It all started with $1,000 in his pocket, the dream to make a better life, and six children at the home office answering the phone “Allen Lund Company.” Thirty-nine years later, Allen has grown his company from a small 3PL business headquartered adjacent to the LA Produce Market, to a company brokering 300,000 shipments a year with revenues in excess of $475 million.
“My love at the end of the day is produce - besides my family of course,” Allen laughs from across his oak desk in La Cañada Flintridge, California. “When I started this, it was the Wild West. There were a handful of brokers that controlled the market. And besides that, I had to do it without the ‘Internet, computer, fax, copier-type luxuries’ of today. It was your reputation and the telephone.”
Allen’s youngest child was only a year old when he went out on his own, and his wife Kathie had to take a night job in a plastics factory to keep the kids in Catholic school. His parents had been through the Great Depression and deeply instilled their values and concerns in Allen, which were ever present in him as he made the decision to take a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
“I told my wife that if I could book four loads a week, then the kids could eat. And that was my goal when I started. It was a huge leap of faith. I bought out a guy who was retiring and in the first month I had sold 100 loads,” Allen tells me. “When your goal is to feed your family, your true work ethic will reveal itself.”
Allen has come a long way since those first days in the home office and currently holds the post of President & CEO of Allen Lund Company, LLC, and Allen Lund Corporation. The company footprint has grown with 30 offices spread throughout 22 states.
Today, Allen Lund Company, LLC has offices spread through:
Allen has also expanded the company’s value proposition with a software division, ALC Logistics, located in Charlotte, North Carolina. To support that venture, ALC Logistics entered into an agreement last year with Locus Traxx Worldwide to integrate real-time visibility, load temperature, and location tracking into its produce-industry designed TMS solution. The company continues to evaluate additional software options as customers’ needs present themselves.
From where Allen is standing, there seems to be no end in sight. And I think he is fine with that.
But Allen’s beginnings started long before his leap of faith. Allen originally cut his teeth as a truck driver in Utah, then through a church connection, he joined C.H. Robinson, which allowed him the know-how to work at every level of his own company whether it was tweaking the mechanics of the trucks to building relationships throughout the produce, food, and manufacturing industries.
While the company’s significant growth in the sector has been critical to Allen, his desire to maintain the family-run and family-owned atmosphere has always been essential. Bringing his sons Kenny, Eddie, and David into the fold along with his son-in-law Steve Doerfler has helped, not only to elevate the business, but also to extend the value of family into all facets of the operation. It may not have been in their initial plans for the future, but somehow, they all found themselves tethered willingly to the family business.
All of Allen’s sons have a similar story. David had been working for Allen Lund since high school and though he left to attend Cal Poly Pomona, David tells me he always knew that he would return to Allen Lund. Kenny taught and coached for three years after graduating from LMU, but also found that his passion lay in the family business. Eddie went to Notre Dame, captaining the baseball team and was drafted by the Dodgers, but in the end it was Allen Lund that was his calling. Steve joined the family after he met Allen’s daughter, Christina, at the University of Portland. After a one-year exchange program in Austria they fell in love, got married, and Steve jumped on board with Allen.
“In reality, all of my kids have been in this since the beginning. Whether it was Saturday morning breakfasts before they came with me to the office, or summer jobs during high school, my success has not been achieved without them,” Allen tells me.
A third generation of Lund family employees may be in the works with Allen’s grandson, Kevin Peterson, whose current role is with ALC Logistics in sales and implementation.
“All the kids started at the bottom, working on the desk,” Allen says. “It has given them more than just credibility, allowing them to see the inner workings of the business at so many levels.”
“Dad defines what it means to have great relationships with your carriers and your clients,” - Kenny Lund
Allen’s ‘pick yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality has paved the way for his hard working family of employees who are comprised of more than just his sons. With an eye always fixed on the future, Allen is continuing to build a legacy and a reputation, even more firm than his handshake.
“My dad can see the big picture faster than anybody I know,” Kenny Lund, VP of Support Operations, tells me. “He is great at reading people and situations, and that’s been key to his success.”
Luckily, Allen didn’t have to do it on his own. In addition to help from the kids, Allen’s wife Kathie also stood strong behind the entrepreneur and did the company’s accounting for years as the broker worked to gain momentum.
Kathie met Allen when he was a ride operator at an amusement park in Utah and Kathie was selling tickets to that ride. They had no idea that it was a ride they wouldn’t be getting off of for some time. Years later, a carrier that Allen had shared the story with, travelled to that roller coaster and took a picture with the carrier’s truck positioned in front of the roller coaster. He sent the picture to Allen and his wife. The memory now sits framed at Allen’s home in Utah as a fond reminder of just how far they have come and as a testament to the strong relationships they have built.
“Dad could sell ice to Eskimos,” Eddie tells me. It’s a phrase I have heard often when Allen’s name comes up.
“Dad defines what it means to have great relationships with your carriers and your clients,” Kenny says. “He would always visit the carriers, always gave them Christmas gifts, and he kept driver gifts around just in case one came into town. They never left our office without something.”
When the trucks were tight Allen could find them, and that was the result of the relationships he cultivated and maintained.
“He has always had a great understanding of the industry and how relationships weren’t just maintained during the good times, but the challenging ones as well,” David tells me.
And times were tough during the early years, especially before deregulation took hold in the 80’s under Jimmy Carter, then Ronald Reagan. Up until then, brokers could only handle exempt commodities. But before the sweeping reduction in price controls, entry controls, and collective vendor price setting in the United States transportation industry, small companies looked to their relationships to bridge the gaps in opportunities. As Allen Lund grew through the 80’s so did its portfolio of commodities that always included fresh produce. Now, about 45 percent of the business is produce.
"The most important thing is the customer. Reputation is everything."
“I used to say, ‘give me your hardest loads, your most difficult and cantankerous receivers, and I would find a way to make it work.’ You have to earn the trust of the trucker, receiver, or company,” Allen says. And in those years Allen booked more loads than he could handle, with only just three years in the market.
“But yes, the early days were quite an adventure. From the winos, drunks, and drug addicts creating an obstacle course around our first office down at the LA Produce terminal, to the intense competition from brokers much larger than we were at the time… It was a constant challenge,” Allen notes.
Allen moved the company to its current office building in La Cañada in 1979, and though the LA Produce Market location holds a place in Allen’s heart, he hasn’t looked back.
As the company moves into a new phase of growth with an expanding footprint and new relationships in mind, Allen tells me that he won’t be slowing the pace anytime soon.
“We need to hold our carriers and drivers to a higher standard and elevate the transportation industry for the benefit of the whole,” he says. “Remember, the most important thing is the customer. Reputation is everything.”
As Allen looks to the future he aims to uphold one goal that influences the many. “I want to maintain that family-feel of this company, no matter how far reaching our footprint spreads. We’ve only come this far because of our greatest assets, our employees. I want to give them a good reason to walk through our doors, every day.”
With his foot firmly pressed on the gas pedal, I think we can all envision the direction that Allen Lund is headed.
And from where I am sitting, I don’t see them running out of diesel anytime soon.