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July 3, 2023

Episode Episode 02

Univar Solutions, Redefining the RFP Process

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July 3, 2023

Univar Solutions, Redefining the RFP Process

In this episode of Future Ready Freight, Sarah Feeney, Director of Operations at Mariner, sits down with Travis Vedral, Senior Director of Transportation Systems and Strategy at Univar Solutions. Feeney and Vedral discuss Univar Solutions' unique approach to their RPF event, how to plan for an RFP, streamlining data transmissions and improving efficiency, carrier invitation processes, and more.



Sarah Feeney

Director of Managed Transportation Operations, Mariner

Travis Vedral

Senior Director of Transportation Systems & Solutions, Univar Solutions


Transportation Solutions

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See below for a transcription of the video:

Sarah Feeney: Hi, welcome to Future-Ready Freight. My name is Sarah Feeney, Director of Operations here for our managed trans division at Mariner. And to my right I have Travis Vedral. He's joining us from Univar Solutions. He is their Senior Director of Transportation Systems and Strategy. Welcome.


Travis Vedral: Yes, yes. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Excited to be here. And great to see you again. It's been some time since we've last worked together - years ago, decades ago when you first shepherded me into the logistics industry. So, yeah, super happy to be here talking today about some advancements in the transportation industry and sharing my time here with Mariner.


Feeney: Yeah, definitely. We're going to talk today about your unique RFP process. So really excited to learn a little bit more about that. If you could, give us a little background on your RFP event that you hold every year.


Vedral: Thank you, again, for participating last year in our annual RFP event, it was a great success. And we're looking forward to kicking off our 2024 RFP later this fall, and our second annual carrier kickoff event as well. Before we get into some of the details, let me just give you a quick little background of Univar. We are a fine ingredients and chemical distributor recognized as one of the largest in North America. We're a values-based organization where we're serious about safety. We do what we say, we're a place where people matter and are valuable to others. And together we win. And by doing those things, we're always looking to streamline redundancies, both for our customers, our suppliers and our vendors alike, in order to optimize our supply chain. And we recognize that an RFP is an extremely important key lever to any capacity management model. And more importantly, a clear direction with a clear RFP strategy for both vendors and the transportation organization alike will really drive that success. So we are excited to begin the process to kick off our next RFP and look forward to your participation and the participation of our other partners as well.


Feeney: How long does it typically take to plan an RFP like this?


Vedral: Our RFP takes anywhere from about six months to nine months to plan, but we're really focusing on building relationships and driving that long term sustainable value. That doesn't stop. Building partnerships is continuing to engage and find those new opportunities and really innovating and streamlining and growing. And, you know, diving into the carrier kickoff portion of our RFP last year, the carrier kickoff event - which is unique - is the opportunity that we take to bring all of our partners as well as new carriers and potential partners together for a single event where we share our direction, where we share our new technology, adoptions, our new process, and what we're looking to achieve and what our expectations are for these carrier partners. Integrating that into our capacity management model is really a cyclical process that is evergreen, it's continuous. The RFP is a great time, but the carrier kickoff is that spark plug to the RFP event and where we are building those relationships and identifying new opportunities. And the really unique part about continuing to innovate is - that was the theme of last year's kickoff event, if you recall - it is innovating and growing together and really diving into those partners and looking for solutions together to combat the supply chain headwinds that we face year in and year out.


Feeney: Yeah, thanks again for the invite. We really enjoyed it while we're there. Is that the first one you've had? How many have you done prior?


Vedral: Yeah. So obviously, we've done RFPs prior. That's how we identified an opportunity. We identified an opportunity where, historically, our RFPs were mode-specific. We didn't have a standardized timeline. As the supply chain market and external factors continued to evolve, you start a balancing act of when are we focusing on this engagement and that engagement and so this was the first annual consolidated RFP, where we take all of our different modes, and we consolidate it down into one single large RFP and one carrier kick off. So, last year was the first annual. w\We're looking for this year to be our second annual consolidated RFP and we're excited.


Feeney: Yeah, having those carriers on-site has to be a value. You really get to engage with the planners and some of the strategies that the company is really trying to focus on. Was there something that happened within Univar to start your process and the way that you do the RFP?


