’re always in the weeds, looking at solutions to particular problems, but I think what’s very important is to give them confidence and support to keep going and get the help they need. I have three daughters, so I’m very sensitive to the fact that it’s not quite the same world. There’s still a lot of prejudice, if you will. It’s a strong word but…
Geoff: …look, it’s a guy’s word. I’m an old white guy. It’s a guy’s world. I accept that. And they just need a little extra support and a leg up, if you will.
Natasha: Absolutely, and you’re right. It starts with men like you because your support, guidance, and influence, not only with them but with influencing other guys, other men, to make sure that they’re supportive and offering guidance will just open up more opportunities.
Geoff: I think that’s right. I’m very proud of our National Home Delivery Association for making room for the Women in Trucking Group and our own group of women to work together to grow their own businesses. I think that the logistics field offers fantastic opportunities for women. We have many women terminal managers. I think a lot of women have the right skill set to run these operations. These are the general managers of a facility, large or small. I think we have a lot of successful women terminal managers, and I’d like to see more. And of course, as you have more successful women terminal managers, they bring in other women, and it will snowball. I have a selfish motive, too. They’re very good managers, the women that work for us, for NRX.
Natasha: That’s awesome. Well, being a business owner can certainly be exhausting and exhilarating. As a business leader, how do you keep yourself motivated? And not just to come in and get the job done on a day-to-day basis, but how do you stay motivated to keep innovating and moving your business forward year after year and looking ahead and having that vision and to keep yourself going?
Geoff: On the business side, I do take a lot of satisfaction in the fact that we’ve created a company that gives great service to our clients and that the employees and contractors that work for us make a good wage for work that’s meaningful. That’s been highlighted in this time. No one becomes a millionaire; it’s not like some of these software entrepreneurs. People in logistics work hard for good pay, and they do something that’s critical to keep our country going. They take a lot of satisfaction being a part of that and making those opportunities available so they can have a better quality of life for them and their families. When I am not working, I love building furniture. I find that I love the craft of it, and I love the fact that it draws my attention. If I’m worried too much about this problem or that problem, I’ll probably cut off my arm! So I pay a lot of attention to not doing that.
Natasha: Don’t cut your arm off!
Geoff: Don’t cut your arm off! When I’m doing it, and I work at a shop on Saturdays, I pretty much can tune out all the problems, and I find it so relaxing. To be focused on this craft. I think it’s great.
Natasha: That’s awesome. It gives you a little moment to recenter yourself. I saw a fun fact that you can speak French!
Geoff: I can. I’m not going to speak French for you now.
Natasha: I thought you could entertain us with a little phrase or something.
Geoff: [Speaks French]
Natasha: Wow! What did you just say? That was amazing.
Geoff: My aunt, who is unfortunately long past, moved to France in the late 50s early 60s, got married, had my first cousin, Sophie, who has a big family there, and we are close. We see each other every year, we go to France every year or they come here and à cause de ça je dois parler français. Because of that, I have to speak French to communicate with them because they don’t all speak English. I’ve studied it my whole life. I may be a little rusty right now. Before I go over, I sort of bone up, so I don’t embarrass myself.
Natasha: Well, I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. I have one last question for you that we can use to wrap this up. What advice would you tell your younger self?
Geoff: I would say two things. From a business point of view, I was always an operations and relations guy, and I didn’t bring in good financial controls early enough. I tell all the women at WINLAB, get a smart CFO on board right away. Took me a long time because I thought, ‘If I take care of people and my clients, I’m going to do fine.’ Well, you can do fine, but you’ll make money better if you have a CFO early on. And the other thing is don’t let your job beat you up.
Geoff: You know what I mean? I mean, every now and then, I get all bent out of shape about a problem, and my wife will say, ‘You’ve had the same problem for 30 years; you always find a solution. Would you stop it and come and have dinner with us?’ [laughter]
Natasha: Your wife sounds like a very smart woman.
Geoff: She is a very smart woman. And that’s the advice. Again, you have to show urgency, you have to solve problems quickly. It’s a real skill to say, ‘Okay, it’s 09:00 at night, nothing is going to change. Shut it down.’ You can’t be running numbers all night. Because believe me, and I’m sure a lot of my contemporaries do the same thing, I’m up all night running the same numbers. Nothing changes; you just wear yourself out and make yourself miserable. I would try and stop that.
Natasha: That’s good, sound advice that’s good. Well, thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed learning a lot more about you and the culture at your business and how you run things. It sounds amazing. I hope to see you soon at the NHDA event. I know that it’ll look a little different this year or maybe next year.
Geoff: Yes, it’s been moved to February, sadly. Thank you. I really enjoyed this conversation. I wish you the best of luck.
Natasha: Thanks, Geoff. Talk to you soon.
Natasha: Thank you so much for listening to the Over the Threshold Podcast. If you liked what you heard on this episode, I’d love it if you’d subscribe, leave a review or share with a friend you know who would like to hear it, too. To learn more about CODE certifications, visit our website codetrained.com