Episode 37: Is De Minimis Exploitation? Uncovering Logistics Trends with Cathy Roberson

Intro – 00:00:01:

Welcome to Freight Nation: A Trucking Podcast where we explore the fascinating world of trucking and freight management. We dive deep into the freight industry and uncover why the trucking industry is more crucial to our country now than ever before. Stay tuned to uncover the driving forces behind successful trucking businesses and hear from the hardworking truckers and leaders who keep the world moving. Let’s hit the road.

Brent – 00:00:27:

Well, hello again, Freight Nation. I hope wherever you are out on the highways and byways of this United States, that you are doing a great job and you’re loving what you do. Because here at Truck Stop and Freight Nation, we sure love what we do. Thanks for joining us today on Freight Nation, a podcast by Truck Stop. Our endeavor here at Freight Nation is just to bring you the really cool stories on how freight moves around the United States and the wonderful people that wound up having their great careers inside of freight transportation and supply chain. And today is a really cool episode for you. I hope you get as much out of it as I do. Because I started back in 1998. One of my first big projects was a big research project for AT&T. They wanted to know who all was coming to truck stops and how they could best communicate to them. And they’re a giant, obviously, global communications company. And they wanted to know how best to do that. And so I really fell in love with research. And it’s just been a big part of what I do inside of transportation. When you think about how big transportation is in the supply chain, and it’s so big. And then you want to understand more of what goes on day to day. And you can’t do that without great research. And joining me today is one of my good friends, Ms. Cathy Roberson. And I hope I’m getting your last name right. Roberson, is that right?

Cathy – 00:01:36:


Brent – 00:01:37:

Roberson. My dad had a business partner with the last name of Roberson. Sorry, Cathy. Cathy Roberson. She and I, over the last couple of weeks, have had a few conversations together, and I’ve really grown to respect what all she does in the industry. And I think you will, too, as you start to learn more about what research goes on in supply chain and transportation. So, Cathy, thanks so much for joining us on Freight Nation today.

Cathy – 00:01:59:

Thank you so much for inviting me. This is exciting.

Brent – 00:02:02:

It is exciting. By the way, no one will ever forget your last name now since I got it wrong first and then got it right second.

Cathy – 00:02:09:

Yeah, you got to add that little Southern twist to it, Roberson.

Brent – 00:02:12:

That’s right. You got a little Southern in you too. Now, you’re in Atlanta, but where did you grow up again?

Cathy – 00:02:17:

I grew up in South Carolina.

Brent – 00:02:19:

South Carolina, for those that don’t know this, it’s also known as South Kakalaki. You don’t know that about South Carolina. It’s also the South Kakalaki. Well, Cathy’s had a great career inside of transportation. We’re going to talk a little bit about that. We’re going to talk about what’s cool about research and what really gotten her going on research and some new things that she’s found. Now, we’re going to also talk a little bit about an endeavor that she’s founded, the Logistics Trends & Insights which is her own company that she founded and really what’s the future for her inside the marketplace. But Cathy, the thing I love about Freight Nation, one of the things I really appreciate is that we get to talk about people’s journey into how they ended up inside a supply chain and freight transportation. And everybody’s pathway is different. And I know yours was a little different, too. So talk a little bit about where you started out. You started in this marketplace about the same time I did. I started in 1998. I think you started with UPS about 2000, is that right?

Cathy – 00:03:07:


Brent – 00:03:08:

So talk a little bit about that and tell the Freight Nation watchers and listeners today your story.

Cathy – 00:03:13:

Okay, so going back a few years prior to UPS, way back in the early 1990s. I was a librarian.

Brent – 00:03:22:

No way. That’s the coolest job ever. My wife is so jealous right now. She would love to be a librarian.

Cathy – 00:03:28:

It’s more than just reading books, okay?

Brent – 00:03:31:

I got to ask you this question because I know the people watching and listening to Freight Nation, and I want to know this too. Do you find yourself going into like bookstores like Barnes and Noble and just hanging out and going, oh, this is so cool?

