A.J. Jersey is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2020. While President David Rizzo acknowledges that the celebration of the milestone has become understandably muted, with all of the uncertainty in the world, especially right down the road from the South Plainfield, New Jersey, headquarters, it is still a commendable achievement and one that the company takes great pride in.
“It’s a bittersweet anniversary,” Rizzo says. “But it’s a big one.”
The roots of A.J. Jersey can be traced back beyond its 1970 founding, when company founder and David’s father, Patrick Rizzo, worked for a company called Astorlyn Corporation. Rizzo and his partner worked together from 1965 to 1970, when Patrick saw an opportunity in an emerging market in New Jersey and founded Astorlyn Jersey in Linden, New Jersey.
“The core of A.J. Jersey, then Astorlyn Jersey, was three salespeople and two engineers,” says David Rizzo. “Their focus was on space management and storage products. Racks and shelving. Forklifts weren’t really a consideration at that time. For those first five years, they sold a lot of pallet rack, a lot of shelving, conveyors and dock equipment.”
However, around the same time that Astorlyn Jersey was being formed, Crown Equipment was beginning to grow its market share and product base.
“We are one of Crown’s original dealers,” Rizzo says. “As Crown began to grow in mobile equipment and electric driven equipment, and introduce sit down and order pickers, it got very popular. As Crown grew, we also grew. 1976-1985 was a major growth phase for us. That’s when Crown really expanded into Narrow Aisle, Turret, Pallet and Counterbalance Trucks.”
A.J. Jersey has been so intrinsically linked to Crown that in 2008, Crown Equipment recognized Patrick with its James F. Dicke Pioneer Award for his longtime contributions.
“We appreciate Pat’s contributions and the long association we enjoyed with him over the years,” Jim Moran said at the time. “Pat was a material handling professional in every aspect, building his company from the ground up into the successful business it is today.”
50 Years Later
That business today employs 155 people in two buildings encompassing 50,00 sq. ft. A.J. Jersey has evolved into a full service distributor, offering forklifts, warehouse integration, pallet racks, conveyors, in-plant offices, dock equipment and more.
“We have evolved from our founding, when we were really just pump jacks and a lot of shelving,” Rizzo says. “Over the last 30 years, we’ve become a full-service material handling provider.”
Though the company’s size and scope has grown, its foundation remains the same as the day Patrick opened the doors.
“Our mission has always been very customer-oriented,” says Rizzo. “We make sure the customer gets what they want. The basis of our growth was the credo that you have to sell the piece of equipment that is right for the customer. My father always preached that honesty is the best policy. If you do something wrong, admit it. You may lose in the short-term but gain in the long-term. And that remains our policy 50 years later.”
Along those same lines, the company’s mission statement is, “Good Equipment, Properly Sold and Serviced.”
“You’ve got to back up everything you sell. It’s very important that we instill that in everyone as they are trained here,” says Rizzo.
Another distinguishing feature of A.J. Jersey is that it is not a “business casual” environment.
“Our sales staff still wears suits and ties,” says Rizzo. “Whether we’re calling on a warehouse manager or an operations manager, or the CEO of a company, we wear suits. We feel that we set ourselves apart that way.”
He continues, “We believe there is only one type of professional. If we don’t dress professionally, then people won’t take us seriously. Our sales reps get compliments all the time. ‘You guys are very professional. You set y ourselves apart from everyone else. You’re not the cheapest guy on the block, but we trust you.’ And we feel that one of the reasons they trust us is because we come across as professionals.”
That emphasis on professionalism is another reason that the A.J. Jersey-Crown partnership has grown and flourished over the past half century.
“Crown is very professionally run,” says Rizzo. “Like us, they don’t care what other companies are doing. Their attitude is, ‘This is what we’re doing and if you want to be part of this program, you’ll be successful.’ And they have supported us. They’ve given us great support and great ideas. And they helped steer us in the right direction.”
While Crown was instrumental in helping A.J. Jersey grow to the heights it has achieved today, another driving factor has been the evolution of the economy in New Jersey.
“We have had to grow with having three active ports in New Jersey,” Rizzo says. “We switched from being a manufacturing-based state in the 70s to a warehousing goliath today. That has dictated things. The ports and the nature of the businesses that were opening shifting from manufacturing to distribution. We’ve adapted to that.”
He continues, “The market still has very simple companies in it too. There are a lot of mom and pop shops in New Jersey. But there are also companies with 500 people in the warehouse that we sell to that demand a higher technology. And our sales force can handle both types of businesses.”
To round out its product offerings, A.J. Jersey has made many strategic partnerships over the years. It has sold Interlake pallet rack since the 1970s. It added the Doosan line of forklifts, which made the company a full-service forklift dealer by adding a propane option that it didn’t previously offer. It has partnerships with Tri-Boro shelving, United Steel, Bluff Manufacturing, Starrco, A-Wall, W.A. Schmidt and Wildeck, Harper hand trucks and various other allied equipment lines.
“Our team works on commission, so they are always looking for additional avenues and products to sell,” Rizzo says.
Dealing With COVID-19
As the company celebrates a half century of success, it kicks off its second 50 years dealing with an unprecedented challenge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As an essential industry, servicing the food, medical, hospital, pharmaceutical, and trucking industries, we have remained open,” Rizzo says. “We have taken every precaution and followed the rules and guidelines set out by the CDC. We’ve invested $12,000 in additional products to keep our employees safe. But it’s been a very stressful thing.”
However, being a stone’s throw away from New York City, A.J. Jersey was better prepared than most to deal with challenging situations.
“This isn’t unlike the situations of 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy,” Rizzo notes. “There are similarities between the events. We were prepared by those two horrific instances. We were very conservative with our fiscal plan and felt like we were ready for anything. We are very fortunate to have excellent managers and excellent employees who go the extra mile. I’m very proud of our people, our teams and our support. There hasn’t been a single complaint from any of them and they have carried us through this horrible situation.
With a strong team in place and building on the foundation laid out by its founders and built upon over the last 50 years, A.J. Jersey looks to build on that success for the next 50 years and beyond.
“I see us, in the next five years, in one consolidated location, with one, big, 100,000 sq. ft. facility and everybody under one roof,” says Rizzo. “And I see us turning into more of a technology company. That’s where Crown and our customers are heading.”
The company recently hired additional IT staff, including a dedicated IT professional and another employee solely focused on reporting.
“Customers want more data and we have to give them that data,” he says. “We’re going to need even more than that. I envision our IT department growing to 5 or possibly even 10 people in the next five years.”
But even as the technology becomes more advanced and the customers continue to grow, the larger mission will remain the same. To provide good equipment, properly sold and serviced.