The 300,000 square foot floor space at Chicago’s ProMat material handling tradeshow is a buzzing, thumping spectacle of urgency. Nothing is still and each moving part hums in eight hour increments. Everything is in motion except Luis Jimenez, the CEO of the multi-million dollar warehouse equipment and supply distributor, Atlantic Rack.
A racking solutions company
Standing calmly among the clatter, surveying the scene like a runner who’s already lapped everyone else, he remembers a time where he had neither credit nor cashflow and operated out of the bed of a pickup truck. These are not memories meant to be exploded into oblivion, but used as the launching mechanism for the rocket ship Atlantic. “We’re not out there to make a sale,” Jimenez says about Atlantic, which he distinguishes more as a solutions company than a racking distributor. “We’re focused on the production side of our customers and how to maximize their revenue. By doing that and doing it right, that’s how Atlantic earns its revenue.” Putting customer needs ahead of the company’s desire to install maximum amounts of rack is nothing new. In fact, that personal connection predates Atlantic.
Dreams of an egineer who was an artist
Jimenez was originally trained as a mechanical engineer and buttressed his technical skill with a job as a factory sales manager for a Colombian racking company, a situation Jimenez felt, at the time, wasn’t beneficial.
“Not everyone in the industry has a background in engineering, manufacturing and selling,” Jimenez said, humbly leaving out the fact that he’s also an artist, as his numerous pieces adorning parts of the Atlantic offices. “I can back up my product with engineering experience.”
“We went through the used industry, outgrew the market,” Jimenez said. “We needed something new. I was knocking on every door, and Mecalux was one of the few that opened it.”
It turns out Interlake Mecalux was both the first and second company to extend Atlantic credit. Monarch, a United Fixtures Holdings company, was Atlantic’s first creditor. In April 2006, UFH purchased Interlake. Three years after that, Mecalux purchased Interlake. Jimenez was familiar with Mecalux back in his Colombia days. By the time he founded Atlantic in the States, Mecalux was one of the first companies he turned to.
From Miami to Florida
At the turn of the millennium, Jimenez left Colombia, moved to Miami and built his company from scratch – or scrap, as the case may be. “I started out of a pickup truck,” Jimenez says with a smile betraying both pride and embarrassment. He continued trading used rack in southern Florida for the next decade, all the time building a reputation (and a company) upon a foundation of fairness and reliability. The truck soon became a modest warehouse space, which, in turn, became larger warehouse spaces.
It wasn’t long after Atlantic’s inception that the general lethargy of customer service in the southern Florida material handling industry proved to be enough of a loose plank in the fence to allow the company full entry into the field. Atlantic positioned itself as a destination to which customers turned, not just as simple suppliers of rack, as so many other area distributors had done at the time, but as a source for strategic solutions to their specific needs. Incorporating old rack with new systems, orchestrating machines to fit with new rack, and detailing how quickly customers will see an ROI – among other procedures -customer satisfaction became Atlantic’s endgame. The belief being that for the company to grow, the company’s customer base must grow first.
Atlantic’s crew of 16 includes six sales representatives that inspect the customer’s operations, measure the group’s efficiency, determine a plan of action and then present that plan to Atlantic’s engineering staff.
Once the engineers’ design is finalized, Atlantic has four crews of installers in southern Florida, three in Key West and a Miami group in charge of Caribbean installs – all readied to contort around the customer’s schedule.
Racks are not only uprights
The installation scheduling is important, the most important, really, as it is the root most of Atlantic’s competition still has not buried deep into its foundation. Only after Interlake Mecalux toured Atlantic’s facility in April, is Jimenez’s uneasiness with the relationship other Florida distributors have with their customers revealed. In Florida and the Caribbean, distributors don’t offer systems like push-back or drive-in the same way distributors elsewhere might. “People actually know what they need,” Jimenez said, “but their ideas are very basic. Most customers just think of rack as upright. I wanted to stress the advantages of using such systems to customers who might not already know.”
In addition to customer demands, Atlantic knows that the quickest way to a customer’s heart is through his stopwatch. The Miami distributor maintains a heavily monitored and even heavier stocked inventory that allows immediate turnover within 2-3 business days. If there is an unusually large order or a glut of multiple orders at the same time, this – as Jimenez reminds us – is why it pays to form good relationships with not only the customer, but with manufacturers like Interlake Mecalux.
You grow, I grow
It isn’t just Atlantic Rack that has grown in the last decade, but those very same “guys on the corner” to whom it sold steel in the first place. Growing alongside the customers has been Jimenez’s philosophical flashpoint since his truck bed days. If the customer’s resources are maximized, as the philosophy goes, so too is the customer’s ability to stay competitive in the industry.
Atlantic’s steady growth has induced seven facility upgrades in eight years and propelled its reach westward, exporting to Illinois, Texas and Tennessee. Neither development has threatened to force the company to lose sight of its main goal: customer service. “Atlantic has customers that we sold $100 worth of used rack [10 years ago] and are now buying $16,000 from us still,” Jimenez says with a hint of whimsy. “Sometimes customers call me requesting this or that – they don’t even wait for a quote. They don’t need it. I’ll never take advantage of that loyalty.”
Jimenez sinks his fist into his suit pocket and pulls out a business card. Sure enough, just under his name, the title reads, “CEO / Mechanical Engineer,” a telling affirmation of the boss’ dedication to serving his customers with every tool he has. It’s a wonder “Salesman / Sculptor / Indian Chief” didn’t also make the cut.