Cathy – 00:03:42:

I also find myself putting the books in order, in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. It drives me crazy. Even when I walk into a library today, I’m like, oh, my God, the books are out of order.

Brent – 00:03:53:

I love it. Well, that has a lot to do with your bit then about things are out of order. You want to make sure that’s good. So you were a librarian back in the day. Okay, we’ll keep going.

Cathy – 00:04:02:

Yeah, so I was a librarian for a public library. I spent most of my library career in public libraries, ranging from being a children’s librarian to a reference librarian to driving the bookmobile. And yeah, getting called for speeding in the bookmobile.

Brent – 00:04:19:

Speeding the bookmobile? Come on.

Cathy – 00:04:22:

Oh, I did. I got pulled. So I kind of stunk at being a librarian because I didn’t like a quiet library. I managed a branch my last part of my library career. I usually had a pot of coffee going and I had music going.

Brent – 00:04:37:

No, in the library, you were a rebel.

Cathy – 00:04:40:

I guess. I got in trouble one too many times. So decided a new career. I needed a new career. So a friend of mine had moved to a dot-com company and this was in the late nineties. First day I started, I knew it was going to flop, but I was like, it’ll be fun. Let’s give it a try. So I spent about a year there. One of our biggest customers was UPS. So as the dot-com company was tanking, I jumped ship and went to UPS.

Brent – 00:05:09:

Had you moved to Atlanta for the dot-com and you started with UPS Atlanta, or was that lower?

Cathy – 00:05:14:

Actually, I moved for the library job. So I was living in North Carolina at the time, got a divorce, and my parents were living in Atlanta. So it was like, let’s be closer to the parents. I had no desire to stay in the Atlanta area for very long. Fast forward to 30 years later, I’m still here. And I remarried a really nice local guy. So it was cool. So it worked out great. But now I ended up working at UPS, a new products development team that was focused on non-parcel stuff.

Brent – 00:05:47:

Oh, wow. Okay. What segment?

Cathy – 00:05:49:

It was part of the logistics group. There was no UPS supply chain solutions group at that time, but there was a UPS logistics group. And I was tasked with researching RFID tagging of various things, including cattle, trying to keep track of cattle, and other reverse logistics, trying to learn more about that, as well as the emerging technology that was coming into being at that time.

Brent – 00:06:18:

I said, what does cattle have to do with UPS?

Cathy – 00:06:21:

Yeah, don’t ask. It didn’t go anywhere. Did not go anywhere. But we learned a lot about RFID tagging, but also visibility. I mean, even back in 2000, 2001, I was having to research visibility. Do customers really want visibility? We ran a survey back then trying to determine if our customers really wanted visibility. Yeah, they all did, but none of them wanted to pay for it. So we didn’t do much with that. They still don’t want to pay for it. But no, out of our group came Supply Chain Solutions, the subsidiary. And I stayed on for like 10 more years doing competitive analysis. A lot of M&A backing up our mergers and acquisitions team. Because UPS Supply Chain Solutions is made up of like over 30 acquisitions. So I helped out with the research on all of that. So after about 11 years, I had enough of UPS. Still love them, but got bored after a while and went to work with a consulting firm that was based in the UK. And they focused on supply chain consulting as well as market research. So I wrote a lot of their research reports that we would sell off the shelf. It was a lot of sizing the freight forwarding market, sizing the pharmaceutical logistics market, e-commerce logistics, and so on. So after about five years of that, I was like, heck with this, I can do it on my own. And so that was when I started my own company.

Brent – 00:07:54:

Yeah. Where’d you get your chops for writing and then research if you started out as a library? All right. So I’m sure you went to a high level analytics school or something, or you got your MBA in research and dynamic Pareto distribution or something. I don’t know. How did you end up in the writing part, which is a talent to and to itself? Writing’s hard. So how did you end up in that part, which is basically what’s defined your career?

