To stay alive in today's ever-changing material handling industry, you've got to be able to see the future.
Al Boston sees in 3-D because he knows he has to. Three-dimensional forward thinking has allowed Boston's AK Material Handling Systems to weather the worst recession in a century and come out stronger on the other side. Four years after a turbulent ride and a scary company downturn, AK Material Handling is thriving as a local and regional Midwest industry player by operating in 3-D with cutting edge technology and equipment.
"I have no problem investing in technology and web sites and things that help us serve our customers," said Boston, AK Material Handling's chief executive officer. "You can say we (think) in 3-D. ... If you want to be a leader, you've got to give the best science and service to your customers."
3-D is about much more than the latest Hollywood blockbuster. It's about wearing the glasses that will tell you where your industry's headed. As technology reshapes the industry, Boston has AK Material Handling at the forefront
AK Material Handling's evolution into a cutting edge company was the product of necessity.
The company felt the sting of the great economic slowdown of 2009 before most of the country's businesses did. Left out as the middle man as discount companies began to cut costs and operating with what he calls a limited business focus, the Maple Grove, Minn.-based business saw its work force thinned to 11 people and its revenue numbers headed south. "My recession hit before the recession," Boston said.
AK Material Handling retracked by investing in technology to more efficiently reach his customers and offer them more than just pallets and shelves. AK Material Handling became a full service material handling outfitter, offering planning, product evaluation, consultation, expertise, professionalism, and -- as the company's mission statement puts it -- an acute dedication to detail, timely deliveries and thorough installation. The plan, built on technology and social media marketing, can be summed up in Consultation, Design, Planning and Execution.
"We didn't have any secret formula," Boston said, "but we take our formula and execute it. It's not a trade secret we've locked in a vault. We're doing the types of things that make it easy for customers to do business with you."
The results have turned AK Material Handling from a modest local company to an industry player with regional and national reach. The company has rebuilt itself into a force of 18 and has averaged revenue of $11-13 million over the past three years. Boston is shooting for a $14 million year in 2014, a figure he calls "a reasonable number" given AK Material Handling's recent growth track.
A company that could have collapsed four years ago with weak vision and shaky resolve has emerged healthier, Boston says, thanks to the dedication of its people. "We were down to 11 people, but they were all self-motivated and interested in growing the business bigger, better and stronger," he said.
But Boston's and AK Material Handling's focus is on much more than its growing bottom line. The focus he said, is people: the team players who have rebuilt his company, and the people AK Material Handling is serving every day. AK Material Handling is a small, but fast growing family today thinking and seeing in 3-D. "If all I was concerned about was money, I would have stayed in sales," he said. "(The company) is a means for me to do things in life I've always wanted to do. I've always worked by the expression of how I felt about life: You've got to give back.
"That's what I really get out of it. We want to provide our employees an income and a place to grow their families."
Today, AK Material Handling's future is so bright, Al Boston has got to wear shades.