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  • Powerhouse Q&A with Lance Hunter, Hodges Warehouse + Logistics

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    According to CEO of Hodges Warehouse + Logistics Lance Hunter, the company’s services have changed dramatically in the last decade, yet there’s one constant: its people remain the key to continued success.
     
    How long have you worked for Hodges Warehouse + Logistics? 22 Years

    How many employees does Hodges have in the River Region? 125

    What are the company’s primary services and who are its primary clients? We provide warehouse and logistics services (3PL or “third party logistics services”) and regional full trailer trucking. We also own warehouses and offices that we lease, and we are a Commercial Real Estate Broker.

    What are the duties and responsibilities of your position? I am responsible for all of the businesses mentioned above. Hodges is a family-owned company, and I am the non-family CEO. There are approximately 43 shareholders. All are members of the Hodges family. I report to a nine-member board of directors composed of shareholders and family members elected by the shareholders.

    How much has your job and your industry changed in the last decade? Ten years ago, trucking was a very small part of our business; leasing warehouse space was our primary activity, and the 3PL activity was significant, but certainly not a leader. Today trucking and warehouse services dominate. We have grown within the automotive industry while maintaining our traditional customer relationships.

    The transition into more of a value-added service business required us to focus more on information processing. B2B services are information intensive. That was always the case, but it has increased in the last 10 years. I joked with one of my fellow workers that now we were an information processing business that owns a few forklifts and trucks. That is an exaggeration. Our key to success is the same as it has been throughout the last 10 years. The team member performing the work, driving the truck, driving the forklift, loading and unloading trailers, that sort of thing is our key success factor.

    I am a huge fan of our labor force. The future goal is to maintain that human advantage while trying to gain a technological edge as well.

    What is the main challenge facing your industry right now? COVID-19 is discussed below. Most businesses in the world face that as the key challenge at this very moment. But if you eliminate that elephant stomping around the warehouse and loading docks, our main challenges are dealing with constantly implementing improved technology and analysis. There is a tremendous need for supply chains to become more easily visible. End users need to be able to look farther back into that chain. We are the “last mile or two” of that supply chain, and we need to be able to provide and obtain data that allows the highest level of reliability possible. All of the trucking and warehouse equipment will be revolutionized by artificial intelligence in the next five years. We need to stay up with the times.

    What specific challenges is Hodges facing related to COVID-19? Our first challenge was to keep our employees safe. We are an essential industry, and we needed to be able to supply our customers, many who also were in essential industries. We had great success with office work from home, Zoom meetings and staggered schedules.
     
    We have pushed that our employees be safe away from the workplace as well. I believe they have made personal sacrifices to ensure their own safety and the safety of their coworkers by practicing safe behavior away from the job. We have not experienced a case of COVID-19 so far, though some have been tested.

    We have provided masks and sanitizer and have pushed their use and social distancing wherever possible. Again, I applaud our workforce. For instance, it is hot work loading a truck and a mask can be a hindrance. But our employees have used their own ingenuity to load with social distancing. And then the masks come back on when appropriate. The types of solutions are best designed by the team members doing the work. They have done an excellent job. I made it clear what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted a safe work environment no matter how difficult that was going to be. Our team members have been successful so far.

    The main problem we have is predicting demand. At first when the auto plants shut down, we had to scramble for storage space as shipments arrived and production was closed. Trucking routes evaporated. With help from the government and demand from customers whose business were unaffected by COVID, we came through it well. But I am not confident in my predictions of demand in the third and fourth quarter. I don’t believe anyone has confidence in their own forecasts. We are making our best judgements and building market share with the goal of maintaining full employment. We have had no layoffs up to this point.

    What is your impression of Montgomery’s current business climate? I believe with the restart of the automotive industry, Montgomery has reason to be optimistic. I think we have a great business community that works together and some really great global, regional and local industries. I think they will do well competitively. However, this is a global pandemic, and I believe every business leader is concerned about how global trends could develop. But I do not sense fear. I think most businessmen are planning for improved health and economic conditions, but at the same time, we are glued to new information as it becomes available.

    Why do you and Hodges Warehouse + Logistics choose to be so involved with and supportive of The Chamber and its work? When I came here 22 years ago, I was amazed at the kindness and caring of this community. I will not name all the business leaders who impressed me, but so many did. They were instrumental in making this a better community.  It is a virtuous cycle. A better community is inviting to new business and more and better jobs make this a better community. We wanted to be a part of that. We understood we were going to be a huge beneficiary of Montgomery’s growth. We could not make the investments some of the larger businesses could in community and Chamber support, but we wanted to do our share.

    The Chamber has been an excellent partner. I do not believe Hodges would have been successful without the extraordinary efforts of the Chamber attracting new business.


    HORSING AROUND
    I live on a small hobby horse farm outside of town. That is one of the joys of Montgomery. I know we would like everyone to live in the city limits, but the ability to live so close to everything Montgomery has to offer and enjoy the rural lifestyle of my grandparents and my wife’s parents is something that is just not available in most cities. Especially cities that offer as much as Montgomery. So, I have taken care of inexpensive Alabama horses, taught myself and my daughters to ride, grown vegetables and flowers and enjoyed the clean air and the friendship of neighbors.
     
    FAMILY MATTERS
    Paul Hodges is the fourth generation of his family to be involved in the family company, Hodges Warehouse + Logistics. He shares a bit of the history and explains what its longevity and success mean to him.

    What’s the story behind Hodges Warehouse + Logistics? Hodges Warehouse + Logistics was an offspring of a 100-year-old stockyard operation. In the 1960s, my father and uncle purchased a cotton warehouse next to our stockyard in Montgomery. After securing a lease on the space, they continued to purchase properties in the area of north and west Montgomery. Thirty years later, Hodges owned and operated more than four million square feet of warehouse space. Along the way, we added our handling of product operations, where we provide personnel, equipment and inventory tracking systems to maintain customer inventories. By outsourcing the entire warehouse function, Hodges clients can focus on their core business, making their products. In 2010, we added our trucking operations and now provide a full-service logistics solution for clients in a number of industries.

    What does the company mean to you and to your family? I have been involved in our family business since I was in my teens. I started at the stockyard, working long hours at the auctions. I loaded trucks and rail cars by hand in the hot summer sun and operated a forklift. Most recently, I have been involved in marketing our properties and services and serving as the broker for our Commercial Real Estate brokerage company, Hodges Commercial Real Estate. You could say as the company evolved and grew, so did I. I am proud to be involved in a family business and its growth and success. We continue to look for opportunities to expand and build on what we have done so far and hope someone in the fifth generation will get involved.
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