Load King Manufacturing acts “early and quickly” to shift strategy amid pandemic.
The week of March 9, leadership at Load King Manufacturing Co. retooled its strategy.
“It all started with a phone conversation with Baptist Hospital,” said Chad Grimm, Load King chief operations officer.
The Jacksonville-based health system asked for guidance about keeping staff safe during the pandemic and sought face masks and infrared conveyors to sanitize equipment.
Baptist chose a different supplier, but it set Load King on another track.
“It got our wheels spinning,” Grimm said.
Jacksonville-based Load King, started in 1958, designs, fabricates, delivers and installs retail store, supermarket, restaurant and other interiors, equipment and fixtures throughout the United States.
It also provides services for the medical and hospital industries.
It ships nationwide for brands like Starbucks and AMC Theatres, among other well-known names.
Load King’s 300,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution plant at 1357 W. Beaver St., west of Downtown, employs 180 people.
The single location includes metal and wood shops, graphics and signage, and also provides full project management for its brands, including in-house design and permitting, tenant improvements and service and warranty.
“We are truly turnkey,” Grimm said. “Our value proposition is total project control, which translates to quality, timeliness and being able to provide services that others aren’t as efficient at, which is especially beneficial with multilocation rollouts.”
“How can we help you?”
As customers reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, Load King sought to help.
“Because everything slowed down, it gave us an opportunity to move into personal protection offerings,” Grimm said. “It started with a question, how can we help you?”
Load King quickly stocked up on raw materials before they became hard to find to make acrylic barriers, drive-thru protections, side shields for hospitals and the medical industry, sanitation stations, washbasins and graphics for social distancing.
“We don’t just offer products. We can offer ideas and we can customize solutions to specific needs,” Grimm said.
“We are more partnership- and service-oriented rather than being a product manufacturer,” he said.
Load King, whose tagline is “King of Innovation,” is talking with Duval County Public Schools and Florida State University, among other institutions, about developing safety protocols.
For FSU, Load King wants to help the campus adapt its foodservice and athletic facilities.
AMC asked Load King for a quote after the manufacturer developed an idea booklet. Starbucks and grocery companies have responded similarly.
“The products are evolving the more we talk with them,” Grimm said.
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority put in a purchase order for protective shields, he said.
Load King realized it wasn’t immune to the economic impact of the coronavirus, so it acted quickly, Grimm said.
It reduced employee hours for a few weeks, but that was it. “Hours are back up and we are actually in overtime right now making up for that initial reduction,” he said.
“We acted early and quickly,” he said.
“We saw the effects initially. We went through strategic planning, resource planning and readjusting our annual corporate goals first,” Grimm said.
“After we balanced the workload, we were able to step back and say, what product or products can we offer to help the situation?”
Load King proactively procured what it thought it might need.
“We took a leap of faith and brought in a significant amount of raw materials,” he said.
“Thankfully we did because these raw materials are getting harder to come by.”
The company retooled design and manufacturing processes.
“While we don’t make masks, gowns and shields, we can buy and resell these items because of our importing sources,” Grimm said.
Its customers are preparing for phased reopening nationwide. Some activity continued, such as Starbucks construction, although the coffee shop chain expansion slowed with permitting and inspection.
Grimm said the customers’ outlooks range from “anxious to reopen to optimistic to reopen.”
He said some restaurant clients remained open in other capacities, such as drive-thru, carryout, curbside pickup and delivery.
Grimm said restaurant clients expect to resume full operations in the June-August time frame, depending on the company.
Theater clients are targeting mid-June to start reopening.
In the meantime, Load King wants to help now and later.
“We are all in this together figuring what is going to work,” he said.
Strategy to expand
Load King intends to expand by up to 100,000 square feet of distribution and manufacturing space.
In February, it bought about 2 acres next to its Rail Yard District headquarters from the city, Grimm said.
Load King rezoned the property with the city and is vacating a street.
Grimm said Load King anticipates designing the project by the fall and breaking ground in late 2021. He didn’t project a completion date.
The size will depend on the layout and accommodating the manufacturing flow.
“The advantage is that new space allows us to expand our offerings,” he said.
The expansion will serve existing customers and allow Load King to move into new industries.
“We are seeing commercial projects, restaurants and hotels being built,” he said. “We pride ourselves in staying ahead of trends and needs, so this is another move to get us into new brands.”
As a privately held company, Load King does not publicly disclose revenue, he said.
Load King owns 12.23 acres and the purchase expands its property to 14.3 acres.
The plant comprises four buildings constructed since 1919. It uses about 250,000 square feet for manufacturing and 50,000 square feet for shipping.
The city rezoned 0.89 acres at 1314 W. Union St., at southwest Union Street and Myrtle Avenue North, next to Load King.
City Council enacted Ordinance 2019-0135-E on May 28 that allowed the city to sell two parcels totaling 1.96 acres at Union Street and Myrtle Avenue to Load King for $324,000, the appraised value of the property.
It relocated a Head Start facility to a new location, with the city using half of the purchase price and Load King contributing $70,000 to assist with that move.
The legislation says Load King intends to purchase and redevelop the property to construct new warehousing and shipping facilities, including a new cross-dock shipping facility that will allow Load King to expand its commercial kitchen resale division, resulting in additional jobs at the Load King facility.
At minimum, Grimm said Load King will add 12 jobs, but he expects more.
Load King’s website says the company started in 1958 when James Merrill Chupp retired from Winn-Dixie and started S.E. Sales Co., an equipment consolidator servicing the supermarket industry.
It continues to be led by the Chupp family. Charles Chupp is president.
The property was Winn-Dixie’s headquarters before it moved and had expanded to more than 200,000 square feet of production space by the time Load King moved in.
The company has operated as Load King since 1972.