July 16, 2019 3:30 PM, EDT

Cowan Acquires Carlisle Carrier, Expanding Northeastern Footprint

Cowan fleetCowan Systems

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Baltimore trucking company Cowan Systems has acquired Carlisle Carrier Corp. of Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Terms were not disclosed for the transaction, which took effect July 7. Both companies are privately owned.

Carlisle Carrier is a Northeastern regional truckload carrier specializing in servicing grocery warehouses from Maine to Virginia and westward into Ohio, according to a Cowan news release.

Cowan President Dennis Morgan told Transport Topics that when Carlisle Carrier expressed interest in selling, it was a natural fit for Cowan, a 2,100-truck fleet.

“Carlisle Carrier is in our network, right in the middle of it,” he said.

Carlisle Carrier operates with more than 250 drivers and 1,000 trailers, according to Morgan. It has 100 active clients.

Cowan ranks No. 63 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America with reported revenue of about $550 million in 2018.

The company offers dry van and refrigerated truckload, dedicated contract carriage, warehousing, driver leasing, intermodal, drayage and freight brokerage.

Morgan and Cowan officials said the acquisition will strengthen Cowan’s operations in the Northeast and provide terminals in Mechanicsburg and Bethlehem, Pa. The acquisition adds 285 tractors, bringing Cowan’s fleet to more than 2,500.

Both firms handle a lot of consumer goods, especially food, moving the goods in dry vans. That will make the consolidation of cargo easier, Morgan said.

The acquisition comes at a time when trucking in the Northeast has been rocked by several trucking company closures, likely caused by a softening in regional freight movement.

“My impression is that [Northeast] volumes are certainly below expectations a year ago,” said John Anderson, operating partner of Greenbriar Equity Group of New York. Greenbriar invests heavily in trucking and logistics firms.

Cowan truck

Cowan Systems

As high demand came in during late 2017 and through 2018, capacity was increased throughout the nation, Anderson said. When national freight movement slowed, many carriers found themselves with too much capacity. This also means it is a good time for larger companies to acquire other trucking firms, he said.

And Cowan and Carlisle’s focus on food and consumer goods should shield the larger company from market turmoil, Anderson said.

“I think food has a good base of demand that certainly goes down less [than other sectors],” he said.

Morgan said Cowan will look at best practices in uniting the firms, but the Carlisle Carrier brand is likely to stay.

“They have a niche and do a lot of direct-to-store deliveries,” he said.

Carlisle Carrier was a family-owned company. Dave Metzler started the business in 1990 with four owner-operators and five trailers, according to the news release.

Stifel Nicolaus & Co. served as investment adviser to Carlisle Carrier.