Logimar, shipping to Africa has never been so easy and safe.
Interview of Africa e Affari to Marcello Saponaro, Logimar CEO. Published on October 2021 edition.
Logimar is specialized in shipping goods and can do so also in a complex context as Africa. This is a specialization which took us years to have and which few companies have. For this company from Bergamo, everything started with a challenge and a bad experience. The challenge to grant the quality of the services and to be able to reach destinations in a continent which is becoming more and more important at an international level and thus for trade; the will to react against a negative episode – a wrong partner who costed time and money – by starting an initiative which later became the Africa Logistics Network, whose chairman is Marcello Saponaro who is also the CEO of Logimar.
Let’s start with Logimar and the attention that you are paying to Africa. Why this choice?
The job of the freight forwarder is changing, is becoming simpler and more standardised. However, there are some exceptions represented for example by Africa and by Project Cargo, by exceptional transports, the difficult things. Therefore, even if we do not forget the rest, we have tried to specialize in those fields, because we are a SME and to grow, we need to differentiate.
What was the situation in Africa when you had arrived? I mean, which were the issues and how did you solve them?
Obviously, there are many types of Africa: if you take North Africa, as for the logistic aspect and quality of services, it is quite different from sub-Saharan Africa. And then there are Countries in which in some cases it is difficult to assess the quality of the local operators. First of all we are offering ourselves: we created the Africa Logistics Network to give the possibility to Logimar to work better, to reach markets that can’t be reached by the 95% of the Italian freight forwarders who don’t feel comfortable or can’t go to some areas of Africa. Today 249 freight forwarders from all over the world are part of the Africa Logistics Network.
We started six years ago in Bergamo with a meeting which involved 45 companies: agents of Logimar who relied on us or because they considered us friends, had taken part to the network. Last year in Istanbul we were 150 companies, a number that can be compared to the most important worldwide networks in terms of participation. But our network is made, most of all, of African freight forwarders and of course of Asians, Americans, and Europeans.
This is the first peculiarity.
And this was the first difficulty, then overcame. In logistic, networks are existing for the last thirty years because they allow to avoid long and frequent trips across the world to meet the agents; thanks to these networks we meet once or twice per year after keeping in touch a whole year. So, a big part of the job is done.
To establish a connection allows also to have homogeneity and to deal with operators you already know. And everything started from a bad experience.
Yes, a problem we had with Logimar and which took place around six years ago. We had to manage the shipment of three containers which left Italy for the south of Chad, for a refugee camp managed by the United Nations. The containers landed in the port of Douala, in Cameroon, and we thought we had chosen, upon the recommendation of another freight forwarder, a reliable agent for the delivery. This person turned up to be a criminal, who requested as advance payment the half of the total amount and then disappeared. Thus, we were obliged to contact another freight forwarder and therefore to pay a second time to carry out the shipment. This experience favoured the idea to create a network made of small and medium freight forwarder companies which would be able to compete with the important international companies operating in Africa.
Other issues concern the infrastructures, and this has an impact on transports and logistic. We are working to create different corridors to overcome the problem which exist now. How are you trying to overcome this issue?
In some cases, the issues are linked with the infrastructures, like the dimensions of the ports. Mocimboa da Praia, a small port located in the north of Mozambique which is in these days famous in the news because it fell into the hands of an armed group, is refurnishing one of the biggest global investment of oil & gas. If we think about the lack of roads and railways and about the difficulties to carry out a maintenance in the desert, we can figure out what are the huge existing difficulties.
But you are succeeding there where others are not even trying to enter…
I made shipments which would have been unthinkable before the Africa Logistics Network. Two hundred trucks in the desert of Niger for 1.500 km, five hundred of which without a road but with many potholes during the rainy season: can you figure out this in another continent? Some would have surrendered but we did it and all trucks have arrived at destination. I have to say that Africans have a good resilience.
Africa, apart from this last period characterized by covid, is growing and some phenomena like urbanisation and demographic growth are very fast. What do you see from your observatory?
We see an important activism in the Horn of Africa but there are great expectations also for Ghana and Nigeria. The African continent is very dynamic, I think we will see huge investments, for example in the textile field in the Horn of Africa.
For an economy like Italy for which export is vital, having the possibility to rely on a freight forwarder who knows Africa means that there is a real possibility to see our business growing?
It means increasing the security of your business. In many countries the risks are still high and relying on a freight forwarder who knows how to move in this place because he did it already many other times and because he has reliable agents, financially stables and professionals, is a minimum requirement for a company which is starting or is increasing its trade business in Africa. This applies to small and to big companies. The risk is proportional to the money you are investing. Generally speaking, big companies rely on big companies; however, sometime a network of small and medium size professional companies might turn out to be more competitive, flexible and in some occasions even more reliable. This is the reason why we built a network, starting from a negative experience, today and after six years we have selected a high-quality partner in each African country.
Africa is making steps forwards also in terms of regional integration. Starting from next year there will be a free trade area whose aim is to unify the whole continent into a sole trade area with immediate consequences for instance on customs and cross-border settlements. Thus, this will reflect also on logistic and transports.
For sure. Probably some are worried that if Africa simplifies its internal regulations, its need to import and export will decrease; this is partially true but I think that cooperation is good for everyone, so more cooperation within the African territory means a greater stability and peace where conflicts are still latent. Everyone will benefit from this. A growing continent needs technologies, cultural and social growth, it needs to become a great continent in relation to the others and this even if we know that probably the supply chain – and not only because of the African custom unification – will undergo a reduction in the next years.
Africa is also a land of experiments. Technologies help logistic to improve.
Technologies have always made important steps forward also in logistics. As I said, logistic is changing a lot and is moving toward a greater simplification thanks to the technology which is applied in the management for the tracking and controlling. Therefore, the number of operators will further decrease, and big maritime and air companies will more and more offer to import-export operators a turnkey service. They will work directly, without the mediation of freight forwarders. The decision to specialize in difficult markets, in complex transports derives from this consideration; a maritime company is unable to reach some places because it is difficult to simplify so much a transport of thousand of kilometres in the desert or a single transport of 100 tones. This type of operation cannot be standardised.
Therefore, Africa Logistics Network is a strategic answer.
Yes, it gives the possibilities to small and medium size companies to enter in the most difficult market. Today for example one of the Turkish partners of Africa Logistics Network can safely ship from Istanbul to Niamey relying on a trusted partner, the same applies for Senegal, Cameroon, and Liberia. Everywhere. After the creation of our network, and I am proud to say this, another three-four African networks following the same structure, have been created. I’m confident saying this, I think it is a positive signal: we are many operators in this sector, but I think there is room for everyone, and competition helps us to continuously improve.
Every year ALN organizes 3 days meeting in a different city, a year in Africa and the following in another continent. How did you organize yourself in 2020?
2020 could have been the year of Nairobi with for sure more than 150 participants and with important sponsors and partnerships which would have marked a new record. And honestly, I could not wait to take part to the leisure day in a big park of Kenya. Obviously, none of this will happen but there is still the need to build friendships and a sense of community within the Network, between Logimar and the other 248 “Logimar” that are part of the network. Therefore, the November 2020 meeting, will be “Together in the air”. The conference will take place through platforms like Zoom and Mojo, there will be the Awards night and many one-to-one meetings.
Are there data which tell if the business volume of each company has increased after the creation of the network?
It is hard to track this data for 250 members, but I can say that for Logimar the impact of Africa in the turnover was 10-15% and is now 30-35%.
Africa e Affari, link https://www.africaeaffari.it/
Africa Logistics Network, link https://www.africalogisticsnetwork.com/