Business View Caribbean interviews Carl Simmons, Managing Director of Cargo Express Services Limited, as part of our focus on Top Caribbean Companies.
Cargo Express Services Limited (CES) is proud to be one of the oldest shipping organizations in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Founded in November 1995, and headquartered in Providenciales, the company’s efficiency, professionalism, and ability to exceed customer expectations makes it a leader in the industry. CES serves as Shipping Agent and Customs Broker, offering additional services of cargo trucking, shipping logistics, and warehousing and storage to all inhabited islands and cays within the Turks & Caicos region.
In 1995, Cargo Express Services Limited was housed in an 800-square-foot office in downtown Providenciales. At the time, Managing Director, Carl Simmons, saw the need for an enhanced, established, viable global shipping company to meet the needs of the Turks & Caicos Islands. He explains, “Back then, it was just mom-and-pop shipping companies coming from mainland Florida to the Islands with small feeder vessels, where you offloaded cargo on pallets using small derry cranes. The cargo was put into small ship holds and often arrived in bad condition – parcels crushed, or vehicles full of salt water after being exposed to the atmosphere during the voyage from Florida.”
Simmons secured a partnership between his company, CES, and Tropical Shipping to offer Turks & Caicos modernized, professional container shipping. Tropical Shipping has been serving the Caribbean for over 50 years but, back in the ‘90s, Turks & Caicos was not on their schedule. Simmons describes the relationship, “I’m the sole owner of CES – which is also my initials, Carl Edward Simmons. I started Cargo Express Services Limited as a locally registered agency business, because in Turks and Caicos you need agents to represent a foreign carrier. After much negotiation, Tropical Shipping agreed to take us on as their agent, and 21 years later we are still representing them in Turks & Caicos.”
Their first scheduled vessel (Tropic Flyer) arrived at the port of Providenciales from West Palm Beach on April 1, 1996, loaded with seven containers, forming five percent of the total market imports at the time. The other 95 percent belonged to competitors who had provided shipping services to the trade for several years.
Thanks to positive economic growth on the Islands, CES expanded services to Grand Turk in 1988, and South Caicos in 2001. An 8400-square-foot bonded warehouse facility was constructed in 2000 in Providenciales, and full-time staff increased to eight employees. By 2004, the warehouse grew to 14,400 square feet. Four years later, Cargo Express Services constructed the only bonded warehouse and office facility on Grand Turk (5,000 sq. ft.) to satisfy demands of a growing market. Those upgraded facilities, plus a firm, committed schedule, competitive rates, on-time cargo arrivals, and an excellent customer service team keep CES ahead of the competition, and highly regarded as a leader in the region’s shipping industry.
Presently, CES has 37 employees in Providenciales, three in Grand Turk, two in South Caicos, and holds 56 percent of the market share. Customers have come to depend on twice-weekly sailings into Providenciales, once-a-week sailing to Grand Turk, and twice-monthly service to South Caicos. Simmons notes, “Turks and Caicos does not produce anything. We have no agriculture, no manufacturing, no industries. Everything must be imported. And tourism is the key economic driver. So, people doing business here need to import everything. Refrigerated containers of fruit and vegetables, meats and dry groceries for supermarkets; construction materials to build homes and hotels; furnishings and fixtures; vehicles and heavy transportation equipment like trains, trucks, bulldozers, concrete mixers, etc. to sustain development of the Islands. Even the water we drink is mostly imported.”
CES customers source merchandise from around the world, including Asia, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, and Central America. With tourism booming, Tropical Shipping has just begun construction of two new vessels, specifically to support Turks & Caicos trade by carrying more containers and a larger volume of cargo. They are expected to be commissioned in June 2018.
Population in the Turks & Caicos Islands is around 37,000 to 40,000 – relatively small – but offsetting that is tourism, resulting in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Simmons says, “They consume a lot of the products we bring in. We don’t cater to just any tourists here. We cater to upscale ecotourism. So, we have to provide all the best amenities to meet the needs and expectations of this type of person we are trying to attract to Turks & Caicos.”
The residential population on the Islands is also growing, stimulating an increase in high-end home construction. “We have an amazing place called Parrot Cay,” says Simmons, “where many celebrities come to live in Turks & Caicos. People like Bruce Willis and Donna Karan built their luxury mansions here, and we provided the shipping services for all the materials, through their contractors. We have a lot of residents building homes for their families, and many tourists that visit, love the place, and want to buy a piece of real estate. Eventually, they will build a residence, or get into a business, or open a resort, or something.”
All Turks & Caicos ports are owned by the government. Simmons says, “I just wrote them a letter, advising them of our two new vessels that will be commissioned next year. I also mentioned there are upgrades needed at the port of Providenciales. That is something the government and the Director of Ports are giving their undivided attention to, because they want the infrastructure in place prior to commissioning our vessels. The importation of goods from foreign countries to Turks & Caicos is of paramount importance to the government because that is how they generate revenue. There is an import duty tax on everything that comes into the country.”
Five years down the road, Simmons wants to make sure CES and Tropical Shipping have the proper logistics in space to support the trade. It’s a waiting game, as to how growth evolves, but if the economy stays strong, and customers increase their demands, more vessel transport may be necessary to meet the requirements. Being a long-term, established business on the Islands is a definite advantage, however, as Simmons admits, “You can’t take anything for granted. We maintain a very good market share, and will continue to do whatever is needed to take care of our customers.”
Strategic, long-term relationships are invaluable to Cargo Express Services. Graceway IGA, one of the biggest supermarket chains in Turks and Caicos, is a very important customer. CES also works closely with the Turks & Caicos Islands Airports Authority. And they partner with Turks & Caicos power supplier, FortisTSI, on a regular basis for business.
Simmons adds, “During hurricane season, we consider ourselves a carrier for the power company should there be the need for recovery after a disaster. And we partner very well with the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies – a government division that has us included in their Business Continuity Plan (BCP). That’s important to us, since we’re in the hurricane zone. If anything goes wrong during an emergency, we are into their BCP, in case recovery services are necessary.
“To sum it up, CES has been well established in Turks and Caicos for over 21 years. Tropical Shipping has been in the industry in the region over 55 years. We are a freight-forwarding company, we are customs brokers, we are also a bonded carrier. Because we are a global carrier, we are one of the only shipping lines in Turks & Caicos where customers can source their cargo from any area of the world. And we have agents all over the globe that can accommodate cargo coming to the Turks & Caicos Islands.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Cargo Express Services Limited
WHAT: Shipping Agents, Custom Brokers and other logistics services throughout Turks and Caicos Islands
WHERE: Headquarters in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
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