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April 2017
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Narrow Aisle leaders look forward to the next 15 years
Eileen Schmidt
Eileen Schmidt

For 15 years, Narrow Aisle Inc. has been bringing the Flexi Forklift to businesses in North, Central and South America. The Flexi is a very narrow aisle forklift designed to work in spaces as narrow as 6' to 7' while using a standard 48” deep pallet.

This versatile forklift has fared well in recent years despite the recession, and remains in high-demand among businesses looking to make the most of their real estate. “Flexi is the most conventional very narrow aisle forklift option available to a company looking for ways to maximize storage capacity within a minimum amount of space,” said Bruce Dickey, vice president of sales for Narrow Aisle, in an email to Material Handling Wholesaler.

The Flexi is a counterbalanced rider forklift truck with no more moving parts or complications than a typical Class I electric rider, according to Dickey. It is able to work in the narrowest of aisles due to front wheel drive and steering, and Dickey wrote that the Flexi functions at operating costs “significantly” lower than the competition due to its engineering, available components and support. Models are available with capacities from 3,000 to 5,500 pounds and maximum fork heights in excess of 40', according to the business website.

Narrow Aisle was founded in 2001 by Bill Rowan and Warren Cornil, who purchased the manufacturing and marketing rights to Flexi from the product's original UK founders.
Today Narrow Aisle is owned by the employee-owned SBNA Holdings Inc., which also owns Sunbelt Industrial Trucks. Sunbelt, a UniCarriers/Doosan/Komatsu dealer, is located in Dallas and Houston and was founded in 1987 by Rowan and Cornil.

“Perhaps the most important event in Narrow Aisle Inc.'s 15-year history was the day co-founder Warren Cornil was told to get to the hospital, as, thanks to an organ donor, a new heart was waiting for him,” Dickey wrote. “That day assured Narrow Aisle Inc. and Sunbelt Industrial Trucks would continue under the leadership of both founders,” he said.

Cornil semi-retired in November of 2014 turning over Narrow Aisle operating responsibilities to Rowan and Dickey. Today he devotes his time to volunteer work with the Boy Scouts and Southwest Transplant Alliance, as well as serving as Chairman/CEO of SBNA Inc.

Rowan plans to retire from his daily role running Sunbelt and overseeing Narrow Aisle in June of next year. The management team that will succeed him includes: Matt Maddock, George Munford and Joe Nolan, as president, vice president of operations and chief financial officer, respectively. Dickey continues as vice president of sales and Javier Garcia is head of Latin American sales. Latin America has provided increasing demand for the Flexi, thanks in part to strong dealer support, Dickey wrote.

Elsewhere in global markets, Dickey said it has been business as usual with Narrow Aisle's UK associates since the vote to leave the European Union over the summer. “We expect most everything to remain unaffected both short and long term,” said Dickey, regarding the Brexit vote.

The Flexi Forklift is marketed around the world by a network of hundreds of dealers, and is used by customers large and small, according to the Narrow Aisle site. Those include family-owned businesses, Fortune 500 companies, branches of the US Military and US Embassies.

The years of Narrow Aisle's operation have been ones of tremendous change, as the use of the Internet has exploded. This presents significant opportunities, but also the challenge of reminding forklift dealers to share information about Flexi with their customers, Dickey said. “In today's internet-savvy world, buyers don't have to rely solely on forklift dealers for information about various options available to them,” said Dickey, who said inquiries from end users through Narrow Aisle's website are on the rise. “Sometimes we turn an inquiry over to our Flexi dealer and the inquirer is their customer – a customer they never realized might be in the market for a Flexi solution,” he said.

In the next 15 years of company tenure, Narrow Aisle leaders project use of the Flexi will continue to expand. “More companies today are looking for options to reduce escalating real estate-related expenses,” Dickey said. “As the market continues to expand, our opportunities expand with it.”

 

Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 12 years. Email editorial@mhwmag.com or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen. 

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