Manna Freight Systems Inc.

Manna Freight Systems Inc.

Manna Freight Systems Inc. is a delivery company that doesn’t own any trucks. “We’re good at managing others’ assets—maybe not so good at managing our own trucks,” says Alan Meehan, founder and CEO of the Mendota Heights-based third party logistics company. Trucking can be a feast-or-famine business, and he doesn’t want to have “the assets and people sitting idle.”

Instead, Manna contracts with truck-fleet operators across the country, as well as in parts of Canada. Its specialty is delivering big retail products—furniture, flat-panel televisions, mattresses and other difficult-to-handle items. If a consumer orders a table that weighs 600 pounds, “that’s a six-man delivery,” Meehan notes. It’s the kind of thing Meehan’s company moves—and UPS and FedEx do not.

MannaFreight_S0.jpgManna Freight Systems specializes in delivering large retail products and difficult-to-handle items.MannaFreight_S01.jpgIn addition to its seven year-round distribution centers, Manna often opens temporary centers to support large projects.

Manna’s largest brand, Manna Distribution Services, is a nationwide high-speed home delivery provider. Another brand, Orion Air Ride, is “the only national white-glove specialized delivery operation that offers ‘deluxing’ point-to-point delivery,” Meehan says. “Deluxing” means repairing nicks and scratches on an item before delivering it. (According to Meehan, up to 40 percent of all furniture requires deluxing prior to delivery.) Manna’s fastest-growing brand is Last Mile Home. Retailers deliver their products to one of Last Mile’s qualified service providers, which provides the last link to their customer’s home.

Manna manages these connections via its own online logistics system (see “Linking a Supply Chain”). It also has distribution centers in Chicago, Portland, Ore., Phoenix, Los Angeles, New Orleans and St. Louis.

Before founding Manna in 1991, Meehan operated a gravel truck business and later managed a large fleet that hauled hazardous waste. Wanting to run his own transport operation, he launched Manna as an air freight forwarding business, running several trucks throughout the Twin Cities area from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. By the end of the 1990s, Manna moved into its current large facility in Mendota Heights.

“Then September 11 happened, and we are out of the air freight business overnight,” Meehan recalls. “We decided, ‘We better get on the ground, because we’re only one bomb away from being out of business.’ ”

Meehan repositioned Manna as a ground-delivery specialist. “One thing we learned from the air freight days: Our competitors ran away from residential deliveries; it was cumbersome, expensive, time-consuming,” he says. “We ran toward that. And with the advent of the internet, we knew that it was only a matter of time before people were shopping online and things were going to be delivered at home.”

Manna’s retailer customers require a national delivery system, and that’s what Manna provides. Meehan won’t specify customers, but “they’re all names you’d recognize.” One he can name is Icon Health & Fitness, a Utah-based maker of fitness equipment whose products include the Minnesota-born NordicTrack. Aaron Quiggle, Icon’s director of freight and home delivery, uses Manna’s service for deliveries in Southern California; this past holiday season, Quiggle added Minneapolis and New Orleans to Manna’s workload.

What sets Manna apart, Quiggle says, is that it’s less “corporatized.” Many other logistics companies are more “siloed,” which means it takes much longer to get questions answered or problems solved. By contrast, “I can talk to anyone at Manna and get my request done quickly,” he says. “They work well together that way.”

In short, Manna is a company adept at making connections.

Linking a Supply Chain

When you run a national delivery company that doesn’t own any trucks, you need to make sure the trucking companies you work with can deliver a positive customer experience. Manna Freight Systems has a procurement group that sources and contracts transportation suppliers nationwide. All of the company’s suppliers work under a master service agreement. Manna then measures their on-time performance and customer complaints, among other metrics.

“If a supplier continues to not do well, we’ll switch them out,” Manna founder and CEO Alan Meehan says, adding, “We have some very good suppliers that have been with us since the beginning.

”And, he says, “we recognized early on that we needed a software or a business management tool that could take orders from customers electronically, then put those orders in a freight system so that we can track them,” Meehan says. “Our proprietary system is able to rate and route and track.” Manna had looked for an existing software program to perform these functions, “but we like ours better.”

Manna’s online system provides portals for both retailers and their customers to track their orders. “We have supply chain visibility that is, I’d say, second to none,” Meehan says. “That is a big advantage for us.”