Speaking fluent customer
Eric Seamon, the CEO of Ocean Wide Logistics (OWL) admits that his company’s philosophy may sound a little too simple. “The philosophy that underpinned the creation of our business in 2011 was as follows: instead of focusing on the almighty dollar, we decided that we would put all of our energy and efforts into each customer’s needs and the needs of the constituents within their supply chain. By doing so we would have a customer for life and thus, the revenue would always be there,” Eric explains. In short: First and foremost, do what is best for the customer! This simplicity may not be the shortest route to achieving a company’s goals but in the case of OWL, it has worked quite well.
“Our philosophy is to live a life focused on family, friends, fun and philanthropy. When we began, we believed that creating an environment internally that places an unwavering belief and emphasis of the value of our customers’ satisfaction, we would achieve and sustain that life,” he continues. “Since that beginning in 2011, our daily reinforcement of that culture has led us to the place we wanted to be; living and working according to that stated philosophy. The only thing that allows us to achieve our goal is The Customer! Simple as that.”
Prior to founding OWL, Eric, David Wong and some of the other senior managers and staff of the company cut their teeth in the industry working for giant multinationals such as UPS, CEVA, and Maersk. “Words fail me to express my gratitude for the experience me and my colleagues have had,” Eric says. “As important as these experiences were however, we all felt in our hearts that there had to be a better way of running a company and living our lives. We believed we could do things differently. From that hopeful expectation, we put together a small staff and have grown into an entity operating from 17 offices and constantly expanding around the globe.”
Headquartered in Hong Kong, the summer of 2019 featured the opening of four new locations for OWL – in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Another new office was scheduled to open in Sri Lanka on 1 January 2020. Eric reveals that growing in the Indochinese Peninsula is the company’s response to certain changes in business climate. “It is our reaction to the reaction of our customer base, which started diversifying their source due to the increase in labour costs in China and Trump’s tariff war.”
The key focus areas for OWL are traditional air freight, non-vessel owning common carrier (NVOCC) operations, customs house brokerage, order management and order consolidation activities. The company also runs container depots in China, as well as 1.1 million square feet of warehouse space as consolidation centres along the country’s Eastern Seaboard.
“One of our core strengths is the cross-pollination of intellectual capital and access to resources, which we derive from the partnership we have with our sister company 28one. A sourcing organisation, 28one is run by people that also come from the retail side of the industry, having garnered a wealth of experience at the likes of Woolworth, M&S, Brooks Brothers, and many more. Working with them is a huge benefit to our OWL team.” Eric states that: “The vast knowledge of customer experience we both have gained renders our motto ‘Speaking Fluent Customer’ particularly apt.”
Together with placing strong emphasis on how it serves its clients, OWL is also known for being a strong proponent of incorporating the latest technology in its operations in order to facilitate customer experience. Eric points out that: “In 2017, we were an early investor in a startup called Mercado Labs. We believe that Mercado Labs is the leading order management and import management system available in the industry today.
“Over 50 per cent of international importers continue to use spreadsheets and email to track orders, but this leads to several issues. The most notable of these issues is the major disconnection between the outdated, analogue supply side of the supply chain and the booming digital demand driven by ecommerce and the Amazon effect. To tackle this, Mercado digitises the first mile, focusing on the initial 90 days of an order to help importers dramatically reduce the number of issues and errors felt further down the supply chain. This important innovation gives them the connection, collaboration and predictability they need to successfully manage their orders, suppliers, products and shipments from source to store.”
Confident that cross-border ecommerce will continue to grow not just in developed, but also in emerging markets, OWL has also formed a strategic partnership with an ecommerce fulfillment platform called SWYFT. Eric commented that: “This collaboration primarily focuses on enabling easy, affordable, cross-border fulfillment for ecommerce merchants by building solutions across freight, express and postal networks. The technology stack facilitates fulfillment from one to many or vice versa, though efficient APIs that makes the process of securing a fulfillment service, booking a shipment, manifesting and getting end-to-end visibility seamless.”
He goes further: “We live in an age when customers want personalised products – they want to select who they buy it from, they want it to be the ideal fit, and they want it fast. On top of that, they are interested in whether it has been responsibly sourced. For them to respond to these demands, merchants need a partner with the technology and network to enable 1:1 fulfillment to a customer reliably, affordably and with complete visibility.”