Cathy – 00:08:21:

It’s funny because I’ve always loved to do research. Ever since I was, when I was in school, I would do everyone’s research for them in exchange for someone to write for me because I hated writing. It was. So painful for me. And even to this day, I tell people I write just to try to showcase the research, because to me, I like the research. Now, my educational background, I do have that master’s in library science. I have an MBA focused on marketing and finance. And the only reason why is because those were the two easiest classes for me. And I wanted just to get the piece of paper at the time. But no, I mean, writing is not the easiest. And some will tell you I can’t write worth a darn, which is okay. It’s not hurtful. But I think I am a better researcher than I am a writer. And I hate to say that. And I’m going to lose so many clients after saying that. Because that’s what I do mostly is write content for clients. And I also work with the Journal of Commerce as a research analyst. And I write a column for Air Cargo next, focused on Air Cargo.

Brent – 00:09:35:

Well, understanding the background information to any good piece that you write is primary to the piece being compelling, right? So it’s about the research. This is why we at TruckStop, everyone wants to look at our data, which is a form of research. They want to look at that because it’s unique. It’s only found in a couple of places on the globe, which is us and one of our competitors. So it’s always good that fresh content that has such good outputs is needed.

Cathy – 00:10:01:

Well, also being able to tell that story around the data. That’s important. And I think a lot of folks are realizing they can’t just throw out a number and go, there it is. You got to be able to tell the story around that data point.

Brent – 00:10:14:

It’s about what makes up that output. Not just do you have an output, because there’s a lot of people today that what they’re promoting into the marketplace is opinion. It’s not necessarily, it’s backed up by some anecdotal information, but it’s not true research on things where it shows, oh, well, this is what’s happening in the market. Well, that’s more anecdotal. And I’m sure directionally it may be okay, but from a standpoint of really provable.

Cathy – 00:10:38:

It makes for interesting reading, true, but it leaves you with, where’d you get that number from? Every time I read an article and there’s numbers in it, it’s like, okay, what’s the source? What’s the methodology behind that index? Because it drives me crazy if things aren’t sourced or explained a little bit. You don’t have to give away the secret sauce, per se, but give some general information.

Brent – 00:11:04:

Well, talk a little bit about that, Kathy. So Freight Nation, Kathy just mentioned a couple of things. So when you look at a piece of information that you’re reading, today is hopefully for you Freight Nation watchers and listeners today that you are going to learn a little bit on when you’re looking at a piece of information, what to look at in it to make sure that what you’re reading is not just opinion, but it’s also got fact. It’s got some facts behind it as well. So you mentioned two things. You mentioned the necessity for source attribution and the necessity for methodology explanation. So Kathy, for the Freight Nation watchers and listeners, talk about why that’s so important when you’re reading something.

Cathy – 00:11:38:

To me it’s like a duh i mean it’s just one of these natural things for me I know that sounds so stupid, but really, when you see a chart and you’re like, oh, well, that’s really cool. Please don’t take it at face value. I mean… My undergrad degree and master’s is also in economics. And so we were always taught. You can argue any number. So many different waves. So you have to be very careful with that. And you want to have that source, the direct source, not the source is Kathy’s blog post or Kathy says so. No, that’s not going to fly. Where do those numbers come from? And then if it’s an index, what’s that index derived? I mean, you don’t have to go into minute detail. I would love that. But a lot of times it could be a competitive advantage. Advantage. I’ve had people tell me that their indices were competitive advantages. And I’m like, well, that’s great. Give me a high level. How was it formed? And from there, if it makes sense to you, you can choose to accept it. If it still doesn’t make sense to you, don’t use it. Don’t use it because there’s, I guarantee you, you will find another source. I would hesitate to call better source, but you would find another source that you’re more comfortable with.

Brent – 00:13:00:

Yeah. So explain a little further about methodology. Because I think methodology is really important in this. Cause like for instance, anytime I look at any data from anybody, anywhere, I always want to know the same two things you just brought up. And I’m glad you brought these up because this is really important because we’re bombarded with information today. Everybody is, and Lord, hey, freight transportation, United States and supply chain. We love our data and our research and our numbers. So you always want to know who’s saying it and the methodology. How did they get to what they’re saying? So that’s what methodology is. Talk a little bit more about methodology. And like, what would you describe it? And I know we’re spinning off a little bit. What’s good methodology and kind of like questionable methodology.

