At the top of the CLARK Material Handling Company website, a clock carefully measures the days, hours, minutes and seconds until an upcoming celebration. It won't be any run-of-the-mill occasion, but a global affair recognizing the company's 100th anniversary.
Between 400 and 500 people from the U.S., Korea, Germany and Australia will gather for a week in May at the lift truck manufacturer's North American headquarters in Lexington. The gathering will include a gala event celebrating the centennial milestone and a series of meetings with both international and domestic dealers.
“It will be a whole week of celebrations allowing attendees to reflect and appreciate our past and exciting conversations about the future,” said Scott Johnson, CLARK's vice president of dealer services, in a phone interview with Material Handling Wholesaler. “During this week dealers will hear about, see and even drive new products that we have in the pipeline for 2017.”
CLARK manufactures and distributes a full-line of lift trucks including IC counterbalanced, electric standup and sit-down models as well as a complete line of powered pallet jacks that are marketed globally. Additionally, the company offers CLARK genuine Original Equipment Parts and CLARK Totalift “will fit” parts.
Launched in Battle Creek, Mich. in 1917, the company moved to central Kentucky in the mid 1980’s, and now houses its headquarters in Lexington and aftermarket distribution in Louisville. About 200 employees staff the locations, with additional field sales personnel located across the U.S. Global locations include a European headquarters in Duisburg, Germany, Australian headquarters in Sydney and Asian headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. There are also company locations in Brazil and Costa Rica.
In 1997, the business produced its millionth truck and last year CLARK made its first appearance among the top 10 lift truck manufacturers in the world.
In 2003, CLARK was purchased by the Young An Company, which Johnson said infused the business with a style and philosophy that was beneficial. “It was good for the company and good for the brand. We have great partners,” he said.
In particular, CLARK has nurtured an emphasis on philanthropy and community involvement in recent years that has become engrained in day-to-day operations. There are full time staffers at CLARK focused on philanthropic efforts and each employee is given time to devote to a charity of their choice. One current project is the raising of funds and building of a home for a local family in need. “It's easy to write a check but it's more rewarding if you really get vested and put in some sweat equity,” Johnson said.
Along with this outreach, Johnson said CLARK has thrived over its 100 years, thanks to efforts to preserve the iconic brand name, relationships with dealers, and innovations for the lift truck industry.
While focused on traditional challenges like building quality trucks and delivering quality parts, the business has remained profitable and continues to grow, said Johnson.
“We will be making some significant product announcements in 2017,” said Johnson, who said pending new product releases are generating excitement within the company and should “give our dealers a lot to talk about.”
Meanwhile, CLARK has relocated manufacturing of some products from Mexico back to Lexington.
“We returned volume production of many of our critical lines to the U.S. to better control our own destiny,” Johnson said.
Today, CLARK builds six products in Lexington. And last year, the business purchased four acres adjacent to its current nine-acre location; the addition including open land and an existing building marked for future expansion.
CLARK leaders are optimistic about the future, as the industry builds on several years of growth and demand for material handling products, according to Johnson. Challenges ahead include continuing to find good dealers and in meeting the competition of many good producers in North America. In addition, rapidly changing technology presents new challenges.
But Johnson said the quality of the CLARK brand, including the iconic truck color instantly recognizable throughout the material handling industry, will continue. “We are stewards of the CLARK brand for today, as were our predecessors. Our job is to take its proud brand and continue to build with it and prepare the next group of leaders to come in and continue the legacy of the company,” Johnson said.
Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 12 years. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen.