DOOR TO DOOR

Panama 2017 | TRANSPORT & MARITIME | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Luis Garuz Berenguer, Business Development Manager of Quality Freight Corp., on the benefits of being based in Costa del Este, the impact of the expanded canal, and the company's competitive advantages.

Luis Garuz Berenguer
BIOGRAPHY
Luis Garuz Berenguer has been with Quality Freight Corp. since returning from Towson University, Maryland, where completed his studies and subsequently worked for Whiteford Taylor Preston LLC, a law firm based in Baltimore. There, he assisted the development of strategic alliances of companies involved in investment banking, cyber security, as well as aerospace and technology. This experience allowed his to return to Panama to take up his position of Business Development Manager with Quality Freight to develop and maintain new sustainable revenue streams for the business.

What are the benefits of being headquartered in the industrial park of Costa del Este?

This industrial park in Costa del Este was a small urban area built around 20 years ago but is now virtually surrounded by one of the most exclusive zones of the city. The industrial park has gained a great deal of value. It is not large but there are advantages of having our headquarters here. Properties in this area of the city have become expensive, which has created an entry barrier to the industrial park either to buy or rent while offering similar services. We are vertically integrated and prefer to handle our operations ourselves if we can. At times, we do not have the capacity to serve all of our customers; however, we know we can do at least a portion of the business.

What is your ideal customer profile?

Our ideal customer would be industrial based, mostly handling equipment, either construction, medical, technological, or other. It would have repeat business to satisfy annual needs and replenish stock. We care about every customer; however, we particularly serve repeat customers with whom we can mutually grow and create win-win, long-term relationships. We enjoy providing complete services for our customers, including door-to-door service from anywhere in the world to Panama and vice versa. The energy sector has been interesting and 2016 was a great year for us. We hit both our renewable energy and combustion-based energy niche in 2016, more than which we have done in previous years.

How will the expanded Panama Canal affect your business?

The expanded canal will be of advantage to national freight forwarders; however, we also need to wait to determine how it will help and how much it will benefit us. Now that bigger ships can pass through the Canal, companies can consolidate scales at better rates. With ships over 10,000TEUs, there are better rates coming to Panama. We will also see more public and private special incentive zones and industrial parks being built. For companies that want to ship, segregate, redistribute, and re-export across the region, the expanded canal will be a great advantage. For the national market, we need to keep in mind that even though the canal has been expanded, generating more income for the government, a great deal of the cargo does not stay in Panama. Many national and multinational freight forwarders will probably not directly benefit from this, because much of the cargo will not enter the country and remain on board, and others will just be transshipped to other ports. We have not seen an increase in business yet, because national customers will not import more just because bigger and more ships can pass through the canal or because the volumes have become larger. We have to wait and see how it affects us. It has just been a year so far; however, we personally have not seen a direct impact on our business.

What is your short-term strategy to become a leading player in this market considering the competition in Panama?

In the national market, there is a great deal of competition, and we consider ourselves one of the top five national freight forwarders in the country. Being a vertically integrated, asset-based company puts us at a competitive advantage compared to many other companies that may be able to broker the same services but not have complete control over them. In 2016, we had 13% growth turnover wise, which is great compared to the industry average. In 2017, we need to maintain that rate. That is our priority: to maintain that growth and keep that pace going. We handle a large amount of project cargo and saw plenty of unexpected business at the end of 2016, which was advantageous; however, we need to come up with strategies to maintain that 13% growth into 2017 and make it sustainable.