Cathy – 00:13:39:

All right, so let’s take a survey, for example. So you see this big headline in the news, 99%—and I’m going to throw politics in here and I apologize—99% of registered voters support Biden or Trump. Okay, so first of all, who are those 99%? How many were surveyed? So if there was only five people surveyed— That’s not a logical number. I mean, I would trash that survey right then and there. It’s not reputable by any means. If the survey was, say, 100 and it was done one location, Atlanta, Georgia, that’s suspect as well. It’s just saying people in Atlanta like one over the other. It doesn’t mean the entire U.S. You have to have a good sample. That represents The demographics, your typical demographics, male, female, a good number of completed surveys. And it’s just got to make sense. And that doesn’t make sense either way you look at it. So that’s an example. Now, if I have an index and it shows, boy, I hate to use trucking because this is going to, I’m going to get lots of dings on this. But okay, well, let’s use trucking. Why not? Live dangerously here. So trucking rates are trending. Trending up. 95% year over year. All right. Well, that’s impressive. Is it true? You have to understand what source is being used for those freight rates, those trucking rates. Is it truckload? Is it LTL? Is it a combination? What is it? Where did this data come from? How is that index based? Is it based on 50 as the middle point, below 50 declining? Or is there another way? The time period, when was this data collected and such? So it’s just some of that that you’ve got to ask. You’ve got to keep an open mind. And the way I’ve always told people, if it doesn’t make sense to you, don’t use it because there is another source out there that you can use. If it makes sense to you, go at it because data can be manipulated in so many ways. You could tell so many stories with just one data point. Because I remember at UPS, I had people come into me going, and this is wrong. Don’t ever do this. I want to prove this number.

Brent – 00:16:06:

Ooh. That’s not research.

Cathy – 00:16:09:

No, that’s bad analysis, but they were wanting to get the higher-ups off their back about something. Data can be dangerous if you misuse it.

Brent – 00:16:19:

Right. And so Freight Nation, data can be dangerous if you misuse it, or if you allow the numbers that you’re looking at to misconstrue what you think about it. And that’s so true because what happens in our data rich world, because data, it’s everywhere, no matter what you do. But what you want is for data, depending on how you want to say it, to become information. When does it become information? Information is something you can use. Data for data’s sake is not that valuable to you. You’ve got to figure out what is it telling you about something. And so the idea of looking at it over a large audience, if you see a piece of research that says there’s 25 of something, it may be a tiny bit directional in a small sense, but it’s not provable against an audience. And I just say that to you, Free Nation, because it’s super important. Because we do get bombarded by content today. All right, so Kathy. You continue to move forward. You’ve had a really cool career in doing research in a lot of different areas of the supply chain. All right. Talk a little bit about like you still work for JOC as an analyst. You’re doing some work for the Reverse Logistics Association, which has became one of the hottest markets in the world because of the Amazon effect and everybody ordering not just one of something, but they order two or three or something online because they’re going to return the other two if they don’t like them. So reverse logistics. And that’s just when something gets returned, Freight Nation. And then you also have your own gig. I want to talk about your own gig in a minute. Talk about the market right now and some of the compelling research that you’ve done over the last, like, what does it look like post-pandemic from a research standpoint? What are some of the indices that you’re looking at that kind of make you go, oh, that’s interesting?

Cathy – 00:17:52:

Oh, wow. That’s an interesting question. But first, back to the data, you got to have common sense. Just use common sense when using the data. As far as what I’m seeing now, what makes me excited or go, that’s interesting. I mean, post-pandemic, it’s been interesting to watch the market overall, supply chain markets, go from these highs back to where they literally were before the pandemic. I monitor a lot of retailers. I read their earnings transcripts just to see how they’re doing. And those retailers that were in trouble financially before the pandemic are now facing similar problems. They had a get-out-of-jail-free card, so to speak, during the pandemic. Now those same problems are coming back to roost a lot of times. Whether they have too many stores, too much inventory, the wrong type of inventory, so on and so forth. A lot of them have too much supply chain cost still sitting on their sheets. I think one of the most interesting things, personally, tracking, and I’ve written about for Air Cargo Next, is the whole de minimis issue.

