PAMELA: Hello. This is your host Pamela Hilliard Owens, and, on this podcast, you, our listeners, are going to find out about some of the absolutely wonderful business owners here in the city of Detroit. Our guests are not only long-term, hardworking, and successful entrepreneurs, but they have also made it through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is no small feat. Today, in this episode, I am excited to introduce to you Cherri Harris of Swint Logistics. Welcome Cherri.
CHERRI: Thank you, Pamela. Thank you for having me
PAMELA: Oh, you are quite welcome. First of all, tell us all about yourself and your business. How did you get started?
CHERRI: I started my career in healthcare. And then I transitioned into trucking.
CHERRI: I drove trucks for 15 years. During that time, I became a certified [inaudible] operator, tanker, hazmat driver, sewer jet back truck operator, reefer driver, CIPP lining installer. We work on infrastructure with the sewers. I had such a great trucking career. From there, I launched my business. And in 2015,
PAMELA: Ok. Hold on one second. How did you get, how did you get from healthcare to trucking? That’s quite a jump.
CHERRI: It was God. I had a bad day at work one day and I prayed
CHERRI: and I asked God to reveal to me something that I could do, where I could work predominantly with men and do my thing, listen to the radio, talk on my phone, do what I wanted to do and not be bothered and I heard God clearly say “Become a truck driver.” And, I was in a truck two days later
PAMELA: Now, how did you learn how to drive? Now, you’re talking about those big trucks How did you learn how to drive them? You have to go to trucking school or something?
CHERRI: I did. When I made the decision to get into trucking that day, after I heard God speak to me. I believe if you ask five people something, somebody knows somebody
CHERRI: The second person I asked, her brother owned a dump truck I was living in Atlanta, at the time. And, I… He told me I could come [inaudible] ‘til two days later, I was in a truck with him I fell in love with it I got my class B license from under him, driving with him to the state test with his truck. And then, he recommended that I get my class A license and go to truck driving school. So, I relocated back to Michigan, my hometown Detroit. And, I went to truck driving school. And, that is where my career started.
PAMELA: Wow, wow. So, tell us — cause you’ve told me before, but tell our listeners who might not know this story — about how you started from being just a truck driver to everything else that you do. My goodness. First of all, tell us what logistics mean. A lot of people don’t know exactly what that mean
CHERRI: Logistics. The definition of logistics by the dictionary is many complex parts coming together
CHERRI: Putting a bunch of moving parts together and getting it to move and making something happen So, logistics can range from many so different things.
CHERRI: But —
CHERRI: And, I started with five trucks over the row. We start too big. Insurance cost was astronomical. Got rid of that. Started back with one dump truck locally. Then, I purchased a box truck. Right now we’re just running the box truck, and the dump truck And the box truck, we just got a contract with Johnson Controls for warehousing and logistics. And, we also just got
CHERRI: a huge contract. Thank you. Wayne County, Bed rock
CHERRI: So with that, I’m a prime contractor. I’ll be providing logistics. I’ll be providing materials, and, also serving — got my union labor to a women-owned, Detroit-based construction firm.
PAMELA: Ok, now. There’s two phrases you pointed out that I love: union workers, and woman-owned. That’s what were all about here at BLAC magazine. And, that’s just why you — I honor you so much because that is totally a nontraditional business for a woman. So now that we know what logistics is. And like you said — and you told me this before you started off with really too many trucks and you had to come and back track especially because of the insurance cost, and the downside there for a while. But then, you realized, not just trucking, but logistics gave you so many different opportunities
CHERRI: Absolutely, Pamela. Since we last talked, I’ve launched an infrastructure company So, infrastructure solutions. We are your aging infrastructure solution specialist So, yes, just in time for the infrastructure bill. And, I’m using my experience that I spoke of earlier with sanitary and storm sewer systems as our foundation for our services. So with that, we’ve also launched our pivot, during COVID. It was general contract. So, we do construction.
CHERRI: Our main customers, Detroit Housing Commission. We take care of six of their properties here locally. We take care of six of their properties here locally. And, we also do residential remodels. I start school on Monday for my builder’s license. I currently have a full-time builder on staff. So, I’m able to do residential projects thanks to his license. But, it’s time for me to get my own license as we’re preparing. ’Cause, were gonna start building homes in the future. Were gonna start building homes in the future. Right here in Detroit.
