Robert Hooper Jr.: Navigating through recession, the 'great boom'

For more than 20 years, Atlantic Logistics keeps the freight and its business lines moving.

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  • | 2:20 a.m. March 21, 2024
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Atlantic Logistics CEO Robert Hooper Jr. was working as a college pastor in 2003 when he joined the business established by his parents.
Atlantic Logistics CEO Robert Hooper Jr. was working as a college pastor in 2003 when he joined the business established by his parents.
Photo by Dede Smith
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Atlantic Logistics LLC’s 20-plus years of success is fueled by careful planning and nimble gameplay, according to CEO Robert Hooper Jr.

That won’t change even when supply, demand, competition and nationally and globally unprecedented circumstances do, he said.

Established in 2001 by Hooper’s parents, Evie and Robert Sr. (Bob), the third-party logistics firm focuses on truckload, less-than-load, flatbed, refrigerated, specialized and government transportation. 

Hooper Jr. joined the business in 2003 after graduating with a double major in economics and history at the University of Florida and a doctorate in economics at Indiana University Bloomington. 

Hooper, 55, said his father told him the trucking industry had been performing particularly well in the early 2000s and proposed that his son take over the business. 

“It was a little odd to come into the logistics field with an economics background,” said Hooper, who had been working as a college pastor in Bloomington. 

Atlantic Logistics CEO Robert Hooper Jr. joined the family business in 2003.
Photo by Dede Smith

“But I thought, I’ve been a student for basically 30 years and working a 40-hour-a-week job sounded pretty good. So I learned everything from billing to dispatch to collection.”

Then, with his father diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and the Great Recession taking hold simultaneously in 2008, Hooper said business was “not fun” in the years that followed.

“But we made it through that without laying anybody off,” he said. “We were a small company doing about $7.5 million in revenue at that time and we were on a good tear.”

Third-party shipping logistics providers outsource the management and execution of a customer’s shipping operations to specialized providers. That allows customers to leave the complexities of shipping to experts.

Hooper said Atlantic Logistics implemented a new Transportation Management System to help it better scale business. 

“Then COVID hit right as we moved into new offices, “ he said, referring to the headquarters at 3003 Claire Lane in Mandarin.

“We didn’t know what to expect. Government freight froze. Shipments, building construction, froze for a very brief time and I had a letter I had written where I explained that we didn’t know what was going to happen. I said, ‘We made it through the recession. We’re going to make it through this.’”

He never sent it and, within six weeks, there was a “great boom.”

“Everybody went from spending on services and going on vacations and travel to spending on goods,” he said.

Atlantic Logistics CEO Robert Hooper Jr. runs a logistics business with no trucks.
Photo by Dede Smith

“That’s when we had supply chain congestion. Rates went through the roof.”

Atlantic Logistics’ revenue shot up from about $24 million to $55 million during that time, he said.

“It was just a time to hold on. We’re going to capture as many trucks as we can. Move as many loads as we can,” Hooper said.

Then the “freight recession” happened last year, but Hooper was prepared. People used government stimulus money to buy more goods, but that wasn’t sustainable as funds ran out. 

There also were the challenges of overstocked inventories stabilizing to post-pandemic levels and a glut of new players who entered the logistics industry during the pandemic.

“But we saw it start to break last year. We’re doing more volume for less money. Rates have come down to a reasonable level and inflation is getting under control,” he said. 

Between 2022 and 2003, Atlantic Logistics’ revenue dropped about 13% to $48.525 million, which he calls more “normal.”

There is still promise for growth as competing logistics carriers continue to leave a crowded market.

It helps because, as a broker between customers and contract carriers, Atlantic Logistics doesn’t have the high overhead a van line does. 

“No trucks,” he said. “This is it.”

He counts on less tangible, but still critical assets, including relationships, carriers and a team of employees that has consistently held steady at 50 or so since 2021. 

Failing them is his biggest fear.

“We’ve really been blessed through all that,” said Hooper. “In the midst of the freight recession we’re also moving into multiple lines of new verticals.”

Among them is adding a new manager of Atlantic Logistics less-than-load division, which he said is poised for growth to negotiate directly with those carriers. 

“It takes the right skills,” he said. “And we have that now.”

International shipping is another new focus: countries overseas, but also to Mexico and Puerto Rico following the ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, often referred to as NAFTA 2.0, in 2020. 

It includes updates to provisions from NAFTA, including labor, environmental standards, intellectual property and other matters.

Finally, he sees growth in Atlantic Logistics’ heavy haul division, which manages shipments exceeding 50,000 pounds. 

It was already gaining traction in 2021 when it helped ship lumber to the Rise Doro apartments, which are now being demolished after a January fire.

Beyond new verticals, what matters most when it comes to surviving and thriving is the Golden Rule.

“It’s about having exceptionally high service standards,” Hooper said.

“That means treating people with respect and how I would want to be treated,” he said.

“We’re transparent and honest with our customers.”



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