Kristy Knichel had a unique upbringing as the daughter of a successful CEO. In turn, she has come full circle to lead her own unique company that continues to solidify its spot in a very competitive and ever changing third-party logistics (3PL) environment.

Western Pennsylvania-based Knichel Logistics has positioned itself as a best-in-class 3PL company, with a strong focus on intermodal rail and a reputation of superior service for its customers.

Through this, Knichel has become one of the industry’s fastest-growing 3PLs by offering customized solutions, priding itself on excellent customer service and recognizing its employees are the backbone of the business.

A new era

After the company was founded in 2003 by her father William Knichel, Kristy Knichel took over the family business as President and CEO following her father’s retirement in 2007.

Since then, Knichel has won the Business Woman First award from the Pittsburgh Business Times, the Distinguished Woman in Logistics award from the Transportation Intermediaries Association, and also wrote an article about her experiences in the business featured in Forbes Magazine. The company was also recognized on the INC 5000 list in 2012 as one of America’s fastest-growing companies.

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But Knichel hasn’t had the motivation to achieve this all on her own. There’s always been something else pushing her in the back of her mind.

“What drives me the most is proving to myself and to my father that I can do this,” said Knichel. “It’s a male-dominated business that we’re in, so I have to push myself harder to be on the same playing field and earn the respect of others in the industry.

“I know that’s why my father was hard on me. But I can’t complain.”

People first

Knichel has taken a very specific path to achieve such great success. It begins with Knichel Logistic’s investment in people. Employees are a top priority and are taken care of like they are part of the family. It has become a near obsession of Kristy’s to create the best working environment possible for her employees. The fruits of her labor have been recognized in year after year Pittsburgh Business Times Best Places to Work awards.

“Employees are the backbone of my business,” said Knichel. “Without my people, we would not be here today. The number one reason I am successful is because of my people.

“We have been able to retain our employees for a long period of time with low turnover. Our customers are talking to the same people and our employees keep learning, so they are able to provide a seamless and operationally effective experience to our customers.”

Knichel continued, “Customers in this business want to ship their freight and get it done right away. If you don’t understand what you’re talking about, they can get aggravated and may want to use someone else. That’s definitely something we want to avoid.”

Some of the many ways in which Knichel shows a commitment to its employees is by bringing in massage therapists multiple times each year, awarding employees extra time off, and taking the entire office staff out to Pirates games. They also offer a gym membership that is fully paid for by the company, and for those who use it, employees are awarded an extra 30 minutes during lunch.

“As the owner, I go around and talk to everyone and thank them for their hard work,” said Knichel. “We also share our numbers with employees so they know what’s going on within the company and that they are a part of that success.

“One of the big things is just listening to our people. We ask our employees for their opinions. We don’t act like we know everything, because I certainly don’t know everything.”  

Besides basing its priorities around the needs of its workforce, the company also pays special attention to the type of people it brings in. Knichel said one of the top traits Knichel Logistics looks for in potential employees is whether or not they fit into the company’s culture.

“Fitting into the company culture is non-negotiable. When looking at potential hires, it’s important that we feel like they could be somebody we can hang out and spend time with outside of work,” said Knichel. “Also, they must be trustworthy, loyal, dedicated, a forward thinker and have a positive attitude.”

Another aspect that is important to Knichel Logistics is contributing to the community and society through charity work.

One of the largest organizations the company works with is Positive Athlete Pittsburgh, an organization that works with local high schools to show students they should keep a positive attitude about life, no matter what obstacles they’re forced to overcome. Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is heavily involved in the program. In addition to helping high school students, Knichel also awards college scholarships twice a year.

Staying ahead of the rest

Knichel has a clear vision of what the perfect logistics flexibility looks like.

“It’s the ability to react to our customers’ needs and offering a solution no matter what,” said Knichel. “If it’s important to our customers, it’s important to us.”

Knichel Logistics offers customers customized solutions, understanding that one size doesn’t fit all.

With the shipment mode of intermodal transportation continuing to grow, as well as the continued growth of the third-party segment, Knichel Logistics is in a prime position to take advantage behind its existing wholesale contracts with the class-one railroads and carrier relationships.

Customer service is key to Knichel Logistics’ success. The company continues to focus on operational effectiveness to ensure the element of personalized customer service is never compromised as the company continues to grow. This includes automating specific operational activities and implementing best practices to ensure the customer stays in the forefront of everything they do.

“What I’ve found works the best is assigning a CSR to each account by mode. They’re responsible for knowing what’s going on with each shipment every step of the way,” said Knichel. “Our staff understands the customer comes first, and they work to satisfy the customer’s needs no matter how challenging it can be.

“Our job is to provide a solution with no excuses,” she said.

Key partnerships

With an understanding that it has a social responsibility to the environment, Knichel Logistics has developed a partnership with SmartWay to continue shipping customers their product in the most efficient ways possible.

“This includes partnering with underlying carriers that are SmartWay partners and continuing to focus on mode optimization for customers,” said Knichel.

Knichel Logistics has wholesale rail contracts with the class 1 railroads, which include the Union Pacific as well as CSX, to ship its freight via railroad since 2003. The contracts provide Knichel with access to approximately 70,000 53’ intermodal containers, and it services shipments through its network of core drayage carriers in every major intermodal market.

One of the differentiating factors of Knichel’s intermodal program versus other products that are out in the marketplace is managing the pick-up and delivery in house through its own network of carriers, which results in better control and ultimately better and more consistent service.

To further expand its service offerings and increase its overall value proposition to its customers, Knichel Logistics created a separate company – Knichel Logistics LTL –  by purchasing a BlueGrace Logistics franchise in May of 2015. This business opportunity has substantially raised Knichel’s ability to offer seamless LTL service to its existing customers while simultaneously attracting new business.

Evolving technology

Two years ago, Knichel Logistics implemented a new operating system for its intermodal and freight brokerage divisions. This transportation management software created by Quantum Edge Technologies has allowed Knichel to continue to increase its operational effectiveness and overall service that it can provide its customers.

The company also purchased new analytical, business intelligence software called Domo last year, which syncs with its transportation and accounting software to give real-time data on how the business is operating.

“We can see everything from how operations are running to how the sales group is doing in real time,” said Knichel. “I even have an app on my phone so I can check when I’m away on a business trip."

In the future, Knichel Logistics is looking to continue to build on the growth it has had as a company in recent years. This includes year over year double-digit revenue growth over the past 10 years as a whole, and regarding LTL specifically since opening its Blue Grace franchise in June, Knichel Logistics has already tripled its LTL business.

“We expect the LTL business to grow at a hyper-growth pace in addition to 10-15% year over year growth for the company as a whole.” said Knichel. 

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