PAMELA: Building and rehabing? or just building?
CHERRI: No, we’re building new construction homes. A company from Chicago reached out to me and, this is something that they’re doing. And, their goal, along with our goal, will be to answer the deficit of the 500 million homes that are needed.
CHERRI: We have a deficit so They’re building brand new Chicago-style bungalows, and it’s such a great program. I’m really excited about it. We’re gonna do a first launch probably in the next six weeks. So, it’s really —
PAMELA: Wow! That’s fast.
CHERRI: Yeah, they’ve got Chase Bank onboard. They only require six hundred and twenty or 640 credit score This is new construction, and the homes can be built within — from the time that your pre-approved until the time you’re in the home — it should be no more than seven —
PAMELA: What is the price range? Approximately?
CHERRI: 315 thousand to 390. And, the beauty of it is, too, you never pay another energy bill. They’re all solar. All green energy house.
CHERRI: You could take — My DTE bill, personally, every month is around 363.
CHERRI: So, that’s 363 you can put towards that mortgage for that new home
PAMELA: I’m thinking about the kid — when I say kid, [those] who are just coming out of school with all of this debt. And, things like that. And, when they have all of this debt —
When I got out of the school, back in the dark ages, [chuckle] I paid off my student loans. My undergraduate was paid for. My undergraduate was paid for. But, I’ve take out loans for my graduate school. And when I started teaching — I paid those off in five years. And, I was done with it. It was obviously a manageable monthly payment.
But these days, these kids come out with a 100 thousand, a 150 thousand dollars in school loans, and they can’t start adulting with that much debt. But a home like this that is already relatively affordable — for some of these homes in Detroit are going for like a half million, a million? I don’t think so [laughing]
CHERRI: I’ve just seen some new houses. They’re not actually even houses. They are duplexes. So, you’re sharing your porch, your back porch, your sharing half, your sharing a wall down the middle of the house And, they were going for 594 to 650. This is right here
PAMELA: Oh, wow
CHERRI: over there around off of the lodge near Wayne state area.
CHERRI: These guys are doing this successfully. They’ve been doing it for a few years, and they want to bring the same program here to Detroit. They have their own trade school. They have their Black contractor’s union. the third one in the United States. So,
PAMELA: That’s fantastic.
CHERRI: Yeah, it’s exciting.
PAMELA: And, I know you’re excited to be a part of that. It seems like those opportunities just come to you. But, I know — before we get back to that — I know. Tell us what it was like when COVID first hit. And you had to just shut down everything until at least, for a little while, until we found out how we could proceed.
CHERRI: So, prior to COVID we were going to New York about three times a week. We’re about to open an office there. We had — we still do — we have a logistics contract. We partnered with Terry Davis, a Detroit cabinet manufacturer And, we were running cabinets to New York City Housing Authority He has about a 35-million-dollar contract for three years for that.
PAMELA: Uh-hm, uh-hm
CHERRI: So, when COVID came I came back to New York. And, New York was the epicenter.
PAMELA: Oh yeah
CHERRI: The next day, they have shut down the New Rochelle. It was crazy and my mom contracted COVID right in the beginning. And, I lost her one month into COVID.
PAMELA: Oh, I’m so sorry, wow.
CHERRI: So I technically, shut down everything. We still had to do business, I was just not in a place mentally, to do business. So —
PAMELA: Right, right.
CHERRI: I was shut down for about six months or more.
PAMELA: Wow. Ok, ok.
CHERRI: It was hard to get me together. That was really hard to lose a parent.
PAMELA: No. That happened so fast. One of the parents of my student — I had a student in high school But by this time, he was 30 years and he went to bed — this was December of 2018, right after my mom died — And, he went to bed one day, and he never woke up. He was only 30 years old. And, she was devastated. It was her baby. It was her only son. And, she was just beside herself.
But then, a year and a half later, she put on Facebook on Friday night. “I’ve got a temperature. I think I’m gonna go to.” “I’ve got a temperature. I think I’m gonna go to Baltimore.” The next week, she — And, it was so fast. Just like that. Just like that.
