Rock-It Cargo USA, Inc.
Rock-It Cargo USA, Inc.
Sales: $100 million (2006 est.)
NAIC: 488510 Freight Transportation Arrangement
Rock-It Cargo USA Inc. is a private company, a specialized freight forwarder best known for its work with touring musical acts but also capable of dealing with any shipment that is international, time-sensitive, fragile, or invaluable. Clients include the biggest names in the music industry, the likes of Bob Dylan, Elton John, and Madonna. Rock-It also provides moving and transport services to the world’s most famous orchestras; touring theatrical, dance, magic, and pageant productions; major film and television production companies; sporting entities, such as the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, and Major League Baseball; fairs and exhibitions; and trade shows and corporate events.
In addition, Rock-It works for industrial clients, coordinating massive moving projects, such as the transportation of rocket engines and power plants. On the other end of the spectrum, Rock-It provides white-glove treatment for fragile and invaluable cargo, such as the shipment of dinosaur bones to Chicago’s Museum of Natural History and numerous pieces of fine art to galleries, museums, and auction houses. What distinguishes Rock-It from regular freight forwarders is the level of attention it provides to a shipment. A mode master, or coordinator, is assigned to each project to oversee the building of specialized pallets and to head a team that monitors the cargo 24 hours a day, making sure that it arrives on time and undamaged.
Based in Los Angeles, California, Rock-It maintains more than 100 cargo agencies around the world, allowing it to handle the complex international logistical needs of its clients, coordinating the activities of truckers, air cargo carriers, railroads, and steamship lines. Rock-It also acts as a liaison with governments around the world and has in-house capabilities to provide an ATA Carnet, the international customs document that allows items to be imported temporarily into a country to avoid delays as well as the payment of tariffs and duty charges. Rock-It maintains offices in all of the major United States’ airports, as well as London, Munich, Mexico City, Tokyo, Sydney, and Johannesburg. Rock-It is headed by its founder, David C. Bernstein.
FOUNDER’S FIRST MOVE: 1974
The idea of “niche” forwarding was hardly a novel concept when David Bernstein became involved in the field by chance. For example, Chicago’s Hassett Air Express got its start in the 1920s and carved out a lucrative business by devoting itself to the shipping of time-sensitive printed matter. Bernstein was familiar with the freight forwarding business through his family’s involvement in the business. After high school graduation in 1974 he was working for his father, before enrolling at the University of Rochester in New York, when his older brother, Joel Bernstein, an acclaimed photographer on tour with the rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, telephoned to say that the band had just lost its mover on the eve of jumping from Chicago to London to launch a world tour. The youngster stepped in, rented moving trucks from his uncle, transported the gear to the airport, and made arrangements for it to arrive in London.
With one successful job under his belt, Bernstein enrolled in college where he continued to take on freight forwarding jobs for rock bands, working out of his dormitory room and employing his roommates and friends. He was no doubt fortunate to have a brother who could provide him with a wealth of contacts. Joel Bernstein had gotten his start as a music photographer at the age of just 16, when Joni Mitchell tapped him to be her photographer. Soon he was working for Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, and Prince, as well as David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash. In 1970, when he was just 18, Joel Bernstein designed his first album cover, for Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush; it is generally regarded as among the best rock album cover art ever produced. Working intimately with the artists and treated like a peer, Joel was uniquely positioned to help his younger brother establish himself as a transporter of stage equipment. David Bernstein also proved dependable, which solidified his toehold in the freight forwarding business. By 1977 he dropped out of school to run his business full time. It was not known as Rock-It Cargo, however. That name was actually coined in the United Kingdom around the same time.
The man behind the Rock-It Cargo name was Chris Wright, who got his start as a freight forwarder in the music industry in England in 1972 when he worked for the Moody Blues. In late 1978 he joined forces with Edwin Shirley Trucking to form Rock-It Cargo in London, with the goal of becoming the largest provider of freight forwarding services to the live entertainment industry. A few months later, in February 1979, the business was incorporated. The new company opened an office in New York in 1980 to become involved in the North American market. Two years later Wright moved to Los Angeles to open a third office, and a fourth followed in Tokyo in 1983. It was also in that year that Edwin Shirley Trucking opted to sell its stake in Rock-It, due to an increasing conflict of interest with mutual clients.
MERGER CREATES ROCK-IT CARGO USA: 1986
The 1980s brought more and more elaborate stage productions from rock bands, whose tours were more far-flung than ever. As a result, the business of entertainment freight forwarders was thriving. In this specialized field Bernstein and Wright emerged as the top providers, and between the two of them they controlled almost the entire business. With Wright electing to return to England, he merged with Bernstein in 1986. As part of the arrangement, Bernstein took over Rock-It’s New York and Los Angeles offices and did business under the Rock-It Cargo USA name, while Wright operated in London under the Rock-It Cargo UK banner.
The merger that created the new Rock-It Cargo was part of a larger trend in the 1980s when a wave of consolidation led to the creation of what the Journal of Commerce called “mega-forwarders.” These large combinations tried to be all things to all customers, selling themselves on the high-tech equipment and sophisticated computer systems they could bring to bear on a project. Diversifying the business held obvious benefits, especially in light of the freight forwarders that collapsed when the industries they focused on endured a slump, such as the oil industry in the 1980s.
Whether your shipment is international or oversized, invaluable or time-critical, Rock-It provides a complete range of services to support the freight forwarding and logistical requirements for your project.
