Single Source Provider meets present and future customer needs.
In the early ’70s, James Bowes left a secure position as the general manager, allied lines for Atlas Lift Truck in Schiller Park, Illinois to step out on his own. Not only did he leave a secure job, he left the cold northern climate for the warm southern skies of Atlanta. Driven by a need to build his own company and to put his mark on an industry that he came to love, he established Peach State Material Handling in 1975. With the help of his wife Fran, he sold allied equipment from his new company.
He did not know when he founded Peach State Material Handling in 1975 that his entrepreneurial spirit, his innate ability to take risks, and his desire to create a visionary place to work would permeate the company and that the company he founded would grow into one of the largest integrated material handling distributorships in the United States.
The strong entrepreneurial spirit shared by both James and Fran was passed on to their son Jim and continues to infuse the company today. James was filled with plans and ideas. Fran, fascinated by the industry that captured her husband’s attention, was determined to learn all she could about it as they built a company that continues to flourish three decades later.
Jim Bowes, Jr. had been out of college for a couple of years when his father offered him a sales position in 1984. He had earned a B.S. degree in Industrial Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. “There were four or five people working in the company then, and I decided that if I didn’t give it a shot, I’d always come to regret not taking the opportunity to work with my father.” Jim Jr. started out as a salesperson and quickly moved through the ranks first as sales manager, then as vice president of sales. Working alongside his father, he honed his skills and developed the entrepreneurial vision that has fueled the company since its inception.
From the beginning, Jim knew that the company’s success was dependent on its ability to continuously meet customer demands. During the late ’80s, customers indicated a need for conveyor systems. Peach State delivered. In the early ’90s, in order to better meet customers needs, Peach State established an in-house engineering department.
When customers turned to Peach State for help with the establishment of their warehouse facilities, the distributor responded by expanding its engineering service capabilities and transitioning into a systems integrator. To accommodate its growth and evolving identity, the company built a new and larger facility and changed its name to Peach State Integrated Technologies. Along the way, the company continued to grow its market share.
The ability to adapt to the changing needs of a diverse market and to continuously reinvent itself, keeping pace with constantly changing technology, has made Peach State a leader in the material handling industry. Bowes explains, “I’m always challenging the company to identify what we are going to do next to provide more value to our customers.”
He systematically answers that challenge by utilizing a simple strategy. “First we have to understand what customers need today. Second, we must anticipate what will be the customer needs of the future and prepare to meet them.” Bowes is a strong believer that both actions occur simultaneously.
So what will his customers need next? Without hesitating, Bowes answers, “bundled solutions.” Customers want vendors that are very capable of delivering these solutions and then supporting them after they are installed. “Often, it’s a fragmented group that is able to meet all of the customer’s needs, and the customer has to weave the various parties together to make sure the system is seamless.” Bowes believes that Peach State can become that trusted resource. He believes that his company and his team can meet their customers’ needs from beginning to end, with the products and services that will meet their objectives. “Then, we’re adding more value.”
Model For Success
Peach State’s Model for Success is built on five values: Attitude, Accountability, Integrity, Teamwork and Trust. These values apply to all aspects of the company: relationships with employees, vendor partners and customers.
“Success as a business will always begin and end with the quality of the employees and team members,” says Bowes. “We’re an asset-based business, and our most valuable asset is our team. We have consciously built a very strong culture that we continue to foster and protect, always remembering that our team is at the core of our success.”
A select, highly trained team of 35 energetic professionals focus on the true meaning of teamwork: that the sum of the whole is much greater than its individual parts. Bowes says, “We are able to deliver more than is expected of us by continually investing in our employees.” When it comes to recruiting team members, Peach State looks for professionals with positive mental attitudes who espouse the company’s five values.
Bowes is clear about his mission for the company. “We are focused on our team members and on our customers. We want to build a growing, thriving business enterprise where people can have great careers.”
Peach State continues to thrive because of forward-thinking employees and its commitment to adding value. Focusing on very specific niche markets, Peach State has found great success as a result of aggressively pursuing four vertical markets: healthcare, parts distribution, consumer products, and food & beverage.
“The Fun Part”
What Bowes likes most about the material handling industry is helping companies solve their business challenges. He says, “Somewhere, at some point, a product purchased today was probably touched or influenced by a member of MHEDA. Often, Peach State has had some impact on that product getting to the shelf or getting to the end-user. That, to me, is the fun part of this industry: the problem solving, the creativity and the ability to help our customers become more effective at what they do. We thrive on helping our customers to serve their customers, better.”