‘Cause my brother-in-law [inaudible]. My brother-in-law had to get his mother-in-law, who at that time was almost 90. He went to get her from New Rochelle to bring her down to Baltimore where he lives. He was helping her pack. I think they only had a couple of days to pack. He thought they were getting ready to close New Rocehelle. “We’re taking whatever is in this suitcase, and we’re out of here.” So, it was just absolutely horrible for a few days, a few months. And so, I’m glad were able to take those six months you needed.
CHERRI: I did. And, I came back with a whole new client, and we launched a general contracting. I still work on this one, logistics. So, we came back, and Detroit Housing Commission gave us with some contracts. I got a team together, and we’ve been nonstop. I’m thankful for that. Whole six months, it was a great pivot. It was a financial boost after being dormant, basically, for six months. It was a financial boost after being dormant, basically, for six months. And, I can’t thank the government enough for the help that they gave small businesses. And continue to give small businesses. Wayne County gave their certified small businesses a 20-thousand-dollar grant.
CHERRI: So, that helps us. We’re very thankful for that. And, we’ve been striving — we’ve been thriving since. It was hard.
CHERRI: we’ve been thriving since. It was hard.
CHERRI: And again, I’m thankful that we’re in a different place now than we were then.
PAMELA: So really quickly again for our listeners talk about some of the things you’ve added to Swint Logistics in the last few years. Because, I don’t think people know — I don’t think people know that people in Detroit, and especially Black people in Detroit, and especially Black women in Detroit do this kind of — or is not out there enough — do this kind of work.
CHERRI: Aww. Well, thank you, Pamela. And also, too, I’d wanna congratulate BLAC magazine on the podcast. And, thank you for having me. But, a lot of people don’t know — or may be its not important — but, it is important to maintain your business, maintain your reputation. And, I feel like reputation is more important than money.
CHERRI: it’s our goal is to always have a great reputation. So with that, we launched general contracting. Well, I told you we do full-service construction.
CHERRI: We also, with our trucks, we perform paving. So, we do parking lot pay jobs. We also — with the infrastructure companies, we have what we’ve been doing, some with Detroit Housing Commission projects. Prior to even we launching the company, we’ve done degreasing, catch basin clean out, camering of sewer lines, and location services. So, that’s something we do on our infrastructure company. And —
PAMELA: Some of that — I hate to interrupt you, but I’m always thinking about what people are always thinking — Some of what you do help with the flooding that we always get in the summer. And, part of that flooding is because the — what do you call — the pumps can’t keep up when we’d have a lot of rain in just a few hours. and the pumps can’t keep up. Does your company do anything with that?
CHERRI: So as far as what what we are moving towards with the infrastructure division.
CHERRI: So in doing that, what we would do — our part with that is we would drop a camera in some of those old pipes to determine if there’s any [inaudible] coming in,
CHERRI: like a collapsed pipe could cause a back up like that because the water can’t flow back.
CHERRI: Our part would be dropping cameras, doing assessments seeing if the sewers need to be repaired, replaced or rehabed. We can repair, replace, and/or rehab.
CHERRI: So, that is
CHERRI: our part would be — I understand everything that’s going on with systems because of my experience in it. And I really think that, in my opinion, our sewer systems are aged. They’re old. They’re dated.
PAMELA: Oh yeah
CHERRI: But, there are a lot more people now than they did when they made them.
CHERRI: But I think that They need to and made to be larger diameter pipes to keep up with the flow
PAMELA: Right, right, right
CHERRI: So that way, they have more flow.
CHERRI: Then, the pumps won’t be working so hard
PAMELA: Right. We just got certified. Height assessments, lateral assessments, and main haul assessments and in that class, Cleveland — I believe its Cleveland — Ohio is having the same problem as everybody else is
CHERRI: with the aging infrastructure, and they’ve built a tunnel about 200 feet underground
CHERRI: Don’t quote me on the exact footage. That’s right. Pretty deep underground. They have this huge intercept pipe. and that way when the pumps and everything overflow it goes down into the pump and they never have a flooding issue. So, this a new concept
CHERRI: Maybe that’s something that we could look at for the city of Detroit. I’m not sure. But, that’s what we wanna do. Is try to provide a solution to this aging infrastructure. So, that’s our tag line.
