You’ve been at Florens for almost 20 years – What led to your decision to leave Florens and found the National Portable Storage Association?
Mark DePasquale: I started at Florens Container Services in November of 1997 and, as was the case in any of my previous jobs, my intention was to stay forever. Florens was a wholly-owned subsidiary of COSCO Pacific Limited and served as the container leasing arm to the sister company China Ocean Shipping. At that time, Florens made the decision to expand and compete within the International leasing market and began to hire those who had previous leasing experience. I remember calling on liner companies to create lease contracts when we had only a few hundred containers globally and no equipment available in North America.
During my tenure, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of the Florens family and help grow their container fleet to more than three million TEU’s. Unfortunately, as business strategies and markets changed, in conjunction with the Dong Fang merger, the direction of the organization changed, and it was decided that I should part ways.
The National Portable Storage Association (NPSA) was created in 2002 and Florens was an active member from the inception. For many years, I worked closely with the NPSA and participated as a Board Member, Committee Member, Keynote Speaker and as a member of their Strategic Planning Group. Almost simultaneously with my departure from Florens, the NPSA was considering to change its executive structure and move from a volunteer CEO to a paid full-time position. When the job opening was published, I applied and was eventually fortunate enough to get the job.
What are your goals with the NPSA and what are the major challenges you try to solve?
Mark DePasquale: Our mission at the NPSA is to advance the portable storage industry through networking, education, marketing, and advocacy. In attempting to meet the ongoing challenges of our mission, I am coming to learn that we have members of all kinds with many different concerns and doing business in many different communities. For example; advocacy takes a very different shape when dealing with the city of Los Angeles compared to a small town in Northern Canada. It will be my never-ending goal to bring continuous value to every individual member as it relates to their specific needs. With this approach, there will never be a shortage of work!
Recently you were very successful and convinced the US government to take off containers from the list of tariffs – Why was that important and how did you convince them?
Mark DePasquale: Anytime an industry is faced with escalating costs, profitability will decrease and will very likely trigger companies to implement cost-cutting measures. The effect of an immediate 25% increase on the price of containers would be devasting to many of the small businesses that make up our membership and would certainly impact the employment of many of our fellow industry colleagues. It was important to understand why tariffs were being implemented on all imports from China and then build testimony to convince the United States Trade Representative to remove HTSUS 8609 “Containers (including containers for the transport of fluids) specially designed and equipped for carriage by one or more modes of transport”.
Shipping containers, classified under HTSUS 8609, were the subject of last year’s Section 301 investigation in Tranche II and were eventually removed from that list. That determination was based on evidence, including testimony, collected by the Section 301 Committee from members and customers of the U.S. and global container industries. In May of 2019, we found ourselves in the same position but absolutely nothing had changed. Our position remained:
- Containers are low-tech products and the manufacturing process used to make containers does not involve high risks of IP infringement, including theft of trade secrets, or forced technology transfer
- Containers produced in China are not subsidized or otherwise supported by the “Made in China 2025” program
- No company located in the United States produces marine cargo containers from “scratch” for use in international commerce
- The imposition of a tariff on containers produced in China will not spur investment in container manufacturing in the United States
- Container manufacturing in third countries is relatively non-existent.
The final list of items on Tranche IV ($300 Billion) was published on August 13, 2019, and for the second time, the NPSA, along with its partners, members and industry colleagues were successful in having it removed. The magnitude of this accomplishment can only be summed up by looking at the numbers. HTSUS 8609 “Containers” was one item of only “approximately 25” removed from the original list of more than 3,800.
Looking forward, now that tariffs are no issues anymore, what are challenges for container owners and what’s the role of digitalization in container logistics?
Mark DePasquale: I speak to our members on a regular basis and I am never surprised at what might come up as the challenges of the day. Some are short term and others are issues to be considered in the coming years. In any business, change is all around us and we have to keep moving to keep up. Digitalization is the subject of our Keynote Speaker at our Fall Seminar to be held in Napa, CA September 8-10, 2019. The effects of digitalization on the Portable Storage industry are no different than what is being dealt with in every other industry. It’s changing the way we sell, communicate and operate our businesses. Within the NPSA, we have members who are introducing new technology and new platforms which will change the way our members handle issues and run their day to day business. It is up to the NPSA to keep our members current and aware of our ever-changing world so they can be their best business.
What strategies or tips should container owners follow to stay ahead of the competition for the next 20 years?
Mark DePasquale: Staying ahead is wonderful, but in our fast-changing world, keeping up is equally important. No better way to keep up with what is happening within the Portable Storage Industry than becoming a member of the NPSA. The NPSA is the only Internationally recognized (non-profit) association dedicated solely to the Portable Storage Industry. We provide limitless opportunities to network with suppliers, vendors, and fellow members to help educate, grow, and sustain a business. The NPSA is always working hard to encourage integrity and high-quality products/services within the portable storage industry. With ever-increasing urbanization around the world, it is paramount that we operate in a way that brings respect and credibility to our products and our industry, while at the same time, keeping our communities safe.