Continuing a partnership that began more than 20 years ago, Maria Bermudez and Patricia Compres launched Advance Customs Brokers & Consulting LLC, based in Miami, FL, in early 2013, and are very happy the way the firm is progressing more than a year later.
The two customs brokers first started working together in 1991 when Compres joined Customized Brokers, a customs clearing house that Bermudez hired a few years earlier. It is a partnership that has endured through the sale of that firm and the launch of this new one. Bermudez said that this time around the business model is a bit different but service will still be their hallmark.
“We want to keep the company small with more personalized service and more hands-on involvement,” said Bermudez. “We want to do more than just clear loads. We want to advocate for our customers when they have an issue. We don’t just want to do an entry and move on. The way we look at it is when we help solve a big industry issue, we are helping our customers.”
She added that the new company wants to have four or five core customers and concentrate on their needs.
“We can afford to be very selective,” Compres said.
Bermudez said that though the model is a bit different than the company she launched 25 years ago, they are still a cutting-edge firm. “When we created Customized Brokers, no brokers were doing what we were doing. Other brokers were just paper shuffling while we were working with our customers.”
As an example, Compres said the firm developed “a system whereby asparagus has a fixed cost per box” for fumigation and other costs of entry. Prior to that, she said growers did not know exactly what the costs of each load would be. “We found a way to let them know exactly how much it was going to cost before they shipped it.”
Bermudez said the key to the formula was to consolidate loads upon arrival, creating a more efficient fumigation process that brought the cost down on a per-case basis, and fixed those costs at a consistent level.
After building up Customized Brokers to be one of the premier firms in the marketplace, the duo sold the operation to Crowley Maritime Services Corp. about five years ago and did go to work for that company for a time. But after honoring the no-compete clause in that contract, Bermudez said, “some of our old customers were asking us when we were going to get back in the business.”
Last year they determined the time was right and opened their doors on April 1, 2013. Though it is the same industry with many of the same players, Bermudez said there are some distinct differences. Technology allows for the clearing of freight remotely without needing to have an office in each port.
“Some customers like one customs brokers to take care of their arrivals all over the country,” Bermudez said. “We clear all over the place including Houston, L.A., Philadelphia, Vancouver. Where ever our customers are.”
With regard to advocating for the industry on issues, Bermudez said she had just finished sending in her written comments on a new proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to add a user fee to fumigation services.
“They are proposing to charge almost $400 for something that was free before,” she said with a fair amount of cynicism in her voice. “I think ultimately we will have to pay something but not that much.”
Advance Customs Brokers & Consulting has a staff that includes many employees who were with the two partners at their first firm, according to Bermudez.
In dividing the work, Bermudez handles all the air shipments as well as much of the administrative work, while Compres is in charge of all the ocean cargo they handle coming in to the country.