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They can handle it Featured

9:34am EDT July 22, 2002

It's a word Handl-it Chairman and CEO John Peters uses often to describe his company, and one not commonly ascribed to his industry --sophistication.

Handl-it Inc., a Bedford Heights-based contract warehousing and distributing company, has grown from 20,000 square feet in 1992 to more than 3.5 million square feet scattered around the Cleveland area today by propelling the basic service of warehousing and distributing to a higher level.

Implementing the latest technology, designing more efficient and versatile warehouse systems and having an aggressive acquisition strategy have helped the company earn more than 400 contracts, including the state of Ohio's first six-year contract for warehousing and distributing liquor in Northeast Ohio.

Not bad for a company that started with one customer.

"We have more sophistication in our operations management so we can implement more cost effective layouts of our facilities," says Peters, who runs the company with his brother, Jerry. "I think they (the state) like the fact that we can attack problems quicker than a lot of people who are in this business."

Handl-it receives shipments from 80 liquor and distilled spirits vendors and distributes to more than 135 state liquor stores with the contract. While it's not the company's largest contract ever, it is one of the most challenging due to the number of order fulfillments involved.

However, the company has kept operations running smoothly, thanks to key elements of the Handl-it system.

Front and center

The layout (or profiles) of Handl-it's distribution facilities is based on movement of the products and not just numerical sequence of the inventory. The fastest moving items are docked in the front of the warehouse, closer to the shipping docks, so workers don't have to travel as far to pick them up.

When you're talking about 150,000 square feet, the time adds up. Thanks to this streamlined layout and a lot of hard work, Handl-it was able to ship multiple 9,000-case orders the first week of the state liquor contract. Peters says 5,000 cases is considered a large order.

Invest in technology

Handl-it has invested in state-of-the-art technology so it can offer customers features like computerized inventory systems, management reporting systems, bar coding, printing and scanning, and customers can transmit orders from their computers to Handl-it's computer.

The company also has its own Information Systems technicians who customize programming so that Peters can deliver customized invoices and shipping documents the way customers want to see them. Handl-it redesigned the state's computer program for distributing liquor because the old system was full of bugs.

Experience counts

The average manager at Handl-it has at least 20 years experience in his or her field.

"Even though Handl-it has only been around for the last nine years, I've surrounded and built an organization of people that have a lot of good experience," Peters says. "It's the people that make the business work."

Handl-it employs about 180 people. When large orders arrive, it can call on its temporary labor pool and jump to 300 workers for a project within days.

Acquisitions to build upon

Handl-it was started with a $1,000 rent deposit on Peters' Visa card, but has since acquired more of its property instead of renting and bought out other companies to enhance the business's distribution side.

"We've made two acquisitions a year for the last three years," Peters says. "The whole idea behind the acquisition strategy is to find companies that fit our growth strategy and then enhance them. Enhance them with our sophistication, our volume and our customer base."

Handl-it acquired Con-Pak, a Columbus-based packaging, company a year ago. It acquired another packaging company, Cornerstone, in April, along with a lumber reloading center.

With size and diversity of services, Handl-it attracts Fortune 500 companies as well as start-ups.

>"The big guys are not comfortable doing business with you if you're small and not sophisticated," Peters says. "You can do the business small guy, the start-up guy, but you're never going to get the big guy." How to reach: Handl-it Inc., (216) 831-4883 or www.handlit.com

Morgan Lewis Jr. (mlewis@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.