New distributors a boost to companies
The rebounding distribution sector has been good to northern Nevada companies specializing in sales of forklifts, industrial racking and materials handling equipment.
Warehouse Equipment Solutions Inc. of Reno saw its payroll shrink to just a dozen employees during the economic downturn but has since come roaring back as retail heavyweights build large Internet fulfillment and distribution centers in northern Nevada.
WESI specializes in building pallet racking and the complex automated materials handling systems that are the operational hearts of northern Nevada distribution and fulfillment centers. Robert Johnson, owner and president of Warehouse Equipment Solutions, says business has been on the upswing recently.
“We are have seen some growth and are busier than we have been in a long time,” Johnson says. WESI does about 80 percent of its business in northern Nevada, but the company has done United States across the U.S. for a who’s who list of clients that includes Amazon, IGT, Barnes and Noble, Sanmar, Patagonia, zulily, UPS Supply Chain and Whirlpool Corp., among others.
WESI has helped many companies expand their operations here in the past two years, including Arrow Electronics and SK Foods.
Johnson has tripled his staff from its low point and now has about 40 full-time employees at the company’s headquarters east of the airport on Longley Lane. The past few years have been more enjoyable, he says, not because revenue is on the rise but mainly because the work his company is doing has helped businesses grow and expand their operations in the region. WESI stayed busy through the dark years of the recession in part by helping a handful of companies dismantle and shutter their northern Nevada operations.
“The downturn in the economy affected the growth of a lot of companies who were downsizing locally,” he says. “They would close their factories, relocate somewhere else in the U.S. or close them outright. We can still do business there buying their assets and reselling.
“We were busy doing that type of work, but it wasn’t enjoyable. It is a lot better when we are helping people grow, and we’ve seen that change in last couple of years.”
Silver State Forklift of Sparks has grown along with its customer base. The Seymour family purchased Silver State Forklift in February of 2009, and Parts and Sales Manager Doug Seymour says the company’s revenues have increased each of the past five years. Starting out during a downturn turned out to be a blessing, Seymour says, because the new owners didn’t have to learn how to cope with the negative effects of a recession.
“It was a bit of luck that we didn’t have a ton of employees we had to lay off,” he says. “We started at the bottom and worked our way up.”
Silver State Forklift specializes in forklift rentals and sales and forklift service and repair. The company has gained more customers from businesses with operations in Tahoe Reno Industrial Center as well as Fernley, Winnemucca, Lovelock and Elko.
As the regional economy has rebounded, Seymour says more businesses are buying new or newer forklifts. Scougal Rubber and its sister company, Dynamic Isolation Systems at TRIC, have been two of Silver State’s best customers, Seymour says.
Oftentimes, Seymour makes on-site sales calls to drum up new business, but that strategy doesn’t work with larger organizations.
“Some of the big, big companies, they kind of have to call you,” he says. “They have a certain way they do things.
“Our little niche, we can do big customers, but we also do the guy with one old forklift that needs to move product every few days,” he adds. “They are making money and want a new lift or want an older lift fixed, so we are picking up more little customers as well.”
George Pimpl, vice president of Reno Forklift, has shifted his focus from working across the United States to the core market of northern Nevada in order to better service local customers.
“There hasn’t been much going on on the outside, and you kind of want to protect your backyard,” Pimpl says. “Our main focus is to get that customer and find what their business is about and what we can do help their business.”
Reno Forklift provides turnkey solutions for racking, storage and automation systems.
Scope of services has been at the forefront of Warehouse Equipment Solutions’ growth, Johnson notes. The company has a team of engineers that perform computer-aided-design work to map out the layout of a building’s internal components. WESI often consults with companies on the best way to get their facilities operating at peak efficiency, or it works with businesses’ in-house experts to create efficient materials handling systems and layouts.
The majority of the company’s work comes from customer referrals, Johnson says.
“We sit down with them and learn their business and come up with a proposal to lay their system out as well as build and install and service it,” he says. “It’s one turnkey proposal.”
WESI did the incredibly complex automated crane book retrieval system at the University of Nevada Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center in 2008, but that wasn’t the hardest job the company has ever done, Johnson says. That distinction goes to the two IGT campus facilities it completed in 1995 in Reno and 2007 in Las Vegas.
“We had to close down say 17 buildings and merge then into one large building, and they wanted to use as much in-house equipment as they could. We had to keep track of everything and try to figure out how to incorporate all that material into each new facility,” Johnson says. “Every company is a little different, so we are like chameleons — we blend into the situation to make it work.”
From a national standpoint, research shows the embrace of digital commerce is a whole decade ahead of schedule thanks to the pandemic. We spoke with the Retail Association of Nevada, Downtown Reno Partnership and the Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce to give local context to the growth of online retail.