Advanced Equipment Company’s pillars of business will continue, even under new leadership
Advanced Equipment Company (Charlotte, NC) is preparing for a major transition on January 1, 2018. That is the day that President Daryle Ogburn will officially retire from the company where he has worked for the last 39 years. Darin Boik, an account manager at AEC, will take over as President on that day. Like everything that AEC does, this was not a move made in haste. It was well thought out and strategically planned. There was a two year transition plan put in place to ensure that things continued to operate smoothly and that Darin and Brad Pearson, who was hired to take over Darin’s territory, were adequately prepared for their new roles.
But to understand how the company will smoothly transition to a new president, we have to first understand how AEC grew into what it is today. As CEO/ Owner Larry Abernathy is fond of saying, “Everything has changed but everything still remains the same.” Over the years, Advanced Equipment Company has worked with many suppliers and adapted to the evolving industry. But what has always made them successful are the core tenets and culture that the company was built on. And that will always remain the same.
An example of the strategic thinking that Advanced Equipment Company is known for shows through at the very advent of the company.
“Advanced Equipment Company was born on January 1, 1960,” says Abernathy. “Back then, the phone book was the major marketing tool. Therefore, the name Advanced Equipment Company put us in the first position in the phone book.”
In 1963, the company changed ownership, and Richard D. Ward and Herman Pfeifer set out to build AEC into a material handling house using experience gleaned from their management positions at Wrenn Handling Company. Larry Abernathy, who had been with the company through the management changes, became part of the sales team and a major part of the company in the mid 1960s.
“We needed an advantage, so in 1964, we took on the Hytrol Conveyor Line,” says Abernathy. “We sold Palmer Shile pallet rack and cantilever rack. Both companies had ‘Quick Ship Stock Programs’ and we already had Lyon Metal Products and Bassick Casters in stock in Charlotte. That was a great edge to have in those days and it worked well for us.”
Herman believed in doing things “the right way” no matter what, and took pride in the respect the company built with customers and suppliers. This became a core belief that has been carried throughout the company’s history.
“Our mission statement is ‘to provide material handling solutions that exceed the needs and expectations of our customers,’” says Ogburn. “We have one simple rule that guides our interactions with our customer. ‘Do the Right Thing.’”
When Pfeifer decided to plan his retirement, he asked Abernathy, now the company’s top salesperson, to buy the company. Abernathy didn’t have the money or credit to do so, so the two worked out a deal for Abernathy to pay for the company over 15 years and rent the building for 10.
“It was very much as a ‘father sells to his son’ arrangement,” says Abernathy.
This too has become a major theme throughout AEC’s history. The idea that all of the employees form one big work family.
“We are a strong family-based company,” says Boik. “Larry’s focus was never on being the biggest company in the industry. He’s more focused on our employees and ensuring that they can make a good living and provide for their family.”
In September 1978, Ogburn joined the company as a sales engineer. In 2001, he was promoted to Sales Manager and then in 2004 he became President and Larry became the CEO. This gave Larry the opportunity to retire from the day-to-day operations of the business and continue to own Advanced Equipment Company. He plans to keep the company in the family for as long as it continues to be profitable.
Now, AEC prepares to transition to the next chapter, as Ogburn is set to retire and Boik is set to take over as President.
“I had been thinking about retirement for the last couple of years,” Ogburn says. “I wanted to spend more time with my family and pursue other activities while still in good health. Larry and I put in place a two-year transition plan. In January 2016, we named three of our team members to join the Board of Directors.”
Those named to the board were Darin R. Boik, L. Scott Abernathy, and J. Derek Helton.
“Each of these men was chosen based on unique traits or skills,” Ogburn says. “The BOD is our Leadership Team. These new board members were now exposed to the business workings of our company. They see our Income Statement and all other reports that map our success, struggles and at times, our failures. It was exciting to see each develop new perspectives about our operation.”
At the Board of Directors Special Session on December 14, 2016, Boik was elected President Elect effective January 1, 2017. Daryle will remain on the Board of Directors after he retires as president. Ogburn and Boik have spent 2017 preparing for the transition.
“This year, I am mentoring Darin to get him ready to assume his duties as President on January 1, 2018,” says Ogburn. “Darin is also training his replacement in System Sales for his territory.”
Says Boik, “Right now my main job is taking care of my customers. Finding solutions to what they’re doing and helping them. Being an extension of them within their own company, being part of that team and helping them make the right decision, doing what’s right. Not just trying to make the sale but making the right decision that will best solve their problem. It’s supporting them from conception through implementation, final acceptance and beyond. And now with this new role, it’s going to be basically the same thing except my customers are now going to be the sales team members and the inside support group. So I see those as the people I need to start supporting and doing what I can do for them along with developing new tools that will make them more efficient and successful inside the office and in their territories.”