Brent – 00:19:04:

All right, so Great Nation watchers and listeners, you got on de minimis, because that sounds like something from Harry Potter. So define what that is.

Cathy – 00:19:11:

De minimis is when you’re importing goods into the country, say from China. Let’s use China, they’ve been a scapegoat for quite a while for this. So Chinese e-commerce providers, Timu, Sheen, they’re the ones that’s getting blasted for this in particular. They’re taking advantage of a ruling here in the U.S. called the de minimis, which allows them to collect packages valued at $800. $800 is the max. They can package all these up into one shipment per day, ship it over to the U.S. Without having to pay duties or taxes.

Brent – 00:19:54:

Oh, wow. So they just chop it up to avoid the duties and taxes.

Cathy – 00:19:59:

They’ll consolidate it, all these packages on a pallet, two pallets, whatever. But the value of the total shipment has to be $800 or less. If it’s $801, they get slapped with having to pay duties and taxes for them to enter the country. So they’ve been accused of taking advantage of this. I’m not so sure it’s being taken advantage. I think it’s almost smart business if you look at it, kind of wonky. They’re using this rule to ship a lot of cheap stuff into the country. It goes to a warehouse where it’s deconsolidated and then transported for final mile delivery to folks that’s ordered a $5 pair of blue jeans or $10 worth of whatever. So that’s been an issue. And there are several bills up on Capitol Hill that’s addressing this because while we have this de minimis, this $800 ceiling, China doesn’t. Whatever you send over to China, you’re going to have to pay the duties and the taxes. So a lot of folks are saying that’s not fair. We’ve got to figure out something. So I’ve been following this because it’s really huge. And. E-commerce in particular, but in general, more packages are just small parcels are being tracked coming across the Trans-Pacific. Things are getting smaller, and e-commerce really generates a lot of that, for sure. So that’s what I’ve been following.

Brent – 00:21:34:

So that’s Devinimus. So it has a consumer world aspect to it on top of a commercial transportation market aspect to it. Because I imagine there are people in the United States that’s going, oh, China’s taking advantage of us on both sides. They’re making us pay, but they’re not paying when it comes this way. So I get that now. So write for the Reverse Logistics Association, do research and write for them as well. So tell the Freight Nation watchers and listeners a little bit about reverse logistics and just what are some of the unique things that are going on inside of reverse logistics.

Cathy – 00:22:04:

No, the Reverse Logistics Association is a super awesome group that is focused on what I call the back end of supply chains. So I like to remind folks supply chains are not linear. Okay, it does not necessarily end at my front door. I may decide I don’t want it. Or it may actually end at the port itself. Think about during the pandemic when Halloween stuff was being delivered in February. A lot of times these retailers didn’t have enough room in the warehouse, so they’d have to return all of that. That’s a reverse logistics problem. So really, your supply chain is circular. And that’s something that we at the RLA promotes is that whole circularity component. And reverse logistics is not only returns, it’s repairs, it’s recyclable items as well. So the goal is you don’t want to dump anything in the landfill. We don’t have the cleanest of earth. We need to try to clean it up a little. And by keeping it out of the landfills is one way for sure. So if you can repair your phone, those refurbished phones, that’s a big market. That’s part of the reverse logistics. So what I’m tasked with, I am the research manager, and I get a number of questions from our members, and we have quite a few members. We have about 500 large companies, including Home Depot, Amazon, Walmart, Dell, and so on. And then we have individuals that are members. And so I get a variety of questions such as, what is the average return rate? How many items are returned on a given year? Benchmarking the returns against one another, that’s another common question. Well, the problem is there’s so little research done in this space, and not everyone wants to share their data. So a lot of times I’m either having to go beg somebody to utilize their data or just tell folks, well, it depends. So it’s a challenge. And that’s one of the reasons why I accepted that position was to learn more. And it’s so important. And really, back in September, the RLA was acquired by the National Retail Federation. So they saw the importance of that back end of the supply chain as well. So we’ve been working together on various projects and such. But I also run a quarterly index. It’s a survey that feeds into an index. It’s a very basic index. 50 being no change. Above 50 is increase. So it’s ask about volumes and cost on a quarterly basis. So, and that’s usually, that’s Freedom Members. So yeah, it’s fun.

