By Keith Norbury

In the fall of 2011, A.N. Deringer Inc. announced an expansion of its weekly less-than-container load consolidation service from China to Toronto via the B.C. ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver. In the two years since that announcement, Deringer has more than doubled its LCL shipments, as well as its full-container shipments, said company President Jake Holzscheiter. “We are fortunate to work with talented Canadian partners – container freight stations, brokers, and carriers – who help ensure a smooth delivery, to Deringer’s warehouses or to final destination,” Mr. Holzscheiter said.

While Deringer imports some of those consolidated shipments directly to the U.S., in many cases, depending on the final destination, Canada’s roads and railways enable quicker delivery of cargo brought in through Canadian ports, such as Montreal, Vancouver, or Prince Rupert. The transit time from Shanghai to Toronto, when routed through Prince Rupert, is 20 days, for example. That compares with 21 days from Shenzhen to Chicago via Los Angeles. From Toronto, freight is de-vanned for destinations not only in Ontario but also to U.S. locales from New England to Ohio to Michigan.

“Many Canadian importers have ocean-borne freight destined for both Canada and the U.S.,” Mr. Holzscheiter said. “Deringer positions its customers’ inventory strategically for the quickest distribution, either from our distribution centres or theirs.”

This particular service might be new, but Deringer’s association with Canada isn’t. The company’s roots are in Canada-U.S. trade. And today, almost half of Deringer’s customers are based in Canada. “The Canadian market is very important to Deringer, as are all of our customers for whom we handle shipping and logistics services,” said Mr. Holzscheiter, who is the company’s fifth CEO since Alfred Neel Deringer founded the firm in 1919 to import hay from Canada to export to U.S. allies in France shortly after the First World War.

“It was actually hay for the horses over there,” then company President Ken Holzscheiter, the founder’s nephew and current President’s father, said in a 1998 article in Business Digest. According to that account, Neel Deringer went into the insurance business after the war. However, his familiarity with Canadian hay and how to get it across the border led to the company earning one of the first U.S. customs brokers licences – no. 22, to be exact. Among Deringer’s other accomplishments in a long history of involvement with government trade committees was selection as the pilot broker for U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s Broker Account Management Program. The company also takes credit for filing the first error-free entry of the CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment, a.k.a. ACE, system in 2009. That same year, Deringer was among four brokers chosen for CBP’s Broker Self-Assessment pilot project. Two years later, in 2011, Deringer was among six brokers selected for the Simplified Entry pilot. “A strong reputation with CBP and other government agencies translates to a higher level of compliance for our customers,” Jake Holzscheiter said.

Today Mr. Holzscheiter presides over a company with more than 400 employees. About half of them are licensed as professional customs brokers in the U.S. and Canada or hold other credentials such as certified custom specialist or certified export specialist. Based in St. Albans, Vermont, Deringer’s head office is only about 20 kilometres from the Quebec border. And while all of its 30 offices are based in the U.S., Deringer has a broad network of vetted agents and broker partners in Canada to complete the supply chain cycle for its customers.

“Partnering with Canadian and overseas brokers and freight forwarders allows Deringer to navigate the logistics labyrinth with skill,” Mr. Holzscheiter said. “Deringer has a well-vetted partnership with these companies, and their first-hand knowledge of their culture, geography, infrastructure, and government ensure our customers’ shipments arrive without delay. Using Deringer’s network of foreign agents and Canadian partners, Deringer is able to provide seamless supply chain solutions. Deringer carefully selects partners that have the same focus on compliance, security, and trust.”

As a private company, Deringer doesn’t reveal its financial details or its freight volumes. However, Mr. Holzscheiter did note that his company is the largest privately held customs broker in the U.S. and sixth largest overall.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Deringer weathered the flattened economy reasonably well and has sustained growth in its core offerings of freight forwarding, customs brokerage, and distribution. “Deringer has seen tremendous growth in its import freight forwarding services,” said Matt Parrott, the company’s Director of Transportation. “Part of this, I believe, is because shippers are tightening their purse strings in a tight economy and demanding competitive rates. But, also in part, because most shippers are savvy and understand that they can save on demurrage and doc transfer fees when using one partner for both customs brokerage and transportation.”

Marketing Manager Claudia Ashton added that growing the freight forwarding part of the business during the last two years was a strategic move. “It’s not a new service for us, by any means. We’ve always had the skill and knowledge base, but now we’ve put more emphasis on promoting this service. We recognize customers are looking for an end-to-end solution that meets their compliance and service needs.”

While Deringer is a non-asset-based company, more than half of its offices have warehouses and offer distribution services, such as cross dock, pick and ship, or pick and pack. The company owns some of these facilities while others are on long-term leases. It also has a small fleet of leased tractor trailers, straight trucks, box trucks, and vans that are employed mostly for short-haul cross-border shipments. For other trucking and rail moves, Deringer works with contracted carriers and uses a transportation brokerage service called Deringer Dispatch. “Deringer Dispatch uses a vetted partnership of national regional common carriers, trucking companies, and owner operators to provide the most cost-effective and reliable FTL, LTL, and intermodal transportation,” Mr. Holzscheiter explained.

The company’s most important assets, though, are its people and their commitments to the company’s core values, which founder Alfred Neel Deringer instilled nine decades ago, and which “permeates the company’s vision” to this day, Mr. Holzscheiter said. “This means providing logistics services with accuracy, efficiency, communication, and a value promise to achieve mutually beneficial partnerships,” he said. “Deringer’s promise of service and compliance correspond with long-standing foundations in the trade community, which have granted it the stability necessary to continue offering successful partnerships.”