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December 2017
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The Jefferds Corporation celebrates 70 years
Eileen Schmidt
Eileen Schmidt

When employees with the Jefferds Corporation are working with a client, they are never on site simply to push fork lift truck sales. “We like to think of ourselves as problem solvers,” said K. Richard Sinclair, company president and CEO. He said the Jefferds Corporation works to build long-term relationships with customers, reviewing a business' setup and applications before making recommendations on how to best move or store materials.

It is a kind of innovative thinking that is ingrained in the company fabric. The business began 70 years ago when Joe Jefferds returned from service in World War II and graduation from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to work in his father's distribution facility.

He automated the pharmaceutical warehouse by installing a conveyor system, which earned him recognition from executives within the conveyor company and encouragement to pursue his own material handling business. 

At the outset, Jefferds’ business sold conveyors, hoists and cranes, among other materials. New acquisitions began shortly thereafter, with the purchase of a CLARK franchise in West Virginia and another a few years later in Roanoke, Virginia. Jefferds named this section of the business after one of his favorite retreats, Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs, Virginia.

Today, as a full service material handling dealer, the Jefferds Corporation and Homestead Material Handling business territory is largely focused in West Virginia and Virginia, but it also services some parts of Ohio and Kentucky. In the last two years, the business has expanded to cover all of Virginia with operations in Richmond and Chesapeake. A plan to build a bricks and mortar location around a fledgling operation in Winchester, Virginia is set for 2018, according to Sinclair.

The business carries electric forklifts, pallet handlers, rough terrain forklifts, dock equipment, internal combustion forklifts, used forklifts and more. It is an authorized dealer for new equipment from CLARK, Sellick, Crown, Linde, Toyota forklifts and Doosan forklifts.

The company offers material handling and forklift parts, service, mobile tire press, overhead crane inspections, racks, shelving, roll up doors and equipment rentals for the equipment and manufacturers it carries, according to the business website. 

While its core customers are those in manufacturing, Sinclair said the business has diversified to serve others like beer and food distributors.

Expanding the types of customers the business serves has helped sustain the Jefferds Corporation through the various economic downturns of the past seven decades, according to Sinclair. “Over one of the last downturns, we looked at hospitals and realized everything runs on wheels,” said Sinclair, explaining the work in hospital castors that is now part of the Jefferds Corporation portfolio. 

About 300 employees now work for the business, which is in its second generation of family leadership. Joe Jefferds was Sinclair's father-in-law.

Sinclair said there is a feeling of pride throughout the company in reaching the 70th anniversary milestone. “We're pretty pleased with ourselves in a humble sort of way,” he said.

Jefferds Corp. and Homestead have received a multitude of awards in recent years, including repeated recognition from Crown, Toyota and CLARK. Earlier this year, representatives from Jefferds attended CLARK's 100th anniversary and the business was noted as one of CLARK's longtime dealers – 59 of the 100 years of operation. 

While pleased with the reaching their own 70th anniversary milestone, Sinclair said there are challenges ahead, like the uncertainty surrounding health care. “It looms out there. We never know if we're going to have a good year. Some years we spend almost more on health care than anything else,” he said. “That's a huge issue.”

Recruiting technicians also is a challenge. “The whole computer industry has taken away many of the people who used to fix cars and trucks and fork trucks,” Sinclair said. “Some of the people who might have been attracted to our business have been attracted elsewhere.” But Sinclair said Jefferds is working to find new recruits through area technical schools, and is also recruiting and training the next management group. Going forward, he said the company will continue to focus on finding the right employees who can help continue the tradition of building relationships with customers. “If we get the right people that can establish relationships, there is no reason we can't continue to succeed,” Sinclair said.

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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