Products and Relationships
Over the company’s 57 years, AEC has transitioned from a storage and handling equipment dealer to a solutions provider.
“Many of our solutions now involve controls and automation and are turnkey,” Ogburn says. “We provide solutions utilizing all types of storage and handling products except man aboard equipment. Conveyor and conveyor systems is our number one product/ service. We provide turnkey solutions to include controls, software, installation and project management.”
AEC also provides ergonomic lifting equipment, work station cranes and handling equipment, storage racks, pallet flow systems, work platforms, work and equipment enclosures, modular buildings, vertical lifts and mobile aisle storage systems.
“Hytrol Conveyor is by far our number one product line,” Ogburn notes. “Our strong partnership with Hytrol has played a very strong role in our company growth.”
That relationship with Hytrol dates all the way back to 1964.
“We were in on the early years of Hytrol,” Ogburn says. “Our growth paralleled Hytrol’s.”
Other important product lines for the company include: Southworth Lifts, Gorbel Cranes, Pflow Lifts, Steel Solutions Mezzanines/Work Platforms, Unarco Rack Systems, Wirecrafters Enclosures, 3D Storage Systems, Montel Mobile Aisle Storage Systems, Ryson Spiral Conveyors and Starrco Modular Buildings.
“We work very hard at maintaining strong relationships with all of our suppliers,” Ogburn says. “These strong relationships are key to our company growth and health.”
Today, Advanced Equipment Company is a pure sales organization with seven full-time sales engineers and five people in the office to support the outside sales team.
“We can operate very efficiently with this group because we have several long-time sub-contractors to provide electrical controls, field wiring and mechanical installation services. This allows us to provide completely turnkey systems for our customers. Our sales engineers are highly trained and experienced to manage our projects from inception to completion.”
As any successful business knows, having the best products is only half the battle. You also need to have the right personnel to sell the products and work with the customers to find the best applications for those products.
“Our company culture is very important,” Ogburn says. “I make sure anyone I am interviewing for a position in our company spends time with our team to make sure we feel they are a good fit and that they feel they would be a good fit within our culture. Each of our team members know they can rely on everyone on the team. Each team member knows that any other team member will always act on what is best for the customer and the company.”
AEC’s company symbol is an Eagle and the conference room is called the “Eagles Nest.” There is a picture of an Eagle in the lobby with the caption, “Whatever it takes.”
“Our company is our work family,” Ogburn says. “The most important part of our company success is our talented and experienced people and the fact that we’re a family.”
Says Boik, “I’m incredibly excited about the new people we’re bringing on board. I think we’re going to continue to strengthen our team as we move forward. A lot of new hires bring an engineering background and an integration background, so they’re used to systems work. And they’re incredibly personable. They’re relatable and likeable. That’s a strong combination. They form good relationships and provide good solutions to our customers.”
That combination of skills is a necessity at AEC.
“We require a unique skill set that is becoming more difficult to find within millenials,” Boik says. “We have a business model that gives the sales team tremendous control of the opportunities they find, from equipment decisions, risk assessment, design, pricing, quote generation, project management, final acceptance and even collection with past due payments at times. This control is very attractive to certain individuals and while it does have its downfalls, it has worked for AEC for more than 55 years.”
When AEC is unable to find individuals with the skill set required, they provide extensive training.
“We will start them inside, under supervision, and then move them to outside sales when ready,” says Boik.
As Ogburn prepares for retirement and Boik prepares to assume the presidency, there will be no radical shift in AEC’s working philosophy. The business model and core pillars that the company has been built on have allowed the company to thrive for 57 years. Larry Abernathy remains as the CEO and will oversee the strategic direction of the company, “Until they carry me about the door.”
Scott Abernathy has been with the company for 37 years and worked in various assignments from Installation to sales account manager. Scott joined the Board of Directors in 2016. “Scott plays an important role in our company,” says Boik. “He has a wealth of knowledge and history and knows our company’s owner, his Dad, better than anyone. So once, as Larry says, ‘We carry him out the door,’ Scott will help us answer the most important question for the company’s future. ‘What would Larry do?’”
Says Ogburn, “Five years down the road, we plan to still be right here taking care of customers in the Carolinas. The tools we use to do that will continue to evolve but our ethics of how we do business will still be the same.”