When we order products online, chances are that product is pulled off a pallet in a warehouse. And with growing online shopping trends and an increase in e-commerce, warehouses that are not operating efficiently will lose their competitive advantage.
That’s where MHS Lift comes in with its mission to help companies optimize their warehouse space to increase productivity and operational efficiency. When MHS Lift was co-founded by Bob Levin in 1970, the business was literally two guys pounding the pavement selling forklifts. Until 10 years ago, it was primarily a forklift company that offered pallet racking. Today, MHS Lift has transformed into a 21st Century one-stop shop for warehouse optimization and automation for companies across North America.
Andy Levin and Brett Levin took over the company from their father 11 years ago. The Levin brothers and Ben Miller, director of the company’s optimization business, MHS Integrated Solutions, talked to California Business Journal about how MHS Lift evolved from a forklift dealer to a comprehensive material handling system design and integration house.
“Back in the day, we were always a forklift company that did racking — and to give you an idea of how sophisticated we were, our dad used to lay out warehouses with a pad of ruled paper,” Andy Levin, President and Co-Owner, says. “You know the paper with the squares? He literally — at the kitchen table — would lay out warehouses at 11 o’clock at night with a pencil and a ruler. Today, we have six engineers that are doing highly sophisticated AutoCAD drawings. It’s really quite amazing to see where we were and where we’ve come.”
As the warehouse industry transformed with robotics and emerging automation, MHS Lift diversified. Instead of just selling products, the company sells solutions, efficiencies and ways around a warehouse, helping companies operate more efficiently so they can handle more product, process more orders, and ultimately become more profitable.
Value of Warehouse Optimization
Optimizing a warehouse is a monumental undertaking. Ask anyone in the business.
“Many of our clients are so stuck with a legacy system that they struggle with how to upgrade or how to change,” Miller says. “That’s really where expertise like ours comes in, which is helping clients manage the change of going from a legacy warehouse system to the 21st century. We’ve done so many different upgrades to so many facilities that we know where all the pitfalls and ‘gotchas’ are. It’s critical to have a partner like us walk businesses through that process, so they understand the possibilities and limitations.”
When companies come to MHS Lift, many times, they’re frustrated, they’re out of room, they’re contemplating spending millions and millions of dollars on a bigger building. When the MHS team goes out to assess, the transformation begins.
“Many times, customers already have in their mind what they think they want, and our goal at the end of a meeting is not for a customer to say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what we want,’” says Brett Levin, VP and Co-Owner. “Our goal is for the customer to say: ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t know we could do that,’ and we try to get them to think otherwise. And sometimes it’s automation and other times it’s just utilizing the height in their existing warehouse. Sometimes it’s condensing the racking. Instead of having 12-foot aisles with the eventual use of a forklift, we could shrink them down to 5 1/2-foot aisles with different types of forklifts.”
The MHS Lift objective is to get clients into a different mindset to see “what can we do with the existing space, or determine when they need a new warehouse for additional space,” he adds.
We asked Miller if he has actually gone to companies and helped them understand that they don’t need an additional warehouse.
“Those conversations happen daily,” he says. “For example, a customer says they have 3,000 additional pallets that need to be stored offsite because they have no room in the warehouse.”
But when Miller walks through the facility, he finds ways to make product fit by making a series of adjustments, modifications or upgrades.
“Our secret sauce is having the ability to open a customer’s eyes to possible solutions, and being able to offer a plan that can actually be executed,” he says.
Even when a business has a consultant, MHS Lift still gets involved in the process.
“They first give us drawings,” Andy Levin says. “Often times what we see are warehouse designs that don’t take into consideration how powered equipment will interact within the layout provided. Our expertise in powered warehouse equipment utilization, along with warehouse design and efficiency, contemplates all facets of a particular solution. All too often, customers pay very high consultant fees and take a lot time developing a solution that doesn’t work. When we get involved, we will blend everything into one fully integrated solution that we know will work.”
Disrupting the Status Quo
There are solutions companies that are engineering companies; there are solutions companies that are racking companies and there are solutions companies that are just consultants.
There are very few fully integrated solutions companies with extensive forklift and equipment knowledge like MHS Lift that can put one big package together and say to the customer, “You don’t have to deal with anybody else and we can provide you with everything inside of your warehouse but your own product,” Brett Levin says.
“We’re going to be the sole provider of every piece — from the equipment to the steel, from the forklift to the software — everything. And we’re going to find the right partners,” he adds. “We’re going to shop it for you. We’re going to get you the best pricing. And we’re going to develop a system that works the best. Our customers really appreciate that.”
With its growing presence across the U.S. and Canada, MHS Lift recently opened a West Coast office in Costa Mesa, Calif to support in-person consultive services in that region. With growing ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles and the amount of warehouse space being built on top of existing warehouse space, MHS Lift knew it was a prime location to open another office.
“We’ve been doing business on the West Coast for years,” Miller concludes. “We’ve already done tens of millions of square feet of warehouse space, but we decided it was time to really plant ourselves with a West Coast location in the right spot.”
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