Sixty-Five Years of Material Handling Leadership
Technology in the material-handling industry is advancing at breakneck speed, and Johnston Equipment is the undisputed leader.
“Raymond quality and reliability combined with our unique way of approaching our existing and potential customers is entirely responsible for this success,” says the company. “We can provide total integrated solutions including design, equipment, racking, and automated storage solutions. We pride ourselves on providing our customers with Complete Solutions, leveraging the strength and quality of our Aftermarket Groups by providing our customers with support from Service, Parts, Rentals, Operator Training, Leasing. This, with our business and application expertise, offers our customers a ‘total value solution.’”
Johnston Equipment is the parent company of Konstant – Canada’s leader in storage solutions, and together, Johnston and Konstant have 1,300 employees, including skilled staff in different areas of automation, technical advancement and education, a necessity in today’s material-handling industry.
Nevertheless, Johnston continues to look to the future, accelerating both innovation and investment to the benefit of its many customers.
“One person would not have a chance at trying to keep relevant, or understand all the advancements,” says Jeff Heath, General Manager – Automated Systems. “You really need a good team.”
With twenty years in the company, and eight in the automation division, Heath says that Johnston as an organization keeps transforming itself to keep up with the evolution of technology, from having the engineering and design resources available to help customers make decisions to asking what the technician of the future looks like.
“We have been asking those questions for a while now,” says Heath, “and we’re starting to evolve our services and dispatch offerings to make sure that when these new solutions and new technologies come to market, we are able to provide the same high level of service to ensure our customers are looked after.”
Unlike many competitors who offer just a handful of services, the company is proud to offer Johnston Equipment’s Complete Solutions™ to help customers better manage and run their operations.
In 2015, the company adopted the powerful ‘Move, Manage, Store and Protect™’ tagline, summarizing its comprehensive value proposition in the Canadian marketplace. “When our customers need to store, control, protect or move goods, or manage the costs or productivity of their material handling equipment, they can rely on Johnston Equipment to offer Complete Solutions to help them to run better and manage smarter – with innovative ideas both now and in the future,” says the company.
The technology challenge
With multiple technologies evolving at a challenging pace – such as automated and autonomous forklifts, keeping up with innovations can be challenging. Recently, Johnston Equipment entered into a partnership with Fetch Robotics (https://fetchrobotics.com/).
Fetch Robotics is a pioneer in ‘on-demand automation,’ “the only solution that deploys safe, reliable, and versatile autonomous mobile robots (ARMs) for the warehousing and intralogistics markets in just hours,” according to Fetch.
“The result is demonstrable improvements in throughput, efficiency and productivity within both commercial and industrial environments – all while working alongside others.”
Heath is proud of the relationship between the two companies, and the future of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in the material handing sector.
“This collaborative robot is very attractive to the industry right now because it speaks to the labour crisis emerging out of the United States and creeping into Canada,” he says. “A lot of our customers right now can’t find people to fill the jobs that they need filled.”
Along with AMRs, this is a time of disruptive technology – innovations dramatically changing the way industries, businesses, and consumers relate. Fortunately, Johnston Equipment is committed to learning about these fast-moving changes, and passing on the knowledge to its clients.
A partner and a guide
“How we are approaching the market, and how we are really partnering with our existing customer base, is by being more of a guide and a trusted partner with identifying solutions that can help their business today, that maybe don’t have such a high cost of entry,” says Heath.
Rather than just saying “automate everything” – a costly and time-consuming operation – the company looks at a range of solutions that best fit individual clients. Sometimes, complete automation makes sense; in most cases, it is better to identify small or medium-sized applications or processes within operations companies are struggling with; identify specific areas, and introduce some successful automation or technology to increase efficiency step-by-step, instead of proposing a multi-million-dollar investment.
With 13 strategic locations coast-to-coast, Johnston Equipment is the largest material handling equipment company in North America. Combined with Konstant, Raymond, BT, Storage & Allied Products, Systems and Automated Storage Products, the company proudly offers all facets of aftermarket support to new and existing customers. “Application expertise, combined with our Value & Solution Selling format, has led to where we are today – the dominant Canadian supplier offering trucks, equipment, products and services for the entire warehousing/distribution marketplace,” states the company. “Our products, services and expertise can apply to Canada’s manufacturing sector as well.”
Encompassing 20,000 customers, Johnston’s client base ranges from single-unit mom-and-pop shops to the biggest companies in Canada. “It’s fair to say that if you are thinking about distribution, logistics, warehousing and retail, this is our cup of tea, our focus,” Heath says. “All the major blue chips are dealing with Johnston equipment.”
Handling everything from inception to completion including project management, Johnston Equipment sends required experts out to client locations, and works with partners the company has cultivated over the past 65 years. The company helps clients identify areas in their application or warehouse that would benefit from attention, and approaches automation the same way: determining which technologies are really effective, and which are cutting-edge – and not bleeding-edge – and can be supported.
