The summer before Ryan Wall graduated from college, he quit his job at a local surf shop and began spending more weekend time with his father, who, with his stepmother, owned and operated Freight Handlers Inc. (FHI). FHI provides comprehensive product-handling services primarily for the grocery industry. “During that time, I asked my father about what a career at FHI might look like, and he painted a picture for me of the short, medium, and long term,” says Wall, who joined the company six months later upon graduation, despite having other opportunities. “It’s a niche business, and not something most twentysomething college graduates would jump at, but my parents’ passion for people and service drew me in,” he says.
Fifteen years later, Wall is still with FHI, and this year took the lead as CEO. The company’s primary activity is still unloading the inbound product received by several of the nation’s leading grocery retailers and wholesalers, a service known in the industry as “lumping.” It doesn’t have an illustrious past. “Twenty years ago, it was the Wild West, because Luke Lumper from down the street would stand post outside a receiving dock and negotiate with delivering drivers for cash to unload their loads,” says Wall. “My father, who at the time was COO of a regional trucking company, began to feel the challenge this activity was going to create in the supply chain. He executed on a vision to create a more professional service of high integrity. In many circles, he gets credit for starting the organized, third-party unloading business, which is now done by more than 30 companies.”
In addition to unloading, which operates under the FHI Distribution business unit, FHI now has two other business units: FHI Logistics and FHI Retail. Under FHI Logistics, FHI ships products for companies of all types. “We partner with hand-selected, service-focused carriers to move our customer’s product,” says Wall of the business unit. FHI Retail, meanwhile, provides a merchandising and replenishment approach that allows retailers, manufacturers, and brokers to overcome execution challenges associated with in-store merchandising. Having these three business units, says Wall, adds unique value. “Our primary competitors have only an unloading business,” he says. “We are a service partner at the receiving dock, over the road, and at the store shelf.”
What the company is doing clearly works: FHI’s overall customer-satisfaction rating exceeds 95 percent, and it has been recognized as one of the top 50 leading privately held companies in North Carolina nine times since 1996. That’s not enough for Wall, however. “The sky’s the limit,” he says. “We strive to serve people in such a way that they cannot imagine doing business with anyone else.”