50 Years In Business
CAM Magazine: Reaching The Top Shelf, Shelving, Inc. Celebrates 50 Years In Business
Reaching The Top Shelf
Shelving, Inc. Celebrates 50 Years in Business
By Mary E. Kremposky, Associate Editor
Successful companies don’t allow their business plan to collect dust on the shelf. With its agile and savvy response to market trends, it’s no wonder Shelving, Inc. is celebrating 50 years of successful operation. Using its storage and shelving products to optimize the use of space for clients, the Auburn Hills-based firm is thriving in a down economy by making wise use of a contemporary form of space: cyberspace. Shelving, Inc. has set up shop in that new Mall of America called the Internet and is taking advantage of the vast opportunities of E-commerce.
When Jack Schodowski began the company in December 1960, the Internet was literally something in outer space, having been initially developed – according to WikiAnswers - as part of the Soviet Union’s launch of the first Sputnik satellite in 1957. Back on Earth, Detroit and the automotive industry were booming, and Jack Schodowski decided to leave his position as sales representative for Interlake Steel, one of the largest manufacturers of steel racks and slotted angle shelving in the country, to launch his own custom industrial shelving enterprise. “He wanted to control his own destiny,” said his son and current company president, Joe Schodowski.
The firm’s first office was located on Riopelle in Detroit’s warehouse district now east of GM’s World Headquarters. The senior Schodowski made “sales calls on automotive manufacturers and their suppliers the old-fashioned way – door-to-door and face-to-face,” said Schodowski. “He was so excited getting his first order he left the customer’s office without the purchase order.” This is only one of many company stories of this successful second-generation family business that has survived five recessions and the Great Recession. “We have thrived because we don’t cut corners,” said Schodowski. “We have never provided a shelving or rack system that has failed under weight stresses. We engineer our shelving systems to meet and exceed our customer’s storage capacities and specifications. Plus, we don’t under-spec our products just to win a job.”
A commitment to quality, the ability to deliver and a strong work ethic permeates the company whose leadership includes: John Schodowski, vice president of operations; Mike Schodowski, vice president of sales; and Jim Aiello, a brother-in-law who is vice president of marketing for this growing enterprise with 15 full-time and five part-time employees.
Growing the Business
With knowledge, ambition, and a large contact base, the senior Schodowski grew the business, hiring a sales force and a cadre of well-trained fabricators and installers. “He took on more inventory and opened up a warehouse on Grand River Avenue in Detroit in 1963, followed by a larger warehouse on West Chicago Boulevard in 1968,” said Schodowski. Shelving, Inc. then established a warehouse in Auburn Hills in 1978 and constructed a two-story office in 1994 to accommodate its growing staff.
The 1990s saw the continuation of Shelving, Inc.’s long history of success, and marked the entrance of another business-savvy family member into the company fold. Matriarch Helen Schodowski took over as president, earning accolades as Woman Business Owner of the Year from the National Association of Women Business Owners. She steered the company through the beginning of its transition from a predominately automotive clientele to a more diversified customer base.
For most of its years in business, the company serviced the booming automotive supply market in Detroit’s heyday. The firm’s pallets, racks and shelves were stacked with the raw materials, engines and heavy-duty engine parts that were the glory of the Motor City’s automotive empire. “For the first 40 years, the automotive market, including manufacturers and their supplier base, was probably 90 percent of our business,” said Schodowski. “Now, it is less than 10 percent of our business.”
Shelving, Inc. began preparing for the shift well before the recent economic meltdown and the resulting cataclysmic corporate “car accident” led to the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler and the closing of dealerships. “In 1998, Chrysler was 20 percent of our business and now they are less than one percent of our business,” said Schodowski. Shelving, Inc. began knocking on the doors of hospitals, universities, law enforcement, and government offices to diversify its markets. The firm began a parallel effort to expand its goods and services. “In the 1960s, we were a one-product company,” said Schodowski. “Now our 450-page catalog has over 15,000 products, all of which relate to storage and material handling. With shelving as our core, our line has blossomed into many different types of shelving products from wire and plastic to wood, metal and pallet shelving.” As the end result, Shelving, Inc. now supplies heavy-duty shelving, racks, wire shelving, lockers and other storage equipment to restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals, retail stores, distributions centers, government facilities, and military installations.
One of the largest orders was supplying pallet racking for the 1-million-square-foot Steelcase distribution center in Grand Rapids. “This was a large seven figure project for us, and we completed the design, engineering, materials and installation on time and under budget,” said Schodowski. The client supplies a floor plan with building column locations. As maestros of optimal space utilization, Shelving, Inc.’s job is to layout an arrangement of shelving and racks with the capability of efficiently storing as much product as possible. “We’re in the storage and organization business,” said Schodowski. “Our motto is ‘Making Space Work Better.’”
In addition, the firm created a more efficient space planning and storage system for the University of Michigan Press by inserting high-density shelving into the workspace. Shelving, Inc. also supplied several thousand lockers for Beaumont Hospital’s campus expansion in Royal Oak. “We were the low bidder, and we also completed that project on time and under budget,” he said.
