Today, April 1st, 2016, marks 66 years since SEFL first opened its doors. It’s almost impossible to fit all of SEFL’s rich history into one blog post, so this is a brief summary of how the Cassels family and many others along the way, built a company that is truly one-of-a-kind.
The First Decade
In 1950, W.T. “Toby” Cassels started Southeastern Freight Lines with 14 trucks, 20 employees, and a $5,000 loan. The new trucking company only had operating authority between South Carolina and Georgia, and soon grew from one terminal to six by 1959.
Shortly after SEFL opened its doors, the company made the change from the truckload business to the less-than-truckload (LTL) business. SEFL was the first in the southeast region to make this business move.
Those first 10 years were not without their challenges, however, for a company that started with $5,000 in borrowed capital, 14 well-worn trucks, and a dream. It was obvious that to survive it needed something else—and it had it. Through the strength of that one man and the intense loyalty of those around him, the company not only survived but also moved on a path of steady growth. He was a very wise man with a keen financial mind and a great judge of and motivator of people. But more importantly he had a deep faith in and commitment to his Creator and that faith was the foundation for his strong code of ethics. It was on this code of ethics—this high level of moral standards that this company was founded and continues to operate to this day.
During the next few decades, SEFL grew and expanded their terminals in South Carolina and Georgia, as well as opened service centers across North Carolina and Florida.
In the late ‘70s, Mr. Cassels was named Chairman of the American Trucking Association (ATA). Mr. Cassels was the first South Carolinian to ever serve as Chairman of the ATA. The office of Chairman was a one-year position where Mr. Cassels served as the spokesman for the entire trucking industry and traveled all over the country and abroad.
The Quality Improvement Process
By 1985 Southeastern had proven to be an early survivor of deregulation and was generally recognized as the premier carrier in this area…the carrier to be used as a benchmark. In spite of this reputation, we knew we must get much better in order to survive long term. In a deregulated environment, the competition was going to continue to improve and keep raising the bar. We needed a strategy that would ensure we remained on top.
It was at this time that we irrevocably committed Southeastern to the Quality Improvement Process. This commitment was without any reservation or restraints, financial or otherwise. From a financial standpoint it was easier as we are a privately owned company…no shareholders to appease…no short-term expectations of stockholders to interfere. And we went about it with a zeal unmatched even for Southeastern Freight Lines. The real strength of our quality process is the commitment by every associate here – not just the management.
Growth in the 90s
With a solid management team and a strategy of Quality Improvement, SEFL continued to grow by leaps and bounds in the 1990s. More terminals were opened during this decade than were opened in the 30 years since the company was started. New service centers popped up across the Southeast, in Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico.
SEFL gained its largest and second largest customers in the early 1990s: The Home Depot and Lowe’s, respectively. Both companies initially did not need any more LTL carriers, but valuable opportunities soon presented themselves, and SEFL went on to join their core carrier programs, earning numerous awards from both over the years.
Advances in Equipment & Technology
There were many upgrades to our equipment during the 1990s. To mention just a few: All tractors are now purchased with AM/FM weather band radios with cassette player. We purchased hydraulic lift gates for P&D deliveries and at least one trailer at every service center is equipped with a lift gate. After 1995, all P&D tractors were purchased with air conditioning. The company speed limit was changed from 60 mph to 65 mph for highway vehicles purchased after 1999. Sleeper cab tractors were purchased for long haul team drivers in 1999. These tractors have 435 hp 1450 lb/ft of torque Cummins N14 engines. The cab has two bunks as well as a refrigerator and clothes closet.
The ‘90s has seen the explosion of technology at Southeastern. Just listing a few of the major systems installed: driver Telxon units, imaging system, central rating, central billing, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), claims system, revenue accounting system, Epic data, onboard computers & Nextel radio communications, p&d routing systems, Omnidex, market potential models, terminal expansion models, maintenance VMRS system, sales reports, payroll entry systems, equipment control system, PC’s, etc.. Every area in the company has been affected by automation. The latest and greatest is the customer support capabilities through our website (www.sefl.com) and the Internet. E-business utilizing the Internet is the conduit for conducting business in the future and Southeastern is leading the way.
A New Millennium
SEFL has not stopped growing, even through recessions, deregulation, and other hard times. Since 2000, SEFL has opened 35 new service centers, moved into four new states (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Ohio), and expanded their international service to Mexico and Canada.
With a dedication to customer satisfaction that has garnered more than 390 quality awards and recognitions, as well as a group of more than 6,500 committed, service-minded associates, SEFL is truly a unique company that remains true to its roots, and never forgets the values instilled in it from the very beginning.
Portions of this post were pulled from various publications of the Eagle Eye News in 2000.