Even as it grows, Hodge Company strives to maintain “smallness”
It’s been nothing if not an eventful half-century.
The Dubuque, Iowa-based entity now known as the Hodge Company was initially established in 1958 by Walter J. Hodge and celebrated its golden business anniversary in 2008, but the multi-faceted operation that exists now is a far cry from where things began back then.
In fact, the business that was founded as a public warehousing company now comprises four distinct divisions, each with a separate menu of offerings and services.
Hodge Material Handling specializes in material handling and forklift sales, while TM Logistics provides third-party logistics. Elsewhere, Infosafe Records Management is a commercial records storage facility and Walter Development is a real estate development company offering build-to-suit facilities alongside both short- and long-term lease buildings.
The public warehousing entity was the sole enterprise for the first two decades, before a forklift distribution branch-out – in the form of Hodge Material Handling – was made in the early 1980s after issues arose with the company’s existing forklift supplier.
“We were using a lot of forklifts in the warehouse business, but we were having a lot of difficulty in getting consistent service and good equipment,” said Tim Hodge, who’s the grandson of the company’s founder and now oversees the entire amalgam along with his brother, Mike. Tim’s son, Zach, has taken on more of a leadership role, too – extending the lineage into a fourth generation.
“It was little bit of defense, but also seen as an opportunity to put on technicians and buy equipment for ourselves,” he said. “Slowly that began to stand on its own two feet and today it’s one of our bigger entities.”
Another subsidiary, TM Logistics, was created in 1986 as a hand-in-hand offshoot of the original company and has since evolved into an operation with more than 600 of its own employees in Iowa, Illinois and North Carolina. Walter Development arrived in 2000 in response to challenges the original company was having while trying to find suitable warehouse space.
In fact, the initial intent of Walter Development was simply to get warehouses built for use by the family of Hodge companies or via rental to customers, but it subsequently evolved to include retail space and office space alongside the original warehouse and logistics facilities.
“We’re spread out differently in all of the operations,” Hodge said.
“We like to have a balance of space that we own and space that we lease, to be a little bit more flexible for our customers. More than half of the total space – which is a million to a million-and-a-half square feet – is leased, with the balance of 400 or 500 thousand square feet that’s owned by us.”
Hodge said TM Logistics has established itself as the biggest revenue-producer of the group – with an annual income of $35 million – thanks to a customer base that’s made of manufacturing sector clients ranging from small local operations all the way to Fortune 50 giants. Hodge Material Handling comes second at about $10 million, while the development and records management arms are smaller.
The logistics business had been a distant second to the forklift dealership in the early days, he said, before opportunities in the marketplace allowed for significant growth in that endeavor and prompted a sharpening of the entire operation’s mindset toward serving its clients.
“We’ve always gone on the philosophy that we deal in the small things. We do sweat the small details,” Hodge said. “In today’s world, you cannot possibly survive without being technologically savvy. But we still like to have face-to-face conversations, handshakes and some handwritten notes with our customers. For many years, we were a small family company of 20 or 30 employees, and we knew, intimately, all of our customers. As we’ve gotten bigger, we try to maintain that smallness.”
And the approach, as cliché as he admits it sounds, has clearly resonated.
“I think it’s served us quite well with some of our larger customers who maybe deal with other suppliers that are like-sized to them, so there’s a little bit of impersonality to it,” Hodge said. “We try to keep the small business, even though we’re approaching medium-sized. We do get positive feedback from our big and our small customers, who say that it’s a nice change that we haven’t gone completely a-personal. In our business, you have to be there.”
Hodge said the forklift operation – which has Iowa locations in Dubuque and Bettendorf – is eyeing possible expansion into two more communities within its geographic territory. The existing two branches have been in operation since 2001, which, he said, is prompting the idea of adding more.
Those expansions will come within two to five years in specific cities to be determined, and acquisitions of appropriate companies would be considered on that side of the business, too.
“We have just gone through our short-term and long-term planning, and we’re planning for stability and continued strength in our logistics business,” Hodge said. “And we’re planning for what I would term aggressive growth on the forklift and material handling side. We’re actively looking at and studying any opportunities that we might have for acquisition. We’re looking at expansion internally and we’re looking some outside as well. It’s all part of the plan.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Hodge Company
WHAT: Founded in 1958 as a public warehousing company before subsequently evolving into a four-division entity that includes operations focused on material handling and forklift sales and service, third-party logistics services, commercial records storage and real estate development.
WHERE: Corporate headquarters in Dubuque, Iowa
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