Wheelin' & Warehousin'
focuses on third-party logistics.
by Kevin Kipp
If Ivan Vodkashot—Russia’s “Joe Sixpack”—ever visited an American
grocery store, would he believe his eyes? Could poor Ivan even imagine
how that superabundance of stuff gets there, how ice cream gets
to Texas in July, and how Hershey’s candy gets to Schnuck’s whenever
you want it?
It’s prolific, productive agriculture, Ivan, combined with cost-effective
processing and manufacturing. And it’s an extensive, efficient distribution
Steve and Jeff Lanter are especially well qualified to explain the
last component. Lanter Company generated $140 million in 2001 by
selling its trucking and warehousing services.
The Lanter lads also demonstrate one of the secrets of American
prosperity: Their father Wayne Lanter started as a milk truck driver.
“Wayne delivered milk to individual homes,” says Steve Lanter, chairman
and CEO of Lanter Company. “He built a milk distributorship through
the ’60s. In 1970, he opened a 12,000-square-foot refrigerated cross-dock
serving the meat industry. In the ’70s, he added candy manufacturers
to the customer list.”
Wayne kept driving. In 1979 he added a truckload division, and in
1983 bought the company’s first public warehouse. “We’ve been growing
the warehousing division ever since. Jeff runs that, and by 2003,
we will be operating 4.7 million square feet of warehousing,” Steve
(Lanter Company currently manages 3.8 million square feet of space.)
“The company’s overall strategy is to offer a single source, a one-stop
shopping concept,” he continues. “We can go to a manufacturer and
truck their raw material into the plant. They’ll convert the raw
materials into finished goods. From there we can take their finished
goods, warehouse them, fill orders, and transport the orders from
the distribution center to their end- customers.”
RF scanning guns are just one of many tools used in the inventory
management system at Lanter’s warehouses.
It’s more than traffic management. It’s called 3PL: third party
logistics. And it’s part of a trend to focus on core competencies.
“Our customer might say, ‘We make candy very well. We don’t operate
fleets or warehouses. Let’s outsource that to Lanter, and we’ll
focus on chocolate.’”
To accommodate the skill sets required to focus on 3PL, the Lanter
Company became a holding and real estate company on January 1, 2002.
It has subsidiaries. Its subsidiaries have subsidiaries.
Corporate structure aside, the company offers:
It comes down
to this: Lanter Company does more business in warehousing than in
any one of the three trucking divisions; but combined, trucking
is a bigger part of the business than warehousing.
and shared warehousing, of which younger brother Jeff
Lanter is in charge.
refrigerated (called reefer) and dry LTL (less-than-truckload)
pool distribution, the descendent of Wayne Lanters
first cross-dock facility.
truckload services, reefer or dry.
traffic management services.
“The reason for all those services goes back to offering an integrated,
one-stop solution to our customers,” says Steve Lanter. “For example,
whether Schnuck’s orders 40,000 lbs.—a truckload—or 5,000 k lbs.
of candy from Hershey’s, we have the tools to deliver that efficiently.”
Lanter has some tools. It has 32 facilities located from the Carolinas
to the Rockies, including cross-dock facilities in Chicago, St.
Louis, Kansas City, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Atlanta. It
has warehouses in Columbia, S.C., Kansas City, Knoxville, Memphis,
Omaha, St. Louis and Madison, Ill.
“Our culture is one of driving the entrepreneurial spirit,” Lanter
continues. “It came from Dad. We want to create a can-do attitude
among the entire team.” In addition to distribution facilities and
warehouses, Lanter Company also has 450 “power units”—tractors.
They own or lease 600 trailers. “Some are dry boxes,” Lanter says,
“but the majority are reefers. And in the truckload division, they’re
If a dry box costs about $25,000 and a reefer costs $45,000, is
No, Lanter says: “That $20,000 allows you to haul better-paying
freight. At some outbound shipping points there’s not an abundance
of refrigerated freight, and you’re left scrapping for the dry freight,
but you can still haul it in a reefer.”
And consider the truckload division’s list of big clients: Hershey’s,
Mars, Tootsie Roll, American Italian Pasta Company, Fleischmann’s,
Good Humor and Anheuser-Busch. No one wants these products to melt
in the box or in the can.
And consider what a cross-dock facility is: climate controlled for
everything from dry goods to candy.
And consider what happens there: product shows up by the truckloads.
It is then broken out and “staged” to be loaded on “peddle trucks,”
which in turn run their delivery routes.
Jeff Lanter, the warehouse honcho, says the company owns about three-quarters
of its space. “Sometimes our clients have long-term leases with
us,” he says. “Sometimes we’ll lease the space short term, with
no commitment. That’s called public warehousing.
“Warehousing represents approximately $50 million of the $141 million
of total company sales,” he notes.
Kenny Albers, maintenance manager, pulls in one of Lanter’s 600
trailers for loading at the warehouse docks.
Obviously, Lanter Company prefers long-term contracts, “but,” Jeff
Lanter says, “a lot of business starts on a short-term agreement.
Even if there’s not a contract, long-term relationships are part
of our business. Overflow space that was supposed to be leased for
less than a quarter turns into five years and five years can turn
into 10. Abbott Labs has no long-term commitment, even though they’ve
done business with us for 20 years.”
Steve Lanter says, “Those relationships, along with maintaining
an entrepreneurial culture and low-cost/best-value position while
expanding in mid-size domestic markets, presents Lanter Company
with both challenge and opportunity.”