PAMELA: And, that’s what exactly I was — that’s exactly what I was gonna say because you and your company are about providing solutions. We know what the problems are. Now, we have to provide and implement these solution. And, like you said, even though you have other companies, or branches of logistics. That’s what you’re doing with all these other companies your supporting these pieces together. Making sure that your people are ready to take advantage of these opportunities that are there. Because, and you can tell me, unfortunately there are not enough of us who are ready for the opportunity
CHERRI: I agree. We were a company that wasn’t ready yet at some point, too. And, [inaudible] reached out to us to see if we were ready.
CHERRI: Are you ready —
CHERRI: when this infrastructure bill drops and money is on the floor. Are you ready? Are you you bonded? Yes. Are you bondable? Yes.
CHERRI: Do you have a line of credit? We don’t. We’ve never have loans.
CHERRI: We’ve always been able to take care of our business and not rely on banks
CHERRI: or any financial institutions, which is a blessing But, to be 100 percent prepared for something of this magnitude. A line of credit very necessary. So, we are actually working on that
CHERRI: So, bonding, the line of credit. So, we need to get the line of credit now. And, that’s something that’s not an issue for us. But, you have to be prepared for opportunities, as bad as we want ‘em. are you really prepared for ‘em. Can you float your payroll for 30 to 45 days if that’s the payment term
CHERRI: Can you afford your bond? These are the questions that all business owners should ask theirselves when they wanna go after something big. Are you ready for it? And, we are.
PAMELA: Ok. And, where do people learn this? Because when I was talking about about school debt, not everyone wants to or needs to go to college for these kinds of opportunities So where do people learn these kinds of — especially, not only learning how to be a trucker and expanding it But, learning how to be a business in these kinds of — in these kinds have a successful company, I should say — in these kinds of businesses. Because, they are so needed. Everybody doesn’t — everybody doesn’t need to be a doctor, teacher, lawyer [laughing] We need all of these, too.
CHERRI: I agree. I completely agree with you. I would say that you have to start within.
CHERRI: You need to look within and see
CHERRI: what is your passion? What is it that you wanna do? I would always pray. Because, I’m a God-fearing woman
CHERRI: first and foremost. And, a lot of times what we see or want for ourselves God has such a different plan for us. So after that —
CHERRI: I started off in trucking, all I wanted to do was trucking. I’ll just explain to you, we’re doing less trucking than anything right now
CHERRI: And —
PAMELA: Uh-hmm. Ok.
CHERRI: with our pivot in construction has opened a lot of doors. But, with my logistics company, and partnering with the material supplier. and getting the contract for the Wayne County Criminal Justice Center as a prime contractor, that opened a whole new door for me in that market of materials, which is lockers. It’s the locker path. Everything lockers, right.
PAMELA: Uhmm. Ok.
CHERRI: And, doing my research for this project, and calling around, I have no woman-owned competition in the northeast region of the United States. What you want for you, God has a business plan. So once this project is completed and it’s a success, that’s a whole ‘nother avenue of opportunities that we can successfully go after because, now, we completed a million-dollar contract doing this. So we have a reference, we have the experience, we have a know-how. And, we are 100 percent woman-owned and certified
PAMELA: Actually — And again for our listeners, because I’m sure some of our listeners going to be “How do I do this?” And, I know. But, others might not know the certification process. Because, you are quote and quote a minority-owned and woman-owned. I don’t think they’re two different certifications.
CHERRI: They are
CHERRI: Woman-owned status trumps everything. The top two certifications is for women and — and, so a veteran and woman-owned certification pretty much go hand-in-hand It’s just the set asides. Right? So, is this contract
CHERRI: specifically set aside for a veteran-owned business or woman-owned business, or a minority-owned business So, it’s the set asides on how the contracts are awarded based on that Certification process is very important in business. The way that it is done, Pamela, is depending on where you live, and it depends on what market you wanna go after. Government contracting the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Army, Marines, any of the military branches any of the military branches, or any government entities because a lot of people don’t know, but the government cannot just go to a store and buy something. They have to put it on
CHERRI: and it has to be — they have to purchase it from whoever’s selling to the government, and again — So just say they need socks for the military, right?
CHERRI: They can’t just go the sporting goods and buy socks.
CHERRI: and if you are —
CHERRI: a verified federal vendor with a CAGE code, which is a certification you can be able to sell them socks. If you sell shoes. If you sell shoe laces, you gotta
CHERRI: keep up. Everything that the government requires has to be brought on this marketplace. So, that particular certification is where you get your CAGE code.
CHERRI: for people here in Detroit, and I’m sure in every city, they have PTAP Department and —
CHERRI: PTAP are normally associated with the universities
CHERRI: Detroit. The Detroit PTAP office is in Wayne State University. The PTAP office for Macomb County is in Macomb Community College. And, the PTAP office for — I don’t know what area that is — but they have one at Schoolcraft College.
PAMELA: Ok, ok.
CHERRI: I’m not sure, but
PAMELA: That’s probably Washtenaw, Wayne Country. Yeah, uh-hmm
CHERRI: So, they’re all over the United States. And, that is what they’re there for to help you with government contracts
CHERRI: So, they’re there to assist you
CHERRI: They give free training classes. They offer anything you need. They do capability statements for free Like I said, if you wanna go after a contract you can print it out and make an appointment with them, and go sit down and go over line by line with them. And, they’ll help you as much as they can
CHERRI: So, it’s all set-up to help small businesses
PAMELA: And, that’s excellent because I’ve just put something on LinkedIn 99 percent of employers in the United States are small businesses.
PAMELA: 99 percent.
PAMELA: And, people think about the big corporations and all that. And, yes we need those but the majority, the greatest majority of employers and companies are small businesses. And so, they’re the ones that you really have to work with. And, you keep mentioning Wayne state is Detroit University but there’s also Wayne County Community College, you said, Macolm Community College. So important. Not only the ability to organize all these, but also to teach people how to do these kind of things. That’s the kind of things you learn at community college
CHERRI: It is. And, the PTAP Department so instrumental in helping small business do business with the government. From my PTAP experience, I’ve done I’ve won government contracting. I’ve teach a — Well prior to COVID — I was teaching a — I was teaching a class for Wayne State for PTAP on proposal writing
CHERRI: and breaking down contracts. So, that’s something I learned from being a client that I was able to teach new clients. And —
CHERRI: And again, all programs are free. I would just encourage anybody new in business, going in business thinking about going in business, is to make sure, once you get started, you get certified
CHERRI: And, they have so many programs. So, I’m certified with Wayne County. I’m also in the Michigan unification certification program. which covers the entire state of Michigan. And —
CHERRI: MDOT is part of that program. And, MDOT has classes. I took a bonding education program class with MDOT.x I’m a graduate of BEP, a graduate of that. So from that, it helps going through those classes It helps you get comfortable with the bonding process because sometimes that’s a —
CHERRI: It was a hurdle for me personally because, in all honesty, I was concerned because my credit score wasn’t where I want it to be and I was concerned that that would stop me from getting the bond.
CHERRI: So before I got my bond, I worked on it and I got it where I wanted it to be, and
CHERRI: And, its a work in progress. But, we were able to get bonded.
CHERRI: So, these classes help you with these hurdles. and, they help you. You sit down, you meet the bonding company. You talk to the different people at the company.
CHERRI: So when the class is over, hopefully you’ve built a relationship with these people. So when it’s time to get the bond, you’ll feel comfortable going in.
CHERRI: and working with them. It was a really good experience for us and we’re bonded, and now we are a prime contractor on a huge project which I think is everyone’s goal.
PAMELA: This has been so fascinating, so informative. and I just want to congratulate you over and over and over for all of your success before COVID, during COVID, and after COVID. Almost died for COVID, anyway [laughing]. We’re gonna pray on that for sure, almost after COVID. And, I — It’s gonna be so inspiring for our listeners to listen to all of the ways that you, not only, completely changed careers but made success in such a nontraditional career. And like you said, logistics is putting all the pieces together. And that is exactly, what you have done in all areas of your company. And again, congratulations. And, thank you so much for being one of our first guests for the BLAC magazine podcast.
CHERRI: Thank you. And, thank you BLAC magazine for having me, and congratulations again on the podcast and thank you, Pamela, and blessings to you and your family.
PAMELA: Thank you.