Brent – 00:25:02:

How much has reversed logistics from a volume standpoint? What’s been the increased percentages over the last 10 or 15 years?

Cathy – 00:25:11:

It depends on the type of retail because some retail parts, there’s a higher return. Shoes.

Brent – 00:25:18:

I was going to say, anything about fashion. You need to do with women or men’s clothing or women’s purses. Something like that.

Cathy – 00:25:27:

Oh, I haven’t done that. Now, I have to admit, my problem is the shoes. If I order online, which I prefer to order online anyway, I will buy shoe sizes, two or three different sizes of the same shoe, and then I’ll knowingly return the other two. That’s a huge problem, by the way. Huge problem. And that’s when you start seeing a lot of these returns policies change because a lot of retailers are doing away with those free returns. Just like that free shipping. It’s no such thing for either one.

Brent – 00:26:03:

You mean to tell me it’s not free, Cathy?

Cathy – 00:26:05:

No, it’s not. Someone has to pay for it.

Brent – 00:26:10:

I saw a great speech back in 2014. I went to a great conference and the speaker was talking about there’s no such thing as free shipping. Somebody’s paying for it somewhere. The consumer’s paying for it somewhere.

Cathy – 00:26:19:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, definitely. So to mitigate those costs, a lot of times the retailers are saying, okay, so if you order something online and you need to return it, if you return it back to a store, we won’t charge you. If we have to come pick it up. We’ll have to charge for the pickup and the transportation. So they’re getting around it, these things, by doing things like that or doing a restocking fee. Amazon will do some restocking fees depending on what the item is. Sometimes, I don’t know if you ever encountered this, if you return something to Amazon or even Walmart, they’ll go, just keep it.

Brent – 00:27:02:

Oh, yeah.

Cathy – 00:27:03:

That’s because the cost of taking it back is too much for them. So they’ve more or less lost money, which is a shame because what they could be doing is to direct that return to a donation, to a charity. Now, that’s what Chewy will do. So if you buy cat food or dog food that your pets don’t like from Chewy, they’ll tell you, just donate it to one of the animal groups. We’ve done that.

Brent – 00:27:31:

Yeah, so super cool. So you’ve seen with your research, you’ve been able to see a lot of different change inside of transportation. In your mind, what’s the biggest sort of transformation you’ve seen over the last six or seven years inside of transportation? Because you get to see a lot of it. You get to see air. You get to see what goes on with Journal of Commerce. You get to see the reverse side. You write about the greater supply chain. So what’s been like the big sort of positional change with logistics or transportation or just supply chain? What’s been the big aha? Wow, that’s changed a lot.

Cathy – 00:28:04:

I think the embracement of technology more so. I know that probably sounds old. And I soar up and down. I did not mention those two letters, but I’m going to. AI.

Brent – 00:28:16:

Well, that’s coming at us. God bless. That’s pretty new, though. Yeah.

Cathy – 00:28:18:

And if I hear one more person tell me, AI is going to make your job redundant, I’m going to scream. No, it’s not. It’s not. Because, first of all, it’d be scary if AI ever really thought like me. I don’t think it could. But no, if you think about it, I come from UPS. I’ve done a lot of parcel type of research as well over the past five to eight years. And the potential for dynamic pricing, not only in parcel, but also in trucking. I mean, it’s done in air, the passenger perspective.

Brent – 00:28:53:

When you say dynamic pricing, define that to the Freight Nation listeners.

