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American Storage plans to ‘make warehousing easy’

Owner James Wiese hints company could go through rebranding in the future.

January 11, 2019
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American Storage and Logistics moved to 1661 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, consolidating its space from 90,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet. Courtesy American Storage and Logistics

American Storage and Logistics is under new ownership and spent almost all of 2018 with the goal to “make warehousing easy.”

The company’s new owner and president, James Wiese, is an entrepreneur with the long-term goal of finding a platform on which to build. When American Storage went up for sale, he moved to Grand Rapids in March 2018 to pursue the opportunity.

“The original thought was find something you can dive into and live in for 20, 30, 40 years down the road,” Wiese said. “Use it as a vehicle. If you want, hey, we built that into a great place. Now, let’s diversify and find other opportunities.”

Wiese grew up in Ann Arbor and professionally got his start with investment banking in New York. His clients were always industrial companies, so his work mainly involved steel pipe distribution and paper and packaging.

After he finished graduate school, he moved to a corporate strategy role for Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas. During his role with the company, he helped advise a group called Koch Agronomic Services on its buildout strategy.

He later decided he didn’t want to help build companies for other people for the rest of his life. He wanted instead to do it for himself.

“In investment banking, you learn the corporate finance part of it — how capital comes together, how to do a deal,” Wiese said. “At Koch, it was more how do we put all the pieces together.”

Prior to Wiese purchasing the company, American Storage had three divisions: the third-party warehousing division, a 90,000-square-foot warehouse on 3800 Eastern Ave. SE in Wyoming, and a material handling division.

The warehousing division and the warehouse were both sold out to separate companies, and what is now called American Storage only does material handling, Wiese said.

The company also moved from Wyoming to the old Baker Furniture building at 1661 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, consolidating its space from 90,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet.

The company offers products like shelving, selective rack, engineered rack, custom built mezzanines, in-plant offices, security cages, work and packaging stations, as well as services like engineering, design, repairs, installations, and teardown and buyback of old equipment.

“It’s more building out the warehouse for storage and logistics than it is providing storage and logistics and companies,” Wiese said.

Without the warehousing division and larger warehouse, though, it can be confusing at times what exactly American Storage does. Although it’s not on the discussion table at the moment — the company still has a lot to build on — Wiese did hint American Storage could go through a rebranding in the future.

“When people hear (American Storage and Logistics), we get an inquiry every now and then like, ‘Hey, can you guys store my stuff for me?’” Wiese said. “We don’t really do that … in the transition, you don’t really want to take the old name, throw it out the door and start brand new because that would just confuse people.”

Since purchasing the company, Wiese and his team have completely redone the IT system, which he said has reduced the company’s pick time — the amount of time it takes to pick an order — from two to three weeks to 72 hours.

American Storage utilizes SalesPad’s warehouse management software for its quoting and inventory management, and QuickBooks Online for accounting, which results in a cheap, comprehensive ERP system for the company, Wiese said.

The company also has brought on a new sales team and revamped the website, consolidating it from two separate sites into one.

“We’ve really been working hard on a cultural transformation here,” Wiese said. “One of the big things I find in a lot of companies is … how do you get everybody to work together toward the common goal?”

Part of American Storage’s cultural transformation has been preventing mishaps on order fulfillment like missing components or late deliveries. In one meeting, the new staff realized the pick tickets didn’t have enough detail to allow customers to pick their own materials.

“You can get really custom stuff, or you can get really simple, ‘We sell 100 of them a month,’ kind of deal,” Wiese said.

The company also put systems in place regarding quality control, processing orders and receiving materials, so the warehouse doesn’t end up with miscellaneous, unaccounted-for materials.

“We’re really just getting to where we can service a customer with the very highest level of service but not the highest level of manpower,” Wiese said. “How can we make sure they get what they want, how they want it, when they want it, without necessarily having to throw 10 people at it?”

American Storage has serviced about 300 clients on about 600 projects this year, which indicates a lot of repeat business even though it’s not typical to the nature of the industry, Wiese said.

Going into 2019, Wiese’s goals are to raise awareness for the company within just the material handling community. Previously, the company had never done anything in the way of branding, marketing, or even just going to trade shows and striking up conversations with people, Wiese said.

American Storage also is active with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, but Wiese wants the company to be more active with other parts of Grand Rapids.

“We’ve noticed there’s a ton of conferences related to automotive suppliers and distribution companies at the DeVos Place. We’ve never been there. We’re trying to get in there,” he said.

Wiese said the company is ready to make its name known. Since changing hands in 2018, operations have improved three times, handling the same number of projects as the previous owners with fewer hands. He even thinks the team can double the efficiency it has now with the current headcount.

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