With the proliferation of import products and end-users opening plants overseas, material handling has become a much more global industry in recent years. However, Orlando, Florida-based Professional Materials Handling Company has always been an international company.
In the early 1950s, Charles Nordhorn was sales manager for Stokvis Multiton, an equipment distributor near New York City, when he was able to secure the U.S. import and distribution rights for the Steinbock pallet jack. Using the brand name Multiton, Nordhorn successfully launched the product in the United States. He was so successful at it, in fact, that Steinbock hired him to work in their export department in Germany in the early 1960s.
Eventually, Nordhorn returned stateside and worked as a Raymond and Crown dealer for a few years before opening his own company, Professional Materials Handling Company, in Queens, New York in 1972.
Even with all his forklift experience, Nordhorn wanted the company to focus more on systems, including the design and implementation of material handling equipment. The mission statement then, as now, proves the company’s customer-focused attitude. Professional Materials Handling’s goal is to “develop product flow and movement strategies, design facilities for the efficient storage and handling of unit load materials within various warehousing and manufacturing and distribution environments,” according to the company’s Web site.
Adhering to that mission, the company quickly gained recognition as a systems house and helped many large companies plan and move from the New York City metropolitan area to “green” field sites—places where little to no industry existed—in the southern United States.
Very Narrow Aisles
Working together with Steinbock, Professional Materials Handling ventured into the burgeoning market for very narrow aisle equipment. “Generally, distribution of lift trucks requires only a limited amount of systems knowledge. However, the turret truck market required systems expertise and integration,” recalls Charles Nordhorn’s son Peter, vice president of sales, who runs the company today along with brother Wolfgang, vice president of automation.
As the company became more involved with training employees for systems sales, it initiated a new service structure. “Downtime became a critical point, since back-up trucks were not readily available for these specialized vehicles,” Nordhorn says. “Customers had to be educated in the benefits of very narrow aisles, and adjust to different working conditions.”
It was a long process, but Professional Materials Handling was able to pull it off. As the company grew, more and more customers and dealers came to visit. The company surveyed customers about the best possible location for customer visits and dealer training, and by a nearly unanimous vote, they said Orlan-do, Florida. Therefore, Professional Materials Handling moved to Orlando in 1980 and opened a demonstration center for both manual and automated turret trucks. The company now owns two warehouses, one for parts and customer support and one that houses the demonstration center. Over the years, so many customers have come to see the equipment hands-on that the company instituted a program whereby anyone who purchases a truck during their visit will be reimbursed for their airfare.
Family Business Spirit
Having seen their father’s passion for the business, both Peter and Wolfgang Nordhorn immediately took to it. “It’s in our blood. We were helping with layouts by the time we were 10,” Peter says. Wolfgang, the elder brother, has been with the company since its inception, while Peter joined after college a few years later. Under the brothers’ leadership, the camaraderie and spirit of a family business has remained. “We are a business first, but we like to treat our co-workers like family,” Peter says. “We also work very closely with our customers and take great delight in their success.”
Customer service is more than just cliché at Professional Materials Handling. “We put ourselves in the customer’s shoes,” Peter says, “and understand how critical a specialized piece of equipment can be to the overall material handling system at a customer’s site.”
This sort of specialized treatment often means that the company is tackling unique problems, which is why the company has found a niche as a narrow aisle systems specialty house. To meet specific customer needs, the company often customizes products such as turret trucks, AC electric and diesel sideloaders and very narrow aisle lift trucks. “We have handled loads up to 96 inches deep or 123 inches wide with turret trucks built to suit,” Peter says. “Our latest project involves a full-function, integrated color display for both manned and unmanned lift trucks.”
By staying on the cutting edge of such technologies, Professional Materials Handling is poised to handle whatever comes down the pipe in material handling. If its past is any indicator, this material handling equipment distribution company will remain on solid footing for years to come.