Going Online, B2B, B2C
The year 2000 was a watershed year in Shelving, Inc.’s corporate history. The new millennium marked the entrance of Joseph Schodowski as president and the launch of www.Shelving.com, a business-to-business website created to generate sales leads. The company’s reach expanded from a 200-mile radius surrounding Detroit and covering seven to nine counties in Southeast Michigan to a national enterprise extending into every corner of America. “Going online opened up our markets geographically,” said Schodowski. “Up until 2000, 99 percent of our business was in Southeast Michigan. In 2000, we began getting sales calls from Florida and New York. Only two years later, the company entered the world of E-commerce and took its first online order from a New York firm. “In 2002, we converted HYPERLINK http://www.Shelving.com www.Shelving.com into an E-commerce site by actually offering our products for sale online,” said Schodowski. “People loved it.” Shelving, Inc. enjoyed a 25 percent increase in sales from 2001 to 2002. Overall, the company more than doubled its sales in the next eight years. Today, a staff person at Shelving, Inc. monitors a bank of four different computers, encircling her desk in an arc of PCs and delivering Shelving, Inc.’s products to millions of homes, businesses, and institutions across the country. “The top four states for our business are the most populous states, namely New York, California, Texas and Florida,” said Schodowski.
In September 2007, the company launched a second website at www.TheShelvingStore.com, a business-to-consumer site that has already serviced home businesses, interior designers, consumers and several law firms. “It’s the best part of our business,” said Schodowski. “It has experienced double-digit growth and accounts for a third of our total revenue. We also have a storefront on East 11 Mile Road in Madison Heights to meet the storage needs of the consumer market.”
Going online expanded the company’s customer base. Orders range from providing lockers to a well-known fashion line called Vera Bradley to supplying TA-50 Military Readiness Lockers to Fort Bragg for troop deployment. Shelving, Inc. even received an order from the USS Iwo Jima, a marine carrier plying the Atlantic. “The commander placed an order over a ship-to-shore radio requesting special racks for storing undisclosed products on the ship,” said Schodowski. “We had to ensure that the racking system components were delivered to the naval port in Virginia within a three-day window while the ship was in port and before it went back out to sea.” Another client was a microbiologist at Harvard University. “We designed a shelving system for his computer work area that had to hold seven computer monitors, as well as space for his two cats who could then be near him while he did his research,” said Schodowski. In addition, the IRS hired Shelving, Inc. to design a mobile aisle shelving system to store records and files. “The high-density shelving storage system was installed in a highly secured work area requiring our installation crew to undergo security background checks,” recalled Schodowski.
Out-of-state Internet sales remained the same and even rose during the recent Great Recession. But overall sales declined, “because the local market took such a dive,” said Schodowski. Despite Michigan’s rough economy, Shelving, Inc. was able to post a record year in revenue in 2008 and a record year in profitability in 2009. “Despite lower revenue from 2008, we cut our operating expenses to a level that made us more profitable,” said Schodowski. Shelving, Inc. has a knack for turning obstacles into opportunities. With the high number of companies downsizing their facilities, Shelving, Inc. now focuses a portion of its work on “supplying labor services to tear down existing storage systems and then move, design and rearrange the systems to optimally fit the downsized facilities,” said Schodowski.
At the half-century mark, Shelving, Inc. is continuing its explorations in cyberspace. “In the future, I see us building more niche E-commerce sites,” said Schodowski. “We are going to design a new site called www.ShelvingandRack.com, which focuses on industrial shelving and racking for commercial and industrial customers.” Shelving, Inc. is essentially organizing its presence in cyberspace with three different websites targeting different markets.
The company will also be launching new product lines on www.Shelving.com in its quest to make the website the ultimate go to place for all things shelving. “We are redesigning HYPERLINK http://www.Shelving.com www.Shelving.com to appeal to both commercial and residential customers,” said Schodowski. They are also developing a product line devoted to “green” or environmentally friendly shelving that may include recycled plastic bins, bamboo shelving, and shelves coated with low VOC paint.
“We have been ‘making space work better’ with our shelving, racks, lockers and other storage equipment since 1960,” said Schodowski. “We will continue to focus our efforts on being the best provider of shelving and storage equipment to our customers no matter where they are located. With the E-commerce sites we manage, our sales team, installation crew and our engineering expertise, we can design, engineer, and install just about any size project – large or small – that requires better utilization of space.”
New customers include the battery manufacturing plants beginning to set up shop in Michigan. Shelving, Inc. continues to supply school and hospital projects for local contractors, as well as service the needs of contractors, themselves. “The properly designed shelving system will not fail under weight stresses and will allow a contractor to store their tools, materials and supplies safely and neatly,” said Schodowski. “They know exactly where everything is and what their supply levels are without requiring an expensive and sophisticated bar code system.”
Celebrating 50 years in the space utilization business, Shelving, Inc. seemingly offers every shelf, rack and locker system known. Shelving, Inc.’s 15,000-square-foot warehouse in Auburn Hills contains shelves with a capital S. The massive, modular and stackable units have the ability to create a mezzanine within a building. Closet shelving efficiently stores tools or clothes, while pallet shelving can store 8,000 pounds of materials. Shelves from the wall-mounted to freestanding, from decorative to the industrial, and from wood to wire and glass fill the warehouse with every organizational system devised under the sun and now listed online. Clearly, Shelving, Inc. is the place to go to attain the Holy Grail of organization: a place for everything and everything in its place.