Putting people first, even during a pandemic

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Customer service is the essence of this essential business

In 1989, John Hayes founded Hayes Import Inspection Service, a United States Department of Agriculture import meat and poultry inspection service station located near the border with Canada. Little did he know that one day his son, Tom Hayes, would transform his small, focused business into T.C. Trading Company, one of the most diverse warehousing and transportation companies in the region.

John Hayes had been a West Coast USDA import supervisor; he retired from the USDA in 1988. Foreseeing opportunity stemming from the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, he established the first independent, USDA-licensed meat and poultry import inspection business in Blaine. He recruited his son Tom, who was about to graduate from Eastern Washington University, to join his newly established company.

“He paid for my school, so I came to help, but I didn’t know I’d work for three years for free,” joked Tom Hayes.

For eight years, John Hayes focused on USDA import meat and poultry inspection. He eventually expanded, adding an inspection office in Seattle. During that time, Tom pondered opportunities to offer value-added services to the company’s customers.

“Dad was focused on meat inspection,” Tom Hayes said. “It was what he knew. I looked at the company as if I was running the business. In the early ’90s, a new cruise ship service between Vancouver and Alaska created a need for cold storage and additional supply chain services at the border. I reached out to our customers and prospective cruise ship vendors and asked how we could simplify their business across the border.”

In 1996, USDA regulations changed for the third time since the company’s inception, putting John Hayes in a vulnerable financial position. Tom Hayes purchased the Blaine office of Hayes Import Inspection Service from his father and changed the company’s moniker to T.C. Trading Company.

Meeting customer needs key to business growth
With its strategic location near the border with Canada, T.C. Trading Company initially helped U.S. companies export food and beverage products into Canada and Canadian businesses ship food and beverage products into the United States. In 1997, the company established partnerships with cruise ship vendors servicing the Alaska cruise ship industry, which opened many doors. As import and export regulations changed over the years, T.C. Trading Company expanded its offerings to create a one-stop shop for all border-related cold storage and logistics.

Today, T.C. Trading Company provides global supply chain solutions for domestic and international businesses, with the latter accounting for nearly 40% of the company’s revenues.

“We focus on each customer and customize their supply chain needs,” said Tom Hayes, who serves as the company’s president. “We listen and provide solutions, making it easy for our customer, and try to give added value.”

No matter the client’s location, a partnership with T.C. Trading Company extends beyond storage and logistics. The team is committed to providing a high level of customer service.
“We aren’t going to just store client product,” said Phillip Hayes, T.C. Trading Company’s general manager. “Our perspective is to be an extension of the client. We are willing to be on the phone at 2, 3 or 4 a.m., so when they walk in their door at the start of business, they know the problem’s been handled.”

Doing whatever it takes to help customers seamlessly distribute their products along the supply chain is key to T.C. Trading Company’s continued success.

“Our customers’ reputation and the trust factor are important to us,” Tom Hayes said. “We know their reputation is on the line, and we do what we can to protect it. It opens doors, so we can help our customers’ business run more smoothly, more effectively.”

Providing services to customers during the pandemic
Throughout its 24 years in business, T.C. Trading Company has endured its share of challenges. None has been as trying as the coronavirus pandemic, which put a stranglehold on the supply chain. Because the company is a food distributor, it was essential that its operations weren’t interrupted.

The management team had the foresight to implement company-wide changes for the safety of employees and customers even before government mandates took effect. “We staggered our warehouse crew and implemented mandatory wearing of masks,” Tom Hayes explained. “All (on-site) employees go through a health screening and temperature check every day. We ask if they don’t feel good for any reason to stay home.”
The company also put a halt on all business travel and requested that employees engaged in personal travel quarantine for three days prior to returning to work.

“We also only allow one delivery driver to check into reception at a time,” Phillip Hayes added. “Each staff member is assigned an area of the building to clean and sanitize, and we clean six times a day, since we handle food. We’re an essential business, and it’s important we remain open.”

The Hayeses believe it’s too early to tell whether COVID-19 will be the impetus for any permanent changes within their industry. However, Phillip Hayes noted that because many foreign manufacturing plants closed due to the worldwide pandemic, the supply chain backed up.

“It was a domino effect,” he said. “I think, going forward, businesses will need to diversify how and where they make their products, who will distribute it, and that more production will be brought back to the U.S.”

In addition to forcing the company to implement safety precautions to prevent a temporary closure, COVID-19 had a significant effect on the company’s peak season. During this time of the year, the shelving in the freezer and cold storage facilities are normally filled to the ceiling, with the ground space stacked neck high and the dock areas packed. Operations would run 24/7 to meet demand. However, business loss due to a cancelled cruise ship season left the company facing new challenges.

“Our peak season is March to October,” noted Sonia Hayes, T.C. Trading Company co-owner and vice president. “In February, I’d start the interview and training process to bring on 50 to 60 seasonal employees. We realized toward the end of February that things were changing, and the cruises wouldn’t proceed as planned. We put a halt on hiring. We’ve also had to lay off nine additional employees.”

While the coronavirus pandemic created new challenges within the supply chain industry, it also created new opportunities for T.C. Trading Company, as businesses sought outsourcing partners to meet the surging demands of e-commerce fulfillment and the shipping of essential supplies to the front lines.

A logistics partner that companies rely on
In the business world, sometimes it is common to focus on profit over customer service. But Sonia recalled Tom once telling her, “My goal is not to be the biggest company out there; my goal is to provide the best service to customers and a wonderful place to work.”

Through Tom Hayes’ guidance, as the company has grown and endured business challenges, its dedication to customer service has not waned. The company’s goal is for customers to be able to focus on what they do best, knowing that T.C. Trading Company will try its hardest to ensure that their product arrives as expected at its final destination.
Learn more about the company at www.tctradingcompany.com.