Jeff and Steve Lanter share a competitive spirit. Both played basketball
in high school and college.
Jeff Lanter says, “We were raised in a competitive environment.
Athletics was a big part of our lives. We played for different high
schools, and we played some one-on-one.” Then he chuckles, “Let’s
just say I could hold my own.” Steve Lanter, class of ’76, played
for Mascoutah High before the family moved to Belleville. He went
on to play at University of Illinois. Jeff Lanter played at Belleville
East, graduated in 1979, and played for McKendree College.
Both men credit their mom and dad for their competitiveness, as
well as their ability to cooperate now. Shifting easily, as often
happens in family-owned businesses, from first-name familiarity
to filial piety, Steve Lanter says, “Wayne was smart enough that
by the time we entered the company, there were small divisions where
we could work and grow. If we made mistakes, they didn’t take the
whole company down.
“At the same time it felt like our own, no one was pitted against
each other,” he continues. “I started our small package courier
service, and spent my first 12 years building that division. Jeff
started with warehousing in 1983.”
That was Adams Distribution, a Kansas City-based operation where
Jeff Lanter handled the Brach’s Candy account for a couple of years.
“It’s how I became knowledgeable about the warehousing business,”
he says. “I came home to help some of our Kansas City accounts start
doing business in the St. Louis area. That was the beginning of
the St. Louis warehousing division. What began as one leased facility
has grown to seven facilities (five company-owned and two leased)
that occupy more than three million square feet of warehouse space.”
Jeff Lanter also credits his father for this generation’s work ethic.
“He woke up at 2 a.m. to deliver milk everyday. Seeing that will
inspire you to do more.
“Dad also preached that being kids of the owner meant we had to
do twice as much and twice as good as the next guy. That’s been
my philosophy since I was sweeping floors and working on the docks.
Hard work would prove that I didn’t get the job because I was the
owner’s son. You have to earn respect.”
Ralph Korte, chairman of The Korte Company (of which his son Todd
Korte, 35, is president & CEO), met Wayne Lanter when they served
on the old Landmark Bank board from 1988 to 1991.
Korte knows both sons. “As Wayne’s health failed,” he says, “the
boys became more involved and I began to do business with them.
It was evident to me that they have a knack and passion for the
business that followed their father. They both truly have it.”
Wayne Lanter died in February 1998. Now Korte works with both sons,
and has built 2,221,254 square feet of warehouse space for them—1,660,536
of it locally, “with some projects in the works. When we plan these
warehouses,” Korte says, “Jeff always makes satisfying the customers
his top priority.” It’s not just lip service. “One time I stopped
by to talk to Jeff,” Korte says. “I found him on a forklift helping
fill a rush order because of a customer’s last-minute demand. He
gave me five minutes, but then got back on the equipment.”
When he thinks about Steve Lanter, Korte cites a passion for basketball
and a head for business: “I brought a business opportunity to Steve
about four years ago...to own their own buildings instead of leasing
and subleasing. We got the parties together. This was a complicated
partnership, but Steve saw the opportunity to take Lanter to a new
level. Inside of 30 minutes he says, ‘Let’s go.’ We are in the third
building in that relationship.”
As for his passion, Steve Lanter agrees with Korte. “I love basketball,”
he says. “It’s one of the few things in life I really know...even
more than business. And I feel I have something to offer kids. Long-term
it’s what I want to do.” This passion, combined with what Korte
called “do-gooder” instincts, led Steve Lanter to establish the
Southwestern Illinois Jets. The AAU club now has 18 teams of 4th
to 9th grade boys and girls.
“In St. Louis, except for the CYC (Catholic Youth Council), organized
basketball doesn’t start until high school,” he says. “Until then,
it’s all club ball.
“When Alex (his son, now 13) was a third-grader,” Steve Lanter continues,
“the Missouri teams were killing us. So I asked why not organize
talent on the East Side? (Both Lanters are married and each has
three kids. Both coach teams on which one or another little Lanter
“Several of our teams have qualified for Nationals,” Lanter says.
The Jets have a board. On it sits Ken Varel, East Sider and manager
of customer accounts at Ameren Services. Varel also wanted better
coaching for his son when Steve Lanter came along. “Steve was a
high school All-American and he played Division 1 basketball. He
was known for his hustle and his defense, and he knows what it takes
to make it to the next level.”
It’s not just the game. Varel estimates that 15 to 20 percent of
the almost-200 participants are underprivileged kids, and hail from
East St. Louis and as far away as Carbondale. “Part of our role
as fathers is teaching about being successful in life, whether it’s
in school, respecting others or building character. I look at Steve
and his lifestyle, his success at work and with family. These are
characteristics that I think are good for all our kids in the whole
St. Louis area.”
Steve Lanter echoes Varel’s sense of responsibility at the same
time he acknowledges the influence of his Mascoutah High School
basketball coach. “He had a huge influence on me. He was competitive.
He drove a work ethic. It really helped me in college. Dad reinforced
that at home with both Jeff and me.”
More Steve Lanter: “It’s what I tell my kids: we don’t care what
the activity is, but they need to commit 100 percent. If they can
learn that while they’re young, and can translate it to business
or their work life later, they’ll succeed.”
Varel says, “Steve puts time, energy and money into this club, and
I’ve never seen him do a thing for attention or honors. All our
decisions come down to what’s best for the kids.”
Kevin Kipp runs Bubble Communications, a creative services and
community relations firm in St. Charles.
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