Vedral: I think you hit the nail on the head. The building of those trusting relationships face-to-face. Nothing specific spurred us to make this bold approach. But we do know that the transportation market proved to be quite challenging over the previous years with the pandemic, and many different external factors. And along with that, you know, our solutions, we brought in a bunch of new leadership in the transportation space. So this was the opportune time to reach out and say: we've got everybody together at one time to ensure that every carrier partner that is delivering our products to our customers, day in and day out -those who are continuing to help keep our communities healthy, fed, clean and safe, continuing to deliver the expectations that we hold ourselves and our carrier partners accountable - got to meet face-to-face with their internal key stakeholders, with their district transport managers, and understood that we are your voice internally. For the headwinds that you face, for the challenges that you face, you come to us so we can streamline those processes and alleviate some of those burdens. That way we can meet the expectations of our customers. And so it was a great event to look at all of that together and say: Hey, now's the time to do this. Now's the time to meet. And it was such a success that we want to continue to do that.


Feeney: Yeah, you hit on this a little bit, as far as goals that you wanted to achieve. Are there any additional goals that you are looking to achieve or that you wanted to achieve through this process?


Vedral: As far as goals go, another one of our goals is to be valuable to others. And this is where, you know, along with "together we win", we alos compete to win and be valuable to others. As we collaborate together to remove challenges for a common goal, in order to continue to provide for the communities where we work and live and doing that, the goals were to get us together to identify what are the expectations? What are the true partnerships, and removing that lack of trust, removing the challenges we had witnessed in the prior markets and coming together and saying: Hey, we're here for a common cause. We're following the values that we believe in. And we want to share those values with our carrier partners to show that they're not just words on the wall, we are bringing you into our organization to help achieve a common goal right and again, to effectively deliver products that keep the world moving.


Feeney: Definitely, definitely. What challenges are still prevalent in RFPs that you guys are trying to avoid?


Vedral: Challenges in RFPs continue to focus on data. Data is always one of the big challenges, especially with our business. You know, we don't shy away from it, we look to overcome those challenges. And as an objective of our North America transportation team to maximize your transport capabilities, we seek to leverage data and technology. And we seek to do that to be more transparent. We want to ensure that you have all the information you need at your fingertips to safely execute deliveries and to safely transport our freight to our customers. And so, data, such as seasonality, you know: when can you expect to have demands spike; when can you expect to have different seasonality impact different lanes and businesses, lane volume, accuracy and lane volume, right? And the more data we can provide through these interactions, but also through leveraging our technology, the more clear understanding the expectations are to have a successful RFP and to continue to have a successful flourishing relationship.


Feeney: Yeah, it makes sense. I know that you guys are heavy in the bulk side of your business as far as mode goes. You definitely have some dryvan and hazmat truckload. When it comes to the carrier invitation process. For that dryvan on the hazmat side, are you trying to look at a certain percentage for asset versus brokerage? Is it like a 70/30 cut? Like, what is the ratio there?


Vedral: No, no, that's great. We walk into every RFP event with targeted baselines. But the unique part about our business is that we hit every mode, as you call it, from our large LTL business to our large truckload package business, and you know, we can't forget our large liquid hazmat tanker business. We allow the technology and the data to help us identify the right solutions, from incorporating the different TMS systems and the different RFP data systems that we adopted. And we share that data during the carry kickoff event. That helps us find that right mold or balance between assets and brokers. And, you know, knowing that the liquid tanker market doesn't have a large brokerage, you know, opportunity or market then, you know, it does somewhat skew how we want to take advantage of those opportunities. So, we set factors and we set strategies which we share, but we allow the data to help us define what is the best solution.


Feeney: Yeah, the data has to remain the truth for everybody, every line of business that we're in, right? So, you know, when it comes to a new carrier partner, what do you look for to qualify them? And, for incumbents as you're continuing your partnership with them, is it really based on on-time service? Or what does it cost? What are your decision factors?


Vedral: No, that's a great question. You know, cost and service are obviously key there for the effectiveness and the efficiency of delivering any transportation strategy. But there's, there's more to it, there's more to understanding the solutions that we need to choose and how we can do that, such as data transmission. I know we keep talking about data, but how do we streamline again, as our value to streamline and remove redundancies? How do we streamline data transmissions, you know, ensuring that we get accurate timely updates so that we can drive confidence in our customers. You know, we're a large organization that desires to be nimble so that, when we tell a customer we're going to deliver on a Tuesday, we expect to deliver on a Tuesday. So, you know, it's important, the capability of sharing that data quickly and efficiently. Then we can go to the ability to ensure that, again, we're delivering safe products, our products are not getting damaged, and it's not causing problems downstream or improper invoicing. So claims effect  how we review income and see how we initiate new carrier engagement. There's also the opportunity just for maximizing capabilities. It's a unique market, there's a lot of carriers out there. And, you know, we strive to find the right carriers that fit our business - the best in each mode, as we discussed. And so really just understanding if you have the capabilities to execute the piece of the business that we're discussing. And are we being transparent with those expectations? So reviewing incumbencies, reviewing new engagement carriers, asking them if they're hazmat endorsed, if they're tanker endorsed, if they have the right network in the area that they're targeting, those are key discussions that really begin during the carrier kickoff. And they don't stop, they go through the whole RFP process. Lastly, really, what's important to us is, is innovation. And again, the theme of last year was innovate, and grow, and grow together. We look at a mission to streamline, innovate and to grow. And so those carriers that can provide us with creativity, unique solutions - the demands of our customers in the marketplace are changing daily, the speed in which those demands are changing daily - there's not a one-size-fits-all solution, as AJ on your team always likes to say. So we're super excited. But creativity, solutions, those are what really change the conversation. Who can bring us a unique way to look at something to help solve it both efficiently and effectively.


