CEDAR FALLS — Danny Johnson dug through one of the boxes of tomatoes that filled a pallet near the loading docks at Martin Bros. Distributing.
He inspects the quality of produce that comes off the trucks, ensuring it meets standards to be shipped to the final destination. That could be a school, restaurant, health care facility, nursing home or college.
The pallet arrived through one of the nine new docks that are part of a 77,000-square-foot state-of-the-art warehouse expansion, which opened in October. The facility