Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

Symbia Logistics

by Margaret Jackson on October 28, 2018, 10:46 am MDT

www.symbia.com

Edwards, Colorado

Founded: 1989

Privately owned

Employees: About 1,400 (200 in Colorado)

Industry: Supply Chain

Products: Pallets, supply-chain support, and fulfillment services

CEO Megan Smith is guiding the pallet-manufacturing titan back into logistics and distribution for some of the biggest names in retail.

As pallets of goods crisscross the country, Symbia Logistics is one of the key cogs in the system. The company processes about 15 million pallets annually through a combination of new pallet manufacturing and sorting, repairing, or tearing them down.

In 2018, Symbia will manufacture more than 2 million pallets for CHEP, a Brambles company that helps move more goods to more people in more places than any other company in the world. Retailers like Costco and Walmart pay CHEP to rent the pallets; new pallets have a 10-year lifespan.

While the company is headquartered on the west side of Vail Pass in Edwards, Symbia has three facilities in metro Denver, including a pallet manufacturing and refurbishment depot. "I build the pallets and put them out into the pool so their customers can use them and they send them back to me to be refurbished," says Smith.

Smith was brought into the family business as a partner in 2007 and named chief executive in 2009. Since she's taken over from her father, founder Jim Smith, Megan has strived to build a new image and culture for the company, which received its Women's Business Enterprise (WBE) designation in 2014. "I was brought on as a diversity initiative," she says. "I'd always wanted to get involved but was told it was too harsh, too rough, too much of a man's world. My dad was nervous about bringing me on. It's been a labor of love for me."

A non-compete clause resulting from the sale of its Amware division in 2014 forced Symbia to focus on its core business of manufacturing pallets for CHEP. Now that the non-compete clause in its contract with Amware has expired, Symbia has gotten back into the logistics, warehousing, and fulfillment business. The company owns warehouses in Arizona, California, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, and Colorado.

Earlier in 2018, it acquired Mountain States Logistics in Denver, enabling the company to increase its services and provide competitively priced solutions for its clients. "We always knew we wanted to get back into it," Smith says.

Challenges: Symbia's rapid growth has made it more challenging for the company to find the right employees. In 2014, when it still was known as PMS, it grew 5,000 percent -- from a $3 million operation to a $27 million enterprise. "When you're growing at such an exponential speed, you've gone from running a lean ship with just a few people to growing that team. It can be challenging to find people with the same passion and create that same culture."

As more players have infiltrated the e-commerce and e-fulfillment industry, maintaining market share has become more of a challenge. "We're just trying to tell the story that we've been doing this for over a decade," Smith says.

A personal challenge for Smith is being a woman in a male-dominated industry. "Sometimes it can be daunting to go into a room and out of 13 people I'm the only woman," she says. "It's not that it's something I don't enjoy, but it's a challenge."

Opportunities: Smith says there is tremendous opportunity to innovate and diversify the company. At its new fulfillment center in Aurora, for example, Symbia recently built out an automated line with a cardboard box builder. "The product comes down the line, and the box builds around it and labels it for you," Smith says.

While Amazon has been the biggest disruptor in the history of the logistics industry, Smith says the online retailer also has created opportunities for Symbia, which strives to distinguish itself by offering  more of a "white glove" service with competitive prices. "We have customers who don't want to work with Amazon," Smith says. "With us, they get a real experience. They're going to know exactly where their product is and they can come in and touch it."

Needs: Symbia needs to continue to build a solid team based on the company's roots, culture, and what it stands for: True Grit and Strong Bonds. "We're really hard-working people," Smith says. "We've run such a lean ship for such a long time that we've had a strong bond. Painting that picture and setting that tone is what I need to get across to 1,400 associates."

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