A Look into Material Handling in California


Our team got to sit down with Storage Solution’s VP of Sales, Tim Schrader, in our California office. Tim has decades of experience in the material handling world, specifically navigating the intricacies of doing business in California. In this video, he walks us through some of the industry’s changes, specifically in California, and how our California office’s experience is so valuable for our customers.

What challenges have you seen in the industry over the last 15 years?

“That’s a big question. I guess over the course of my entire career, like the last 20 years, it used to be that if you wanted to start a distribution business, you go get some space, you throw some people at it, buy a couple of forklifts, and you’re operating – you’re up and going. I think as space and labor have become more and more cost-impacted, people have had to figure out ways to be more efficient. And so, developers start building taller buildings. People have really figured out that when they maximize cubic capacity instead of square footage, there’s a positive impact on the P&L.

Over the course of the last 15 years, we’ve only seen that amplify and get more and more strategic from a business operators’ standpoint or point of view, where now we see that operators are really focused before they take a building and even really start to operate a business. They’re really focused on what I can accomplish with that particular building and asking us as professionals and experts to weigh in on decisions to buy that building or to lease that space. And then how many people do we actually throw at that particular operation, and where can we sort of trim both those two factors, the square footage that we’re going to dedicate to an operation and the amount of labor resources that we’re going to dedicate to it. And where we’ve been able to be helpful in that is running cubic analysis on operations and helping people understand how much square footage they can actually trim out of their overall network if they were able to maximize the cubic volume of their building.”

How has this change affected what a project looks like on the West Coast?

“So, tantric question. It’s grown more and more from a very rudimentary type, and we used to call them box jockeys, right? Where they would really just move boxes all day, every day too; people are starting to put some really deep thought into how they can make the math work for them in terms of space and people, and we’ve had to develop with them all along the way and develop our expertise. We can lend some assistance in those two conversations to ultimately help the customer because if we can’t help the customer, we don’t have a business.

Well, another part that I didn’t talk about in terms of changes is that building codes and fire codes are always evolving. It’s always getting more strict. So, every couple of years, the building and fire code update in California is, forgive the analogy, but ground zero or epicenter for stringent codes getting implemented quickly. When we talk about international building code, international fire code, NFPA, California building code, and California fire code, we’re kind of the standard by which the rest of the nation adopts in later years. And what that means is that because we’re high seismic here, builders have to build buildings differently. So, we often weigh in on those development projects. We have to build systems, rack structures, and mezzanines to fit those.

We have to build anything that we touch differently here because we’re in California. Therefore, we have to pay attention to California’s fire code FPA in ways that the rest of the country really doesn’t or gets to defer to a later point in its life cycle, so we have to know a lot earlier on.”

Are there challenges specific to a project on the West Coast?

“And when we ask the question, why is it, or what is a business challenged with when operating in California, it’s a microscopic look at the operation, the commodities, the building, the slab, the sprinkler system, exit doors, exit lighting, ADA access issues, and photometrics that aren’t necessarily looked at in other parts of the country. It’s not that they’re not in the code.

It’s just that they’re not scrutinized to the same level of detail that they are here in California. So, if those are the challenges, you need experts who can help solve them. We have to be experts, specifically in the fire code. That’s really the biggest one, and we have to really understand commodity classifications. We have to understand MAQs and hazmat. We have to understand sprinkler protection and the criteria by which we need to protect the commodities. We have to understand clear heights and the top of storage and exit doors. The list goes on and on. And one mistake in those fields of expertise could disqualify a building or could allow a broker or a business operator to choose the wrong building and then have to upgrade it significantly or just simply not be able to do with it what he needs to do in order to maximize the cubic capacity of the building and make it work for his business.”

The challenges are pretty clear. That is, we have to fit what you want to do as a business operator into what the codes and what the state will allow you to do with the building that you want to do it in. I have to dance with all three of those, and we are the glue that brings everybody together that says, okay, business wants to do this, the code allows for this, therefore, city, we’re going to do this, and we’re entitled to do it because we see the entire picture, so having folks who are versed in all those arenas has been a critical component of our success. Having Scott, who’s a high-pile storage analyst and engineer, is absolutely critical. Having Drake, who understands holistically how these projects need to look from fire, electrical, building, and ADA perspectives, is absolutely critical. Having Kim understand how to process all that with the cities and then communicate that back to the client in a way that they can understand a complex issue that they’ve never had to navigate before and don’t feel like they should have to be navigating in a way that is helpful for them to understand and helps them navigate it for their operation so it can be up and running as quickly as possible.”