In addition to that “fun part,” Bowes knows the challenges. “You just have to wake up every day with a positive mental attitude and you have to believe in what you are doing. And you have to continue to work hard at it. If you have the right people and the right strategy and work incredibly hard, good things will happen.” Bowes quotes his father’s advice to him, advice he says he takes very seriously: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Bowes believes that the material handling industry will become an ever more important part or cog, within the supply chain for global commerce. “The flow of goods across North America and across the continents will continue to increase in velocity as service level requirements, accuracy level requirements, and the just-in-time models that we have grown dependent on continue to grow. Helping companies move products from raw materials to finished goods to the end-consumer is a role that is always going to be incredibly vital and important to North American commerce.” Bowes emphasizes that MHEDA members have a tremendous opportunity to grow, as they bring more value to their customers.
MHEDA in 2003
As MHEDA’s 49th President, Bowes is reflective. His indelible belief that material handling is all around us permeates his thoughts. “Our industry brings a tremendous amount of productivity, intellectual property and capability to the table, all required in order for commerce to flourish.” To this end, he wants to put industry awareness front and center, continuing the work begun by last year’s president Mike Romano.
He plans to build coalitions with other trade associations and to build a platform on which to launch industry awareness campaigns. “As industry awareness grows, so will our ability to recruit new talent.” Bowes also plans to work with colleges and technical schools, to make sure they offer relevant material handling topics in their curricula.
Education continues to be at the forefront of the 2003 agenda, and Bowes will build on the momentum of the past few years, leveraging technology to bring education to members. The use of on-demand learning and webinars will be a strong focus. Bowes admits that as profit and cash become tight, getting members to attend association activities is a challenge, and he wants to encourage members to participate. “Now, more than ever, is the time to allow MHEDA to help,” he says, “either through peer groups, education or networking opportunities. Now is the time to make those investments and spend some time looking at your business strategically. MHEDA can help.”
MHEDA.net, a new program being launched this year, will allow members to network and meet regularly via teleconference. Topics planned include sales compensation, insurance, succession planning and human resources. Participants will be non-competing MHEDA members. Bowes hopes that these teleconferences will help members network every one or two months to discuss relevant issues, culminating in a general gathering at the annual convention.
Cognizant of the economic downturn, Bowes says, “There are very few companies in our industry that have not experienced some challenges over the last three years.” His counsel to fellow MHEDA members is this: “Believe in what you are doing and hire the best people you can find, stay focused and work hard. Good things will come, because this economy, too, shall pass.”
Bowes believes there is a tremendous opportunity for the young people who are beginning a career in the material handling industry. He advises them to get clear on their values, their vision for their business, and their company’s culture.
Leadership and Service
Fran Bowes remembers joining MHEDA soon after she and James, Sr. established Peach State Material Handling in 1975. She remembers, “Back then, only a few distributors of allied lines were members of the association.” Over the years, James and Fran made it a point to attend the annual convention, taking advantage of all that MHEDA had to offer their start-up company.
Today, Fran makes sure to attend breakout sessions at each Annual Convention. As Executive Vice President of Peach State, she keeps a strong hand on the workings of the company and is always looking for ways to help it to grow. “Over the years, MHEDA’s membership has evolved. The number of distributors selling general lines, storage & handling products, and systems integration products and services continue to grow.” The realization that her son is now President of the association that provided her and her husband with a wealth of knowledge during the early days of their business is humbling, heart-warming and gratifying.
Putting aside the role of Executive Vice President of a successful systems integration company, Fran Bowes becomes mother, a very, very proud mother, as she recalls the contributions of past MHEDA members. She looks forward to seeing the stamp her son will put on the association that she has come to love. She says, “My husband and I received much from our membership in MHEDA, benefits that continue to help our company today. Jim Jr. has the same sense of honor, the same commitment to the business and our industry, and the same dedication to MHEDA that my husband had.”
Bowes says that the Annual Convention was one of the highlights of his father’s year. “MHEDA has been a part of our business since the beginning, and my father would be very proud and happy that the company he founded is still very involved in the association.” Bowes is quick to recognize the employees of Peach State Integrated Technologies whose dedication and commitment are enabling him to serve and be involved in the association’s leadership.
When talking about his company and the industry he is set to lead in 2003, Bowes’ words are peppered with “the great tradition established by those before me.” He relies on what he learned from his father and his father’s vision for entrepreneurship. He speaks of “great tradition” and trusts the same principles that have supported his company’s growth to support him as president of MHEDA.