Cathy – 00:28:57:

So dynamic pricing is if it changes based on demand. Okay, like Uber. Or like on a truck lane between Dallas and Chicago, it could be a dollar a mile one day. It could be $5 a mile, depending on the day and the month.

Brent – 00:29:17:

How much freight in a lane, how many trucks are running that lane and that sort of thing.

Cathy – 00:29:21:

Yeah, it’s kind of like what Uber Freight does or did when they first started. I’m not 100% sure, but I mean, they did a lot of that. And that’s where the parcel market is going more towards that. In fact, FedEx had started doing that during the holiday season last year with some of their peak surcharges. So if you were a shipper and you started shipping more than what you agreed to do with FedEx, they’d slap you with a higher surcharge.

Brent – 00:29:52:

Isn’t that crazy? You give them more business and, no, I’m sorry, that doesn’t, we’re going to charge you more for that. I remember reading about that. Just a crazy thing. So technology and the ability to price per the supply and demand of a marketplace.

Cathy – 00:30:08:

Yeah, I mean, that’s cool. But also from a shipper’s perspective, being able to have a platform, I guess it’s a TMS, but not look at the transportation by the specific mode. So you type in what you need shipped from Dallas to Chicago, how much you’re willing to pay, and you have different options, whether it is trucking, whether it’s air, whether it’s parcel or rail for that matter. But see, when I was at UPS, we were always taught, don’t think about the mode of transportation. We service those based on the time. It’s always based on time. So if you need your item in Chicago, like tomorrow, A, you got to be willing to pay. You also need to look at your options. It may not be air. You could probably do it by truck or by rail, for that matter, or a combination. So I love those platforms that offers all those options. And also, if you throw into dreaded AI, it could perform some more analysis for you. And you could use that data to make better decisions as well. So that stuff is really cool. But I mean, at the end of the day, because I grew up in a family where my dad was a computer programmer. And he always said, you never let the technology lead you. Always remember, it’s a tool and you are the person using that tool. It’s the person that’s still the important part of that equation. So I’ve always stuck with that belief.

Brent – 00:31:43:

That’s a lot of wisdom from your dad. So super cool. All right, so you built up a good bank of research experience, those things. And then in 2015, you decided to start reporting to the marketplace on your own platform. You brought logistics trends and insights to the marketplace. And look, we’ll say that makes it, what, nine years now? Is that right? You’ve been doing it for nine years? That’s remarkable. So tell me what got you to the point of wanting to start your own firm, bringing out information. And then how’s it been running your own show?

Cathy – 00:32:15:

Depends on what day you ask me that. Some days I’ll go, I love it. And other days it’s like, I hate it. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to own my own business. And I wanted to have my own research business. The thought way back when I was still in school was to really be like a librarian for hire for businesses.

Brent – 00:32:37:

Is there a market for that? A librarian for hire?

Cathy – 00:32:40:

No, because see, dummy me ends up giving away more than charging. So it’s still that librarian in me. It’s like, oh, don’t worry. Let me send that information over to you. I liked it. Someone, I think it’s Brian Bourke from SEKO Logistics, once described me as the librarian of the supply chain market.

Brent – 00:33:00:

Well, now that ought to be something you ought to trademark. The plot chain librarian.

Cathy – 00:33:04:

Well, I’d like to get paid for it, but I mean, it’s hard. So the original plan was to do research, and I still do that for clients. But I mean, I’ve branched out to do a lot of just content writing. It’s funny because the folks that have started these logistics tech companies back in the late 20-teens, 2016, 17, I was helping them out with their content and having to prove to the VCs, the venture capitalists, private equity firms, why they should get funding. And so, yeah, that was a wild trip for sure. But I still do content writing for a number of them that have grown up and others that have not only sold the business, but they’re now on their second or third startup. So I still stick with those folks. I am working on a couple of reports to hopefully sell, put up out there to sell to the market later this summer. One on the parcel last mile market because that has really changed. Because usually back in my day, way back when, if you’re going to ship a package, it was either the post office, UPS, or FedEx. End of story. Well, now you’ve got those three, plus you have Amazon. Walmart’s also shipping last mile. You have regional carriers. You have tech providers, so on and so forth. So it’s really changed, evolved. So I’m working on a report for that. I’m also doing another report on M&A activity, recent M&A activity, because it has picked up in the logistics supply chain space. So I figure, well, it’s time to write about that. And I’ve got a lovely Excel spreadsheet with a listing of acquisitions. So, yeah, it’s fun.