It has been established that, at OWL, fun and hard work go hand-in-hand. In fact, anywhere this happens, it often unlocks the imagination of those that have already been predisposed by the relatively relaxed atmosphere. One such instance of creativity occurred in 2018 when OWL’s managers came up with the idea of incorporating their love of music with some of their business activities. This is how the concept of the Spring North American Tour was born, which began initially as a means to attract attendees to the company’s booth at the Trans-Pacific Maritime (TPM) Conference.
“We simply thought it would be fun to create Spring NA Tour t-shirts, hand them out, and urge people to put them on and take a picture of themselves (a selfie) with an interesting background. For every selfie taken, we were to donate $50 to a girl’s orphanage in Gangadowila, Sri Lanka, which is run by an NPO chaired by my wife,” Eric details. “We called it the ‘Wear in the World’ campaign. It was a huge success and a tonne of fun. So much so that we did it again in 2019, touring tens of cities across the entire US. It was a very productive three months for us, because we were able to identify, value-prop and bring on-board a lot of new and great customers. As important as this and getting the OWL brand out there was, the two campaigns have generated more than $80,000 for the little ladies at the orphanage. What really warmed my heart, however, was the fact that the children of our staff, partners, and customers in China also embraced the initiative, and donated over 300 toys and 450 items of new or nearly new clothing to the girls in Sri Lanka. It was an absolutely magical reaction, which encourages us to be even more vigorous in our philanthropic efforts.”
Going forward, the 2020 edition of the Spring NA tour will be the most ambitious to date. Instead of flying from city to city in the US, OWL is planning to go Bob Dylan style, renting an RV to crisscross the vast American land in the ‘Not Your Father’s Forwarder’ tour. “Starting in the Bay Area in February, we will be heading south, east, north, then back through the Midwest, wrapping up in Denver, with a final ‘show’ in Columbus, Ohio,” Eric enthuses. “By being on the road for three months, we will be able to see more current and prospective customers and engage more thought leaders. The fact is that the majority of decisions on service providers are made between February and May every year. This tour will allow us to be where we need to be at the right time.”
Eric reveals some of the key details ahead of OWL’s hitting the road. “As in the last two years, it will also be used as a means to support the orphanage in Sri Lanka. What will be different this time around, is that instead of releasing rock n’roll-themed t-shirts, we will be passing along a bottle of the official 2020 ‘Not Your Father’s Forwarder’ Tour wine. Again we will be asking people to take a selfie in a setting of their choice, but the campaign will now Tour’operate under the ‘Where in the World?’ name, and not ‘Wear in the World.”
He shares his aspirations for both the immediate and long-term future: “We are hoping 2020 holds more of the same success that we have experienced in 2019. Looking long range, our ambition is to expand at a manageable rate in Asia and North America, invest in our people and technology, stay humble, creative and continue to give back to our communities.”
Looking back gratefully, Eric concluded, “There are many people in our organisation whose careers began at the Fritz Companies. One would be hard-pressed to find a former Fritz-er who can not look back and appreciate those formative years as the most familial, collaborative and fun working environment of their lives. Twenty-five years ago Fritz Companies moved me to Hong Kong as a young person. That decision and the trust that went along with it has enabled me to live a life that I never dreamed of growing up in a small suburb outside of Columbus, Ohio. For that reason, we thought of no more perfect way to start our 2020 tour than by paying homage to Lynn Fritz and thanking him on behalf of all the former Fritz-ers around the world.
“So we are pleased to announce that we are kicking things off the first week of February at Lynmar Estate Winery in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley , home of Mr. Fritz. The first in the series of Thought Leadership Sessions will feature Lynn, Dave Boothe (an OWL SVP, former Fritz-er and member of the Spring tour) myself and another Former Fritz Executive and mentor of mine, Mr Jack Finholm.
“The Four of us will reminisce over the magic of those days with the Fritz Companies and how we have borrowed a lot of those Fritz philosophies and applied them to our business and our daily lives. If in five or ten years’ from now, our staff, customers and vendors can have similar or better experiences, then our entire management team will look back with real peace and sense of pride. It is tough to replicate such a grand philosophy, but it is definitely worth striving toward and building upon. It’s all a result of knowing what’s important and keeping things simple.”
Ocean Wide Logistics (OWL)
Boutique third-party logistics provider
17 locations across Asia
Will be touring North America for a third year running in 2020 speaking fluent customer