Feeney: Yeah, and that's a goal for Mariner, to excite our customers and come up with those solutions. So as far as incumbents go, are there incumbents that you have in your network that are just grandfathered in? That, you know, no other carrier will ever be able to touch because of service or, or what have you?


Vedral: Now, incumbency is important for us. We value partnerships, as our conversation is, leading to today. But with that being said, we expect incumbents to continuously adapt, to adapt to the new technologies, that we're working together to provide both of us feedback so we can help remove all challenges and we can streamline together. But we expect our incumbents to also stay competitive in the marketplace. And we look to, you know, always engage in that conversation. And if there's ever an opportunity to bring a new carrier engagement, we'd like to do that. And we'd like to look at how we can, again, continue to mold our solution to fit the customers' needs. And so incumbents are a huge priority for us. And they're an extreme value to our partnerships. But we do acknowledge that open competitiveness is fair, and that only drives us to be better and drives our carriers to be better, and really continues to define the relationships that we have with our incumbents. So incumbency is high. I wouldn't say that anything is out of bounds for an incumbent or for engagement of a new carrier. We, again, we stick to what our foundation is and then identify these partnerships through, as you called out, costs, service, data transmissions, creativity, have new solutions, and that's what we look to partner with. And we expect continuous improvement. We don't expect a solution today that fits tomorrow.


Feeney: Makes sense. Makes sense. We were able to join you last year for your event and it was eye opening to see that unique process that you guys facilitated for all of your carriers, your incumbents, new old, you know. What will the group be - back to this year versus what they saw last year? Did you make any changes?


Vedral: Great question. Great question. As far as this year goes, it's the same timeline. So we're still expecting a carrier kickoff in early fall. And so the RFP opens later towards the end of the year, and we'll close it out with awards going live towards the end of the year. As far as changes goes, you're going to have to show up to find out! There's some great advancements that we're making upon our foundation, that we discussed, from last year, with some technology adoptions. ESG is always a large conversation - that we want to continue to advance in with our carrier partners, and look for those new ways to innovate and reduce our carbon emissions. But as far as the the specifics are, you're just gonna have to wait to find out.


Feeney: What a cliffhanger. So I'm looking forward to seeing what happens and what changes you guys have made. We enjoyed participating last year. Just to close, you know, your overall strategy as an organization, that has to tie into this RFP. Can you share a little bit about that?


Vedral: Yeah, you know, an RFP is key, again, to any capacity management model. As we continue to look at how we're defining and securing the capacity, we have to support our organization's overall broader strategy, and continue to stay nimble and agile, so that we can continue to meet the expectations and demands of our customers. The RFP is the groundwork, it's the foundation of future year's planning, it helps us align with our partners, it helps us identify the expectations and the secured business that we can look to support again, delivering those expectations. And then the continuous management of the capacity management model from benchmarking ourselves and keeping with industry, industry trends and market outlooks will help us further navigate any waters that come our way in the external market. And so it starts with the RFP, and the next year it comes back and it ends with the RFP. Then we continue this process. So again, I'm super excited that Mariner joined us this year. Looking forward to continuing into next year and having you guys back down to see what it's about.


Feeney: Yeah. Wonderful. Well, again, thank you so much for joining us today and walking through your unique process. I know you gotta get back to planning that RFP coming out inAugust. We look forward to joining you!


Vedral: Yeah, thank you. And thanks to Mariner for allowing me to come today and sit down. We are fortunate and excited for both you, and all of our partners to come back and join us again this August. Be prepared. There's going to be some neat little news and expanding upon the foundation that we set. But we thank you and we thank everyone that can join us.


Feeney: Thank you again for joining us. This is Sarah Feeney for Future Ready Freight. See you next time.

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