Western Crosses Border

April 16, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Labeling Grand Rapids as the Mecca of office furniture, a Canadian logistics company drove into town a few years ago and decided this was the place to be.

Western Logistics, self-titled “The Uncommon Carrier,” was founded in 1990 in Canada by Bob Hartin, the company’s now-retired president.

Hartin came from an office furniture background and saw a need for a specialized office furniture carrier in Western Canada.

Initially, the service operated from Ontario to British Columbia. Over the past 12 years, however, Western Logistics has gradually developed a network of facilities and services across Canada to serve the manufacturers, wholesalers and resellers of office and contract furniture.

The company opened offices and warehouses in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Regina, Montreal, Ottawa, Moncton and Halifax.

After wedging its way into the Canadian market, the logistics company decided to set its sights on and win over American producers who already ship to Western Canada.

“We had a pretty good bite on the Canadian market but were not touching anything in the U.S. market,” said Bob Clark, operations manager for the Grand Rapids office of Western Logistics.

“Since Grand Rapids is where it is in furniture, we decided the natural move would be to open a store and warehouse here. It had to happen.”

With customers like Herman Miller, Trendway and Haworth, Western Logistics has plenty of furniture to transport to Canada. Most of what the company does consists of transporting and storing.

“Each of our locations has a pretty good storage facility and we provide that service as well. Many times what happens is installers don’t want to put panels up first, and then the desks, and then the chairs last — or the work surfaces or filing cabinets or what have you — so when an office installation happens it very often happens in phases,” Clark said.

“They will put up whatever they will first and then have us deliver it in stages, as needed. And we can offer that service that no one else does — and we offer one week free storage at our facility.”

While Clark stated there are many office furniture manufacturers located in Canada, the ones located in the Grand Rapids area are also looking to serve Canada and can do so with the help of Western Logistics.

“Bob Hartin came from an office furniture background. He was a transportation manager and was in charge of sales for a few different furniture manufacturers,” Clark said. “With that background, and after retiring from that, he started Western Logistics. We don’t think of ourselves as truckers, but as office furniture people.”

By transportation standards, the company is quite small, with only 25 over-the-road tractors, and three local trucks — and it plans to stay that way. However, the firm says its tight focus and simple objectives enable it to handle large volumes of office furniture with efficiency and safety.

Clark said that the company likes having small productive teams at its various locations, striving to please customers and working under self-imposed pressure with minimal supervision.

He told the Business Journal that the company deliberately deferred its entry into Grand Rapids until it had developed itself properly in Canada and had established high customer satisfaction in those markets.

“Our emphasis will always remain on Western Canada, an area difficult to serve well because of its vastness, difficult terrain, extreme variances and low population ratio,” Clark said.

That is not to say, however, that the company has not contemplated a further American stretch.

Clark said that it was on the firm’s drawing board to stretch throughout the entire northern tier of the U.S., including Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. With the current state of the economy, he cautioned, plans will continue to remain on the drawing board.

Because of the immense distances between locations and varied country-to-country travel times, the company offers customers a Web site: www.westernlogistics.com

Through the site customers can request e-mail subscription, check scheduled travel times from the U.S. to Canada and within Canada, and elicit more detailed information pertaining to the business.

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