In this exciting episode of the Digital Supply Chain podcast, I had the pleasure to chat with Eric Vasquez, owner and founder of Veterans Logistics Group. Eric, a logistics professional with a wealth of experience, candidly discussed the journey of his small business in the complex world of supply chain and logistics.
He shares how his company, starting from scratch, navigated the industry to become a successful player, doubling its revenue year over year for four years. We dived deep into their venture into the government space, their first client being FEMA, the hurdles of dealing with red tape, and how being a small business is sometimes an advantage.
Eric's insights into the necessity of perseverance, tackling customer acquisition costs, the importance of diversity in sourcing suppliers, and the reality of digital transformation for small businesses are incredibly valuable.
If you're a small business trying to carve out a space in the supply chain industry, or just interested in the real-life experiences of those on the frontline of logistics, this episode is a must-listen! Tune in to get Eric's unique take on the sector, future goals, and his advice for fellow small businesses. Don't miss this journey from nothing to a multimillion-dollar business!
Don't forget to check out the video version of this podcast at https://youtu.be/Q9idTlrRjNcSupport the show
I'd like to sincerely thank this podcast's generous supporters:
And remember you too can Support the Podcast - it is really easy and hugely important as it will enable me to continue to create more excellent Digital Supply Chain episodes like this one.
Podcast Sponsorship Opportunities:
If you/your organisation is interested in sponsoring this podcast - I have several options available. Let's talk!
If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - feel free to just send me a direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn.
If you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover it.
Thanks for listening.
there has to be room for growth for small businesses. Otherwise it's the same three or four companies. And I think you do notice a huge shift right now over the last probably one to two, three years maybe, where a lot of incentives are coming from big companies also and their boards to work with small businesses.Tom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Digital Supply Chain podcast, the number one podcast focusing on the digitization of supply chain, and I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Hi everyone and welcome to episode 334 of the Digital Supply Chain Podcast. My name is Tom Raftery and I'm excited to be here with you today sharing the latest insights and trends in supply chain. Before we kick off today's show, I want to take a quick moment to express my gratitude to all of our amazing supporters. Your support has been instrumental in keeping this podcast going and I'm really grateful for each and every one of you. If you're not already a supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like minded individuals who are passionate about supply chain. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable with options starting as low as just three euros or dollars a month. That's less than the cost of a cup of coffee and your support will make a huge difference in keeping this show going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode. Or visit tinyurl. com slash DSC pod. Now, without further ado, I'd like to introduce my special guest today, Eric. Eric, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?Eric Vasquez:
Hi. Hey Tom, nice to meet you. Thank you very much for having me on your podcast. And my name is Eric Vasquez. I am the owner and founder of Veterans Logistics Group here in Los Angeles, California.Tom Raftery:
Fantastic. And just Eric, I know we've talked about it on the intro, before we turned on the recorders, but for people who are watching, who are wondering, what the hell has Tom got on his nose? I had a, I had a minor surgery this morning and I have a few stitches in the top of my nose, so I have a, a plaster over those stitches on my nose. So if anyone is looking on going, what is going on, that's what it is. So, no need to be alarmed or anything. Totally fine. local anesthetic, half hour on the table, up and out and back, sitting in front of the, the, the, camera again.Eric Vasquez:
So just a little touch up.Tom Raftery:
Bit of rhinoplasty. My nose is a bit big, so I decided to get it reduced. No. Okay. Kidding, kidding, kidding. I just getEric Vasquez:
everywhere here in la. It's nothing new.Tom Raftery:
So, Eric, tell us about the logistics group, the, the Veterans Logistics Group that you are that you founded, right?Eric Vasquez:
Yes, sir. So Veterans Logistics Group actually kind of stemmed from an idea where I already had a previous company Akio Ads, and we were certified service disabled veteran minority and L G B T owned as a small business. And me being in the Air Force, I would sit at our table and, you know, at our meetings and see all the complaints and issues, all basically funneling from logistics and the movement of freight and aircraft parts. And everyone's always just like, man, like, you know, somebody could just figure out like, what's the problem with the, with the movement of our goods? And so I said, I want to start work with the government. And so I reached out to my friend that has experienced his whole career in logistics and I said, I'm gonna start a logistics company using these same certifications that I have for my advertising and let's just build it from there. And then over the course of several years, you know, we've managed to kind of build a business and grow it and start scaling and targeting now getting in with the government, but it's mostly commercial now. But that is the goal, is to start working with the government and help them fix their issues with the movement of freight. That's pretty basic.Tom Raftery:
Okay. Okay. And what, well, let, let, let's start with what is it you're doing to help companies with their freight issues? And we'll get onto the government side of things in a minute.Eric Vasquez:
Yeah. Well, you know, I obviously listening to your podcast previously, hearing how like, larger companies come in and try to solve solutions like at a macro level when it comes to aggregating big data. Obviously for us being on the, you know, end user side of things where we're a small business, and so everything I've done has been like bootstrapping myself, taking, you know, revenue and profit that I'm making, just kind of putting it back in the business to build our own technology and starting with basically tracking our own freight. So everything that we're using by paying out another third party has been just expensive. Even when you're trying to find a product for a small business, I'm like, how does a small business start and build and scale, when your overhead is just so expensive for all of these, programs and platforms, I'm like, there's gotta be something for a small company that can't afford this tens of thousands of dollars per license per year, you know, or per per user. So my whole goal is really to try to focus and build up a business where everything's gonna be, how we need to use it, and then SaaS it out to mom and pop, you know, one or two truck organizations or smaller to maybe mid-level where people are, you know, using the next level up program. So that was my goal, and that's basically what we're doing. So everything we've done over the last few years, it's trial and error and things that we want to see to help our flow, grow exponentially with maintaining a small team. And so we started with our tracking and then it started with a freight booking and bidding system where, you know, our drivers register, they have their own application and now you see some of the big name companies kind of trying to launch into the same thing because a lot of logistics is antiquated. You know, a lot of these big companies have been doing the same thing for so many years that maybe their foundation is like really old code and programming. So we're kind of coming in from the ground up and seeing how we can do the same thing, but on a really affordable basis. The data that, you know, normal companies can use without having to cost an arm and a leg.Tom Raftery:
Nice, nice. And how are you getting the word out to people? Because one of the advantages that the big companies have, the, the, I mean, I'm ex SAP, you know, SAP, everyone in in supply chain has heard of SAP, but how do you get the word out to people about your organization?Eric Vasquez:
Well, what we're trying to do, like for, when it comes to our whole procurement and sales team, what we're doing is, you know, we, we utilize our certifications to help at least get us in the door so everyone knows what's going on. It's 2023. You know, a lot of big companies are trying to see how they can connect with small businesses, and there's all these initiatives left and right saying, you know, we're big business, we wanna work with small. We're, we're gonna make a promise and allocate, you know, X amount of funds this year gets set aside for the small business or the minority owned, or the L G B T owned or the service disabled veteran or veteran owned. So what we're doing is we basically kind of formulated our pitch to say, Hey, you know, like we provide an actual service of whether it be warehousing or exclusive use vehicles or hazmat, we do a lot in the energy sector. And so like by getting our name in front of people, that's helping us basically, you know, get in front of client facing. But basically everything that we're building out, we're trying to actually use that for carrier facing or for, you know, the actual other companies that are. They own their own trucks. So the carriers we do work with are like, oh, well, who are you using for your tracking? Or who are you using for your own TMS or who, because we've tried talking to obviously like the SAPs and everybody, and some of our clients that we work with, like they require you use SAP. So it's like, well, we're kind of going through an intermediary where our partner uses it because they can afford it, so we're using them. Otherwise, that would just basically cut right into our profit as a small business, you know? So, so we're basically getting the word out by word of mouth, and then also throughout our pitch and through everything we're talking to with people and just showcasing the big business, like, why do we wanna bring you on board as a small company? And we tell 'em like, well, here's what we're doing. We're trying to also be a minor disruptor, if you will on our scale. And then, you know, everybody's not really paying attention, I don't think to the, the little guys or the beginners. So that's kind of really where I'm focusing. It's a little bit of a harder pitch. And you're out there in the field more, I feel. But I think there's just a lot more opportunity because your price point's a lot lower.Tom Raftery:
Sure, sure, sure. No, I get that. I get that. And you mentioned you're getting into the government space. Tell me a bit about that.Eric Vasquez:
Yeah, our goal, I mean, our first government client we got into was fema. So of course, you know, when everyone starts talking about the government, I'm sitting in the meetings and so I can see, I'm like, you know, there's a lot of issues here with moving a freight. It'll be right off base at like a warehouse, but nobody can get a truck on. So I'm like, huh, there's this massive disconnect. And the government is always trying to fix it. And so I'm thinking, well, maybe they overcomplicated a very simple problem and you know, kind of hearing it in the inside. I'm like, well, how can you basically go up channel and to find out where is the bottleneck? Like where is there the issue that's causing this? Like obviously it's the government, there's gonna be red tape. So I'm trying to basically use what we do and the services we provide through the actual moving of freight and getting access to base, to see like, how can we fill that gap? It's like, it's a constant problem that, you know, my supervisors, I've been in for 24 years and they've had the same problem for years and it's always a problem. And I'm just like, well, the first people will come in, fix this or address this. It's, it's gonna be pretty, pretty smooth sailing. So I'm just trying to see if I can get a piece in there. And FEMA's our first client and then of course we started working with the Department of the Army and then working with the Department of the Air Force and Coast Guard through some of their load boards. And, you know, trying to kind of work past the load board into the more direct or RFP based projects.Tom Raftery:
Alright. As a startup, it must be challenging to get in and be a supplier to someone like the government or the military. There must be all kinds of red tape and regulations you have to go through. How do you manage to get time for that? Surely it would be easier to chase people that didn't have such onerous requirements.Eric Vasquez:
It, it is difficult. It is difficult. I mean, we deal with that daily and I think that, you know, I have my team that's kind of allocated to really focus on commercial freight and obviously the revenue that's generated from the commercial business really helps us kind of build our solid foundation to get more people on board and to navigate the, the government, you know, world. It is difficult. That's one of the driving forces behind it cuz when you do actually get through there, you see a very small pool of vendors that are actually working with them. So I think that kind of coming in as sort of service disabled veteran owned does assist with getting in. Mm-hmm But once you're there you have to be able to provide this service the exact same. And then, you know, some companies have teams of people that know government paperwork for years. We're kind of learning it. Obviously you stumbled through it cuz the mistakes could be a little bit bigger. So you have to be very, you know, due diligent to make sure you're actually paying attention to all the fine verbiage. But I think what we're doing is trying to get into the government because as a small business, what they're doing as well is the government is enabling different bases and locations to have like their own ability to procure locally. So we're trying to see how we can do that. Like here in the southern California at, you know, the bases and then up in like Travis Air Force Base and J B L M up in, you know, McCort or Seattle, Washington. So I think by them allowing them to take control in their own respective you know, areas of operation, it's allowing them to hire local or smaller vendors directly. Otherwise, you know, when they want you to have the EDI capabilities of a large you know, SAP or another, you know, platform, a small business is not gonna have that at all. So it does make it difficult. Or they say they want to work with like the local small businesses and all these initiatives and incentives by the government. But then there's this massive disconnect. So I'm just consistently pushing through to try to find like, where is the, where's the weak link of how we can actually start this, business with the government. It's happening, slowly.Tom Raftery:
Cool, cool. What have been the biggest challenges of getting government contracts, do you think?Eric Vasquez:
I mean, name recognition. You've got massive companies that have been doing this for years. You know, you have the same big brands for the carrier companies, you have the same massive three pls that everybody knows. So coming in and trying to fight for a seat at the table and prove yourself and the service that you provide, obviously to scale is not gonna be on the same level. But by having a small business and explaining that you have the 24 7 365 tracking and all the same kind of key fundamentals, you just have to basically just continue doing your pitch, saying, you know, give us a chance. Let us try to break into this business and there has to be room for growth for small businesses. Otherwise it's the same three or four companies. And I think you do notice a huge shift right now over the last probably one to two, three years maybe, where a lot of incentives are coming from big companies also and their boards to work with small businesses. So I think that all of that, that's helping right now in the media and just, just everywhere about working with, you know, less fortunate or I don't wanna say less fortunate harder to come by or disadvantaged business enterprises in smaller towns or something where it's like, Hey, I have a business. I'm trying to make work. I think they are doing a good job at that. It's just a slow, it's a slow growth, you know?Tom Raftery:
Sure, sure, sure. To your point though, once you do get in that door, does that mean then that it's easier to stay there as a supplier and that, yeah, I don't wanna say it's easy money after that, but you know, does it mean that it, it's the kind of business that will become repeat business more easily?Eric Vasquez:
I would say that as long as you're not complacent, you think that just because you got in, you've got the business because there are a million other me's, you know, small businesses clamoring to try to get a seat and when, when you do get your chance in front of somebody to finally, you know, give your own pitch and then provide the service. That's just you getting in the door and getting a trial. You still have to provide that service. You still have to, depending on the company to work with the larger companies. Like we recently went on board with one of the larger airlines directly on a multi-year contract. And in order to even do that, we had to make sure that we had everything in line with exactly their, to their expectations. Because you might be able to get introduced to the rfp, they might entertain you on a second and third round, but then when you actually get some business and they're saying, okay, we're gonna give you a chance. If you kind of, you know, drop the ball at that point and you don't have the data to provide, you don't have the service that you say you can, then you're gonna lose your shot. And then when it comes to those large companies, the word will get out about your business sooner or later. Because I've had enough experiences already in the last several years where the people that I was speaking with on the procurement side are all of a sudden at another company, you know, and either reaching out to you because you did a good job before, or when you reach out to them, they're like, oh, hey, I remember you. So that could go one of both ways. So you've gotta step up and do your work too. So, but hopefully the, hopefully the goal is to keep the client, you know?Tom Raftery:
Yeah, I gotta think with all that work, for those, you know, that airline that you mentioned, and those government contracts, customer acquisition costs must be enormous.Eric Vasquez:
I, I don't know. You know, I don't really have like a dollar amount to put on that, but I can say like, you know, you're referring to basically the amount of effort that it takes for us to get new clients, correct? Yes. So Correct. It just takes time. Delt one of the airlines, as I say, it took us three years. The first RFP they included us because for certifications and everything they said that you guys can do. And then of course they start looking at your financials and your background and, oh, you can't connect to EDI. Oh, you can't, you don't use this system. We're gonna go ahead and take a pass on you. And then fast forward three years later, The next RFP came out and we started talking like, okay, well what did we drop the ball the first time? Like how come we didn't get picked the first time? So we had to make sure we get EDI compliant, you know? Plus of course, as you're growing you just have to, especially for all the exchange of data. So we did that and then we started checking all the other boxes that they're looking for and then of course, you know, able to, able to win it. So it does take time. So it's not so much, it's not so much more than like the, the cost. It's just, it's the cost of time really. So you can't get discouraged when 20 companies in a row say no, and then later on when you follow up they're like, oh, actually thanks for following up. Here is an rfp. We'll, we'll go ahead and include you on, so.Tom Raftery:
Nice, nice, nice. And. Do you see, I mean, you, you mentioned that boards are now starting to put pressure on companies to, you know, be more diverse in sourcing suppliers. Is that, I mean, I've, I've heard, I've heard that from the other side. I've heard people say, you know, we are looking for more diverse supply base, so this is actually something that you're seeing, yeah?Eric Vasquez:
Oh, it's yeah, I'm really seeing a big difference. I think that's really what's helped our business out. Like I said, you know, coming from nothing to, you know, being able to provide a service. How do you get that in front of these, you know, even mid-level companies or the Fortune 500's. You know, they, they include us in, you know, a lot of different RFPs and programs and multi-month training programs. I mean, Target was like a several month diversity training course to kind of get on board with them and, they kinda showcase, you know, how they, how they operate, how they expect their suppliers to operate. And, and I think it's a great program because if you're a small business and you know how to work on a local level, or even if it is a national level, you don't know how that client specifically likes it. You know what I mean? So I think they do a great job of some of the companies we've worked with at trying to groom and help show you how to do business. But also we've been able to come in like I said, for the airline. And point out a bunch of flaws in the system saying, well, you know, this system is kind of not working right. And you know, other companies, the larger they are, they do understand that, that they have internal issues of their own. Because sometimes the tech is antiquated, like I said earlier, you know, they may have their programs they've used for years and they're going through a transition themselves. So, I mean, you know, even if you're a large company, you would feel that the larger the company, like they've got everything dialed in. And there are several companies out there that they don't use this big data, they don't use multiple platforms. So, We do see a lot of issues there as well.Tom Raftery:
Okay. For other smaller businesses like yourself who are in the space, what advice would you give them so that they can also grow their businesses?Eric Vasquez:
Well, I think it, I think it really depends on what the small business's goal is like. You know, my goal is for us to build a consistent business where we can come to the market and, you know, be a known name. I want to actually have our, our recognition for our business, you know, that we're a serious player and we mean, you know, long term, but also I think that small businesses need to figure out, because it was the hardest thing for us, and it still is, it's just like your cash flow and how you can reinvest in your business to grow. Like everybody knows like, okay, well where can we automate? Well automation costs money, developers cost money. You know, even when you're researching developers to use, just the time and effort that it takes to find a team that you, you, you vibe with, that you mesh well with. You know, they take direction well and give feedback. Just development costs in general are expensive. So, yeah, personally I think the small businesses that want to really make it, you know, figure out how to keep your operational costs low. So that's why we went in to try to automate as much as we could. You know, listening to your show, I, I hear some of these big companies that are out there. I was like, well, that's a great goal to get to where you're automating on that level for certain processes. And then where can you not do it? And just pay them for their service for that little, you know, niche piece for what you're trying to do. But then, you know, everybody's trying to make their own data proprietary or how they're pulling it or where they're pulling it. But that, that's what we're trying to do as a small business. We're trying to see how can we reinvest in ourselves on a manageable level. To build out more features and processes that will help us scale with a small team. And I think a lot of businesses are probably trying to do that. My goal, my goal was not to try to find how can we bring on some funding with a good idea and, you know, give away a huge percentage of ownership and control. Sure. And then it's just not your business anymore. So that's why we're taking the slower route, but it's, in my opinion, a little bit more meaningful. But, Nice. That's us.Tom Raftery:
Nice. Yeah. Yeah. Do you have any success stories you can point to for companies?Eric Vasquez:
I mean, when it comes to success stories, I can see like, you know, our, our revenue is doubled year over year for four years in a row, kind of with our, our map of what we're doing, you know, so we went from, you know, kind of nothing into like a multimillion dollar business and still categorize as a small business for our next codes of logistics, but, I, I think that the success stories are kind of all over the place. I think like one of 'em is just still growing and still being in business several years later, you know, through Covid. I think that's, that's a success story in its own. And you know, trying to navigate this to change when it comes to all the price fluctuations and import export costs. Like just we would kind of, you know, roll with the with the tide and I think that's, that's a, that's as success story as it is. And then Sure. Like I said, getting on board with our larger clients, like working with some of the larger battery manufacturers and electronics companies. Working our way up the chain, I think is a, is another success story. This from persevering, you know what I mean? Getting told no a lot and just keep on providing your service with a smile. And that's hard. And, and listening to the problems that your clients are having, like what are the other vendors doing wrong. That's, you know, upsetting you guys. Then just try to maybe use that angle, like how can we just address that one thing instead of all 10? So that's kind of where we're at, you know.Tom Raftery:
Nice, nice. And I mean you, you're four years in now, where do you see yourself in another four years time?Eric Vasquez:
Well, I always had a goal of like being a hundred million company because, you know, I'd see other, other companies that do it and you know, some of the interviews that I was on a long time ago trying to get on board and I was like, oh my god, a hundred million dollar company. I'm like, that's awesome. So then as you know, as you start building this up and doing this, you're like, this is actually a very manageable number. It is. It is a realistic number. It's just based on scale. And you know, as long as you've got a solid operational foundation and you can handle the incoming business, then. You grow your team, you know, organically when you need them. Not ahead of time, not after the fact, or you're stumbling and fumbling. But I think that that's, that's my goal. You know, that's kind of the goal. And to have a lot, a good amount of businesses utilizing our, our SaaS tms and tracking and accounting, just the whole flow, because I feel like it's what I'm looking back to, you know, I'm looking forward, but also what would've helped me when I just started or if I was starting over right now. And I'm trying to minimize my out-of-pocket expense, but not get some garbage, you know, technology and, and I feel like you pay for what you get what's out there right now, but if that could be a little bit adjusted where it's software, you know what I mean? Like you mm-hmm. Some, some of the companies that charge what they charge, you just, I don't understand it. Especially when there's so many issues still, or the customer service or the help. So I'm trying to see how I can address that. And I, I think it'll, I think it'll be fine. I think we'll do well.Tom Raftery:
Cool. Good, good. We're coming towards the end of the podcast now. Eric, is there any question I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to be aware of?Eric Vasquez:
You know, not really. I think when I, going over the questions that we were going over and just listening to your previous podcasts, I think that it's, it's awesome to be able to come on this show and showcase where you know, I might not be the CEO or CTO of a 1000 member organization or larger, or, you know, be backed by a VC with 25 million. But on the flip side of being, like I said, you know, the end user that's listening to these shows and trying to see like, how can we use that data to help us grow? Or what can I, what can I do to help us grow? But maybe on a more micro level, like, you know, smaller bite-sized chunks of data that we can ingest and actually use to our advantage, like the, the lowest bar of entry, you know? So that's, that's what I'm trying to figure out. And I think the other small businesses that hear this and they're also on here, can take that into account, you know, like, don't bite off more than you can chew. And, you know, if you see somebody has a good product, maybe like earmark it for later. And then when you get to the next stage, Set up a call and be like, Hey, here's where we're at. Do you have any programs to work with small businesses or to help utilize your service? And I don't know, maybe see if they have them there. That would be nice if some of these businesses have like different enterprise levels of what you can kind of utilize their software for, or their data.Tom Raftery:
Cool. Cool, cool. Great. Eric, if people would like to know more about yourself or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?Eric Vasquez:
Yeah, you could go to Google and our company is Veterans Logistics Group and our website's vetslg.com and you can find out more information about us. And of course, we're all over LinkedIn and Twitter and all the socials.Tom Raftery:
Cool, cool. I'll put those links in the show notes, Eric, so everyone has access to them. That's been fascinating. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.Eric Vasquez:
Thank you so much for having me. This is amazing. Thank you. Sorry if I rambled.Tom Raftery:
Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about digital supply chains, simply drop me an email to TomRaftery@outlook.com If you like the show, please don't forget to click Follow on it in your podcast application of choice to be sure to get new episodes as soon as they're published Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find a show. Thanks, catch you all next time.