“That’s key to our value proposition – everything that we sell, bring to the market and make available to our customers, because we are going to be there to support them with our technology every step of the way,” says Marc-Andre Raymond, Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing.
“That is unique to us. Some competitors are focused on automation or technology. They will partner with you and get the initial project done, but they don’t have the aftermarket service and support for the 900 technicians we have on the road and available 24/7.”
The company is often responsible for turnkey installations of entire buildings. About 95 per cent of the equipment sold, on the new-equipment and forklift side, is custom made, as it has to be designed and adapted to fit specific measurements for aisles, height, and weight.
It’s about productivity
With over six decades of experience, Johnston Equipment has a deep and broad understanding of the material handling industry, including how to pull data from the right sources to ensure customers improve productivity.
“If you can’t find enough people to do the work, then you better focus your energy on being more productive. How to optimize what you are currently doing in your facility, that is step one,” says Heath. “From there, once we have the data, we work with customers to understand it, and identify areas where we can introduce something like an autonomous mobile robot, and maybe take away some of the non-value activities within the distribution centre, like travel. By minimizing the amount of travel an individual worker has to do, and replacing that with something like an autonomous forklift or small robot, keeps people doing real value-add functions, like picking.”
Starting in Montreal in 1954 as a Raymond dealer for Quebec, Gordon Johnston founded the company in the same year that Raymond introduced the first ever narrow-aisle reach-fork truck, after having introduced the straddle rider truck in 1950.
Soon, Johnston Equipment/Raymond effectively initiated the narrow-aisle era for Canadian warehousing and distribution, becoming the Raymond dealer for all of Canada. And soon, too, became the industry leader in Canada for the electric narrow-aisle equipment that facilitated the movement, storage and selection of materials. Johnston became a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Raymond Corporation in 1997.
Experiencing tremendous success with Raymond products over the decades, Johnston’s approach to helping customers solve material handling problems led to new Raymond products being developed, such as the 4 Directional Reach, Deep Reach and Swing Reach trucks.
Receiving praise for its products and service over the years, The Raymond Corporation’s Virtual Reality Simulator won the MHI Innovation Award for Best New Innovation in 2018. It is a next-generation tool for lift-truck operator learning, providing advanced, hands-on instruction designed to improve operator skills, build confidence, and help retain employees and keep them learning. The Raymond Virtual Reality Simulator is the first of its kind to allow an operator to enter a simulated warehousing environment using an existing Raymond forklift by plugging into the company’s patent-pending ‘sPort’, or simulation port.
This year, Raymond was recognized once again for the impact its Raymond Virtual Reality Simulator tool has had on enhancing education for forklift operators, and was named on Fast Company’s 2019 Most Innovative Companies list. The list recognizes organizations transforming and shaping society in 36 categories, from artificial intelligence to wellness. Selections are the work of a team of Fast Company editors and reporters.
Looking to the future
Celebrating its 65th year in business, the company acknowledges that it wouldn’t be where it is today without the dedication and hard work of its employees, and held barbecues across the county to show its appreciation.
Doubling down on providing an effortless customer experience by reviewing ways to provide customers with the support they’ll need in the future, the company is “paving the path on our journey that will ensure that we will be the company that our customers continue to turn to for complete solutions when we are celebrating our 75th anniversary.”
Providing customers with automated solutions for 40 years, Johnston Equipment continues to build on its expertise as it investigates the best solutions for customers’ evolving issues – such as automation to address manpower shortages and health/safety requirements. Involved with automated guided vehicles since the 1980s, The Raymond Corporation and Johnston have played a vital role in automated storage and retrieval systems for decades.
Today, Raymond’s iWAREHOUSE forklift-fleet management system allows organizations to optimize fleet, operations, and improve Health and Safety by securing vehicle access; to manage and monitor impacts, review electronic pre-shift forklift checklists, and report vehicle and operator utilization for improved productivity. Providing a 360 degree view of a company’s entire truck fleet across a single warehouse or multiple locations, Raymond’s iWAREHOUSE is compatible with numerous makes and models of industrial vehicles, and reports can be generated to track key performance indicators. These include fleet utilization, operator performance, certifications and safety (for provincial compliance) and provide actionable insights.
In the automation area for years, Johnston Equipment not only provides products, but solutions. Viewed by clients as consultants going above and beyond, the company uses its years of knowledge to make customers more efficient.
“This segment is moving at the speed of light, and we want to be the leader,” says Heath. “Based on our infrastructure, and with the investment we have made for the last couple of years, this year we will fast-track to the next level. Everybody will know that if they think about Johnston Equipment, they will think about automation and racking. Everything you need in your four walls can be done by Johnston Equipment.”