Long-time supplier to the bedding industry finds success with niche strategy, solid supply chain
Cranston Trucking Company is on a roll, a good place to be for a transportation provider. The company, which is approaching its 50th anniversary, has a (relatively) new owner, a big new terminal and warehouse in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has found success by serving the bedding industry.
While there is considerable talk about supply chain woes in industries across the country and around the world these days, Cranston’s tight supply chain continues to hum right along, like one of its trucks powering along an interstate highway. The company provides daily pickups at ticking mills and speeds those fabrics to bedding producers across the nation.
The new(ish) owner is Drew Gilman, a logistics veteran and former investment banker who began eyeing Cranston Trucking before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. When Covid began playing havoc with businesses across the country, he and Cranston officials agreed to take a Covid pause. Several months later, when businesses began returning to a more normal footing, Gilman’s interest in the company was back on the front burner. He bought Cranston in May 2021.
It turns out that Covid dealt Cranston only a glancing blow.
“Like most businesses, Cranston suffered a sharp downturn in business activity for three to four months following the initial Covid outbreak in March 2020,” Gilman says. “However, by the end of summer 2020 the company was back to normalized pre-Covid levels and has experienced strong growth in demand for its services since then.”
All of those radio ads by trucking companies looking for drivers might make you wonder if Cranston finds itself in similar straits. The answer is: No, it’s not.
Gilman says those ads are aimed at drivers for long-haul routes, in which they are gone for days at a time. But Cranston’s business is based on shorter routes. “Most of our drivers are home at night,” Gilman notes.
He says Cranston is in good shape on the driver front.
“We have reached a modicum of equilibrium in recent months,” he says. “We have an excellent team of drivers, and we try very hard to retain them. We aren’t growing at such a rapid pace that we are adding new drivers constantly. Right now, we are in a fairly stable spot.”
Cranston Trucking, based in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, dates back to 1975. The company began as a private carrier for Cranston Print Works, a New England textile printing company founded in 1824. Then its trucking division became Cranston Trucking, a carrier for hire .
Cranston operates three core businesses:
- A consolidation business at its two primary terminals, which are located in Greensboro, North Carolina (featuring a new 115,000-square-foot terminal and warehouse) and Greenville, South Carolina. That business serves the nationwide mattress industry by consolidating raw materials from various vendors for cost-efficient shipping to bedding manufacturers.
- An asset-based less-than-truckload (LTL) business between New England and the Carolinas, as well as to destinations in Arizona and California.
- A brokerage business providing LTL and full truckload solutions for shippers in a variety of industries, with a specialty in cross-border shipments in and out of Mexico, a country that is becoming a more important manufacturing center as global supply chains remain constrained. The brokerage business connects shippers and carriers.
“Cranston’s historical business focused on the core LTL service,” Gilman says. “But over the past five to eight years, Cranston has experienced significant growth in both its consolidation business and its brokerage operation, so that now the company is effectively a three-pronged operation with solid growth in each of its three business units.”
The consolidation business is “a key cog in the national mattress industry supply chain, which is somewhat of a niche,” Gilman notes. Cranston bills itself as “The No. 1 choice of mattress manufacturers.”
On the road
The mattress ticking truck routes that originate in the Carolinas are a key to the company’s success, Gilman says. He describes it as “stable and smooth and in better shape than the supply chains in lots of other industries.”
Cranston serves all 50 states, as well as Mexico and Canada, through its brokerage operation. That brokerage serves as a virtual fleet at times, because Cranston has such strong relationships with a diversified carrier base that it can provide solutions in a variety of industries and locations throughout North America, Gilman says.
The asset-based fleet services the East Coast LTL business (from the Carolinas to New England), as well as first-mile and last-mile delivery service in a variety of locations.
Cranston has decades of experience in the bedding industry, a category that Dianne Francin, currently the vice president of sales and marketing, began addressing back in 2002. Since then, Cranston has steadily expanded its service to the bedding industry. Gilman praises her for those business-building initiatives.
He was impressed with Cranston’s executive team when he acquired the business from its longtime parent company, Cranston Print Works. He acquired both Cranston Trucking and its Cranston Logistics unit.
What is working for Cranston these days?
“We continually strive for efficiency, and we manage our costs aggressively,” Gilman says. “The structure of our consolidation service model reduces our customers’ supply chain cost burden, and we like to think we provide unrivaled service at a very attractive price point. The only way to accomplish this is to manage your own costs like a hawk, and to put your customers’ needs first every day. I think we do a very good job of that.”
That customer focus is critical.
“We work in specific industries, and we understand our customers’ specialized needs,” Gilman says. “We understand that our success is fully reliant on our customers’ success. That’s a very basic but important principle in the logistics industry. Manage your internal costs, always put your customers’ needs first and execute with precision every day. Then repeat the next day.”
Gilman likes the way Cranston approaches the bedding industry and the other industries it serves.
“Our profits are derived from fair pricing and aggressive cost management,” he says.
“We don’t look to profit by price-gouging. I like to think we earn our profit by working hard, and I think our customers understand that.”
When you are driving America’s highways and byways delivering materials to mattress manufacturers, it pays to be traveling with an experienced team.
And that’s just what Cranston Trucking offers, company officials say.
“Our managers are all very experienced and the entire team is customer focused,” says Drew Gilman, who has owned the company for just over a year. “We don’t have any egos, and it shows in the way we interact with our customers”
Gilman has been in the logistics business for more than 20 years and knows his way up and down the road. When he was looking to expand his logistical holdings a few years ago, he was impressed with what he found at Cranston Trucking: a strong, deep team of professionals with decades of trucking experience.
Those leaders include John DiGiuseppe, who manages Cranston’s asset-based operation, overseeing both the LTL and the consolidation business from the company’s headquarters in West Greenwich, Rhode Island.
He has an experienced team of terminal managers in West Greenwich (Russ Demarco); Greensboro, North Carolina (Rodney Ramsey); and Greenville, South Carolina (Brett Heidt).
DiGiuseppe has been with Cranston for more than 30 years and knows all faces of the company’s operations.
Another experienced executive is Charlie Edgerton, who manages the Cranston Logistics brokerage operation. He has more than 30 years of brokerage experience and works with a broad network of carriers to provide LTL and full truckload solutions to Cranston’s wide-ranging brokerage customer base. He and his team operate out of an office in Graham, North Carolina.
Another key executive is Dianne Francin, vice president of sales and marketing for the asset-based operation, and a well-known leader in the mattress industry supply chain world.
“Dianne is a creative problem-solver for our mattress industry customers,” Gilman says. “She has been with Cranston for more than 20 years and has been the primary developer of our highly successful consolidation business model.”
Francin, who worked with Old Dominion Freight Line before joining Cranston, led Cranston into the bedding industry in 2002 when the company began helping California manufacturers ship rolls of mattress ticking in a just-in-time manufacturing model. Cranston developed a system for transporting ticking rolls that was tailored to the bedding industry.
Later Francin expanded Cranston’s bedding services to manufacturers in Arizona, which has become one of the company’s larger shipping lanes.
“Cranston has remained the number one choice of mattress manufacturers,” Francin says, “and with our customer-driven approach we will continue our growth and expansions in our new Greensboro terminal and warehouse.” •