Brent – 00:34:55:

So you’re keeping up with a lot. What do you build next? Into your insights and then we’ll close it out, man. This has been super cool. Freight Nation, I hope you’ve learned a lot of research, what to look for. I’d notice a little BS if it’s out there, if you know what I’m talking about. So what’s next for your platform and the insights?

Cathy – 00:35:11:

I would like to be able to build up a nice repository of data for folks to tap into, analysis, slowly building that out while I’m working with the JOC and others. I’m also doing a weekly LinkedIn newsletter. It’s on behalf of JOC. It’s called Freight Forward. That comes out every Monday. It’s a LinkedIn newsletter. It’s free to sign up. So if you ever need a summary of what’s going on in the supply chain market, please sign up for that. I just, I dearly love research. I love this market. So usually when people have questions and don’t know where to go, I’m like, ask me. I can either tell you who or I can give you that answer. Sometimes I may tell you where. So speaking of the Journal of Commerce, because they will hit me if I don’t save.

Brent – 00:36:06:

Oh my goodness. Don’t make them mad.

Cathy – 00:36:07:

No, they won’t hit me or anything. No, they won’t do that because they’re so nice. It’s funny because I’ve known them, I’ve known most of them for over 20 years. So it was such an honor to be able to work with them on a regular basis. The Journal of Commerce puts out a couple of really wonderful conferences each year. TPM, which is in March of every year. That’s in Long Beach where you see all the ocean carriers come in. But they also have one in Chicago, in September. I’ve got it written down here. September 30th through October 2nd is the Inland Distribution Conference. And that’s where you have the trucking, the intermodal, the inland transportation and stuff. Encourage a lot of folks to come out and join us because you’re going to be there.

Brent – 00:36:56:

I’ll be there this year. I was supposed to speak last year and didn’t get the opportunity to. I had a little personal situation come up and I’m excited to be in Chicago again and speak there with Bill, you and the crew. So it’s going to be a lot of fun, Eric as well. It’s really fun. I really appreciate what JOC and what Reverse Logistics and what you do to help this industry be better at what it does, Cathy. We really appreciate you being on Freight Nation today. Oh, by the way, we can’t enter this Freight Nation podcast without understanding love for Marty Stewart. You got a Marty Stewart shirt on. Tell the Freight Nation watchers a little bit about why you love Marty Stewart.

Cathy – 00:37:29:

So I love music. I have an eclectic taste in music. But Marty Stewart, bluegrass. Awesome. So if you ever get a chance to see Marty Stewart and the fabulous superlatives, I highly recommend them. Fantastic. Their bass player, Chris Scruggs, grandson of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, plays a mean wipeout on the bass.

Brent – 00:37:54:

I love it. Well, see, Freight Nation, we’re all just one big universe out here trying to get freight moved across our entire United States. And so thank you, Cathy, so much for really educating us on the value of research, how to look at research, how to make sure the research you’re reading in this data-rich world that we’re in is something that can benefit you and is accurate to what you’re reading. So I really appreciate you being on Freight Nation today.

Cathy – 00:38:16:

Thank you so much for having me.

Brent – 00:38:18:

Oh my gosh, what a joy. Really appreciate you. Cathy, as we like to say on Freight Nation, don’t forget to work hard, to be kind, and to stay humble. All right, Freight Nation, we’ll catch you the next time. Thanks for watching and listening.

Outro – 00:38:31:

On behalf of the Truckstop team, thanks for listening to this episode of Freight Nation. To find out more about the show, head to forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you hit subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. Until then, keep on trucking and exploring the open roads with Freight Nation: A Trucking Podcast.

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