How often do you hear of someone being laid off from his job and starting his own business in the same industry he worked? Well, that was the case for Sean Morris.
Almost four years ago, after he was severed from his job in the shipping industry, Morris started Cargo BGI, a shipping and logistics company. Fortunately for him, he had strong financial and family support, which he said helped to give him a solid foundation.
“I started off working for other shipping companies and picking up bits [of knowledge] as I went along. I got laid off from a shipping company, and decided that if I could do this for other folks I could surely do it for myself,” said Morris.
“I left secondary school and went straight into the transportation industry, working with a local handling company for an airline and that actually afforded me a lot of training overseas and throughout the region.
“Subsequent to that, I went into shipping and ended up working with other shipping companies, and training along with them, which then gave me the knowledge I needed to open up my own operation,” recalled Morris.
With one other business partner, Cargo BGI currently hires four people, and Morris says he is in the process of “getting someone else on board”.
Looking back at how quickly he was able to grow his operations, Morris said: “When I started, we were smaller and everything was kind of micromanaged because it was just the two of us getting it done. Now we have more help. The portfolio has expanded and we have taken on more agencies. We have more cargo coming in. So the business has actually been growing even though times are slower.
“It is clear there has been some reduction in some areas, but we are still able to pick up some volume along the way. We have seen reduction in imports like building materials. Stuff like that has fallen off a bit compared to previous years, but what we have observed is a lot more personal effects coming in. People are opting to shop online, or try to find a better deal than actually sourcing it locally,” Morris explained.
And while many businesses have chosen to exit The City and its surrounding, Morris told Barbados TODAY he chose to do the opposite because he was seeing an increase in customers who were importing items via the Bridgetown Port.
Before docking in Fontabelle earlier this year, Cargo BGI was located at Neils Plantation in Haggatt Hall.
“We came to the point where we were getting a lot more personal customers. For our commercial customers we do a mail delivery . . . so the location never really mattered. But now that we are seeing an increase in the personal effects and people buying their own stuff, there are a lot more [individuals] coming in.
“We now had to have a location to service them, one that they can get to us and then get to the Port easily. So even though there are a lot of companies moving away from Bridgetown, we thought it necessary to have a location here to service the [personal] customers,” explained Morris.
Although admitting that the rent for business space in and around The City could be cheaper, Morris said he would not complain.
Importing and exporting to and from regional and international destinations, Morris said it was easier to get things into Barbados than it was to get things out.
“Because we do not have a large export sector there is not a lot going out, so it is harder especially for smaller companies who can’t load full containers of stuff and just want to get a pallet to a particular location or two. It is more difficult because there is not the volume of cargo going out. But imports are very easy.
“You can get cargo practically from anywhere in the world into Barbados,” he explained.
He said based on trends over the years Barbadians were increasingly importing more. He said a variety of small items ranging from clothing, food, cellphones and computers were popular. Morris was not certain why the increase, but felt it might be because people had the ability to compare prices and look for deals globally.
“So what has happened is that customers have options, and people like options, and they are taking advantage of what’s there,” he added.
Morris said the focus for him and his staff was on providing excellent service from the time they made contact with the customer to the time the product reached home or business.
“Because in shipping, everybody is basically doing the same thing . . . . Everybody is competing at the same price and on the same playing field, and they are all competing for the same pie. The only edge you can have is through your service; and that is where we push,” stated Morris. He said knowing that his customers were satisfied made him very happy.
Given the somewhat unexpected growth in business, Morris has begun to consider expansion of his operations.
“We are looking at expanding. Surprisingly, as we have moved closer to the Port and we are getting more walk-in customers, our air freight operation is also expanding and we are looking to have a satellite office in the not too distant future at the airport to facilitate those releases,” he said.
Morris said he was satisfied that there had been improvements in the industry over the years when it came to communication between operators and local authorities.
“We have been having meetings with the Port, and we have been communicating. They have been listening to us and we have been listening to their concerns. So I think better communication with the authorities is happening. It is not where it needs to be but it is happening and I am happy to see that.
“Unfortunately, like in every industry, there are a few bad apples in the bunch that creates a bad name for everybody; but there is not much we can do about that. But I am happy to see the improvements in communication,” said Morris.