During the 30-day period in 2005 when the state of Florida was battered by three Category IV hurricanes, there was one point when wind gusts at the Orlando airport were reported to have reached 145 miles per hour. Just a quarter-mile down the road, Mid-Florida Forklift’s 15,500 sq. ft. facility had its roof blown off. But that didn’t stop the company from serving its customers. “We were open every day,” President James Hall says. “We had to move all the offices into the showroom, but we survived.”
It’s that kind of dedication and perseverance that has kept the company moving forward since Hall founded it in 1975. An engineer by trade, Hall worked a series of jobs early in his career. “As an engineer back then, you had to change location and employers to receive an increase in salary versus inflation,” he recalls. “Moving around wasn’t the best situation for me or my family.” Luckily, he had gathered some experience at one of those early jobs analyzing and purchasing forklifts, knowledge he parlayed into a sales job at Clark Material Handling Company. After ten years at Clark, Hall started his own company, Mid-Florida Forklift, with eight employees working out of his garage.
Within six weeks, Hall and his fledgling company were able to rent a building, and using a source he knew for used forklifts, it didn’t take long for the company to make an impact. Mid-Florida Forklift became an authorized Allis-Chalmers dealership and Hall soon made what’s still the largest project he’s ever sold—a 450,000 sq. ft. warehouse for IGA stores. “We racked it, we sold them forklifts in all five classes, and we sold them dockboards and tuggers,” Hall says. “You name it, we put it in that warehouse.”
A Lot of Forklifts, But That’s Not All
Aided in part by that deal, Mid-Florida Forklift was well on its way to becoming the successful business it is today. In 1978, Hall traded some apartments he owned for the permanent facility and became involved with the Nissan (then Datsun) product. “Back then, Nissan’s stock was stored on a farm in Kentucky, and people said it would never be a major entity,” Hall recalls. “Then they moved to Tennessee and started to become a player and I’ve been a dealer ever since.” He estimates he’s personally sold more than 4,000 Nissan forklifts in the subsequent years. “That doesn’t sound like much, but that’s a lot of forklifts,” he deadpans.
Hall says the forklift business, including used, rental and parts, accounts for about 60 percent of the company’s revenue today. In addition to new Nissan equipment, Mid-Florida Forklift also complements its offerings with Doosan forklifts that reach 36,000-pound capacities and other rough-terrain forklifts. “We figure it takes the same amount of effort to sell a ‘big one’ as it does a small one,” Hall says. “We’ve done very well in the big trucks.”
The remaining 40 percent of the company’s sales come from its allied business, including pallet rack, pallet trucks and hand trucks. “We try to be able to sell everything in a turnkey operation. I don’t want to walk by a rack system that we can make money on to make less on a forklift, so that’s what we’ve tried to do,” says Hall, quickly adding that insurance concerns keep him away from larger equipment like boom handlers.
Such a diversified product line has helped Mid-Florida Forklift build a loyal customer base of everyone from small vegetable farmers to Walt Disney World. But it doesn’t matter how big a customer is—good, old-fashioned customer service is the name of Hall’s game, especially in the difficult economic times facing central Florida since those hurricanes. “I’m always a believer in dealing with people eyeball to eyeball. There’s still business out there, you’ve just got to find it. They’re not going to knock on your door.”
The selfless philosophy doesn’t just apply to customers, however. Hall believes in treating everyone fairly, and that includes employees. “I treat people like I want to be treated. I have an open door and people can talk to me any time,” Hall says. It seems to be working, as the average tenure of company employees is more than 16 years, including a handful of service technicians that have been with the company since its inception. Employees are given the opportunity to participate in a 401(k) plan that the company contributes to, and Hall also pays half of each individual’s health insurance. Hall is able to provide such monetary benefits because, he says, “We’re never the low-price offer on anything. You can’t be and still have money to run your business.”
Hall also is a big believer in the value of continuing education, often sending salespeople to training that includes Dale Carnegie classes. “It does work if they want to make it work,” Hall says. “We try to treat everybody right. That’s how you keep customers.”
The personal touch has worked in the past and Hall believes it will work in the future. In spite of some predicted economic tough times ahead, he is ready for the challenge. “We’ll be a survivor because people who put forth the effort will survive. Those who don’t, won’t.”