In an increasingly paperless world, A. D. Rutherford and Co. Ltd. is taking steps to stay ahead of the digital curve.
With four branch offices including a bustling location in Fort Frances, the Winnipeg-based customs broker is looking to automation as an invaluable time-saver.
“When goods come in by carrier, they’ll give you a specific time to get the goods released,” says Allan Rutherford, president of the company he founded in 1982.
“Otherwise, there could be service charges, so you’re working under the gun to get things cleared.”
One example of the company’s shift into the digital age is that all faxes are now handled solely in electronic format.
This has transformed the company’s receiving and releasing procedures to become approximately 90 per cent paperless after having recently instituted the electronic system. Hard copy filing has come to a halt, with all such filing now being done digitally.
At first glance, the time saved by the digital shift might seem insignificant, as it shaves off five to 10 minutes for every clearance. However, general manager Royal Unruh estimates this can save each broker up to two hours a day.
Previously, the process involved collecting the paper fax, keying it into the system and then printing a cover page. This page would then be attached to the appropriate paperwork, which would be scanned back into the computer.
With the new system, all employees are armed with two computer screens: one displays the contents of the fax, while the other displays the area where the fax data can be keyed in.
The change has led to more productivity for the 20,000 shipments handled by the firm every year, all while streamlining the process for clients.
The company’s high-end automation software allows for a variety of other customer services. Some clients send a digital database of the goods that will be shipped, and the software automatically codes it into the appropriate format for Canada Customs.
“We’ve jumped ahead of a lot of customs brokers on that,” Unruh says.
Officials are already looking at creating additional opportunities for in-house automation, particularly for accelerating the invoicing process. Soon, clients may opt to invoice in electronic formats, and let the system handle it appropriately.
Efforts such as these have helped the small firm to compete with some of its bigger rivals, as A.D. Rutherford has 20 employees across its various locations. These include Fort Frances, as well as four Manitoba locations in Winnipeg, Brandon, Boissevain and Emerson.
The time saved through automation has reduced some of Rutherford’s costs, in turn allowing the firm to operate on a similarly low pricing level as many of the larger brokerage firms.
However, Unruh argues the personal service offered at the smaller company make for a superior experience.
He points to the regular brokering, freight forwarding and consultation activity the company handles through its various locations as an example of the company’s success.
In fact, despite Fort Frances’ smaller size, its status as a jumping point into Ontario from Minnesota has made it well-suited for many different types of imports. Industrial and residential construction materials are regularly brought through the area, as are various goods for northwestern Ontario paper mills.
The popularity of regional hunting and fishing experiences has also led to higher levels of business from numerous outfitters, who import materials for their lodges through the Ontario branch.
Despite the rise in imports the company has seen since the jump in value of the Canadian dollar, Rutherford cautions businesses against blindly importing on their own if they lack the proper knowledge.
Penalties can range from $25 to $25,000, says Rutherford, who has five decades of experience in customs brokerage. Even those with the proper knowledge may find that their time is more valuable than the costs of hiring a customs broker, he argues.