For the most part in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rock-It concentrated on its narrow niche, helping rock bands tour, controlling a market share that ranged from 80 to 85 percent, although it took on other clients such as Frank Sinatra and the Bolshoi Ballet. It was also fortunate that the entertainment industry was in many respects recession-proof and the demand for Rock-It’s forwarding services remained steady. As a result, according to Air Cargo Report, Rock-It “grew more than 50% per annum in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” By the start of the 1990s the trend in the freight forwarding field was also beginning to turn away from the large firms, giving more leverage to smaller forwarders who could provide the kind of customer care and relationship clients desired. “I believe that niche forwarders largely survive not so much by their expertise, but through their personal relationships,” Bernstein explained in a 1992 interview with the Journal of Commerce. He noted, “We understand how bands work, and have the history and experience behind us.”
Forbes reported that in 1993 Rock-It’s revenues reached $75 million. Because it had so much of business of tour rock bands tied up, the company began looking elsewhere to fuel continued growth. Part of the answer was geographical, as lavishly produced rock concerts were beginning to become popular in new regions of the world. “Our future,” Bernstein told Forbes in 1994, “is in Asia, South America and the Middle East.” It also lay in finding new customers in industries other than music.
Given that the company’s headquarters was located in Los Angeles, becoming involved in film and television was a natural extension for Rock-It. It launched a TV & Film division to help film and commercial production houses when they needed to transport equipment to on-location shoots. Rock-It also provided services to television producers to facilitate their remote feeds and complex location setups for news and sports as well as entertainment programming.
In addition to serving the needs of television producers, Rock-It helped the people who were setting up live sporting events to be televised, providing yet another avenue of growth. In addition to the four major professional sports leagues in the United States, Rock-It worked for the Harlem Globetrotters, PGA golf, World Wrestling Entertainment, Championship Auto Racing Teams, the Association of Volleyball Professionals, Eco Challenge, and the X-Games. Rock-It’s long history of working with touring rock bands also made it ideally positioned to take on theatrical clients of all sorts, including Broadway road shows, touring dance companies, magic shows such as David Copperfield and Penn and Teller, and circuses like Cirque du Soleil.
Rock-It also began to transport trade exhibitions to Europe and Asia for some of the same entertainment companies whose artists and productions it already served. In addition companies like Atlantic Records, Capitol Records, Columbia Records, Epic Records, RCA Records, Sony Music Corporation, and Universal Music, Rock-It took on corporate customers from other fields, including Adweek Magazine, Kawasaki Motors, Sprint, and Texas Instruments.
Because Rock-It was so experienced in handling delicate electronic equipment, it was well suited to handle other fragile items, namely fine art, which not only had to be transported securely but in many cases was time-sensitive as well, due to arrive in a certain location at a certain time to begin an exhibition. Whether it was the equipment for a Madonna show or a priceless work of art, the underlying goal remained the same: Get the freight to its destination on time and undamaged. In the case of transporting Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with the Ermine, it meant the creation of a heat-treated wooden case, an outer metal case with a homing device, and a pair of armed couriers who sat on either side of the Lady, who had her own first-class seat on a flight from Poland to her new home in San Francisco. Here she was greeted by more armed security and whisked away in an unmarked van. The complex logistics involved in completing these projects also gave Rock-It the kind of experience that it could apply to large moving projects such as transporting rocket engines, power transformers, and cooling towers.
While Rock-It’s core business was not affected much by the downturn in the economy in the early 2000s, the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, caused some cutbacks on musical tours, but soon bands were touring as feverishly as ever. More problematic was the scaling back of the airlines because many people grew reluctant to fly. Hence, with fewer wide-body airplanes in the air, there was less cargo space available for forwarders to use. Rock-It overcame this rough patch and continued to grow. In 2003 it opened a trucking division, giving it the ability to offer full-service transportation logistics and making it a one-stop shop for clients. In 2004 it became involved in the conference sector, moving equipment needed in event productions. New clients included the Kennedy Center, Party Planners West, Rotary International, Special Entertainment Events, and the USO.
- David C. Bernstein completes first rock band freight forwarding job.
- Bernstein drops out of college to run growing business.
- Rock-It Cargo is incorporated in United Kingdom.
- Bernstein merges with Rock-It, creating Rock-It Cargo USA, Inc.
- Revenues reach $75 million.
- Rogers Worldwide is acquired.
MANAGEMENT BUYOUT: 2004
In November 2004 Rock-It’s management team, led by Bernstein, bought out the company’s majority shareholders, with much of the capital for the transaction provided by Baltimore’s Spring Capital Partners, L.P., which was dedicated to providing funding to small and medium-size growing companies. The buyout was the first step in a plan to consolidate the project freight forwarders under the Rock-It label. The company was considering a number of acquisitions. The first to be completed came in July 2005 when Rock-It bought R.E. Rogers, Inc., a 20-year-old company with 14 international offices that provided transportation logistics to the international trade show industry, doing business as Rogers Worldwide. While Rock-It elected to have Rogers continue using its own name, which had considerable value in its field, the company made it clear that further acquisitions were likely in the works and that the Rock-It name would replace a number of players in the specialized freight forwarding field.
Principal Subsidiaries: R.E. Rogers, Inc.
Stage Call Corporation, Horizon Entertainment Cargo; Janco, Ltd.; Roadshow Services, Inc.
Clash, James M., “Mover to the Stars,” Forbes, January 17, 1994, p. 112.
“Rock-It Cargo Dominates Music Transport Niche,” Air Cargo Report, September 14, 1995.
Solomon, Mark B., “Carving a Niche in Freight Forwarding,” Journal of Commerce, February 24, 1992, p. 9.
Waddell, Ray, “‘Dude, Where’s My Amp?’” Billboard, June 28, 2003, p. 31.
——, “Tour Gear Moves with Specialists,” Billboard, August 21, 2004, p. 21.
"Rock-It Cargo USA, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/rock-it-cargo-usa-inc
"Rock-It Cargo USA, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved September 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/rock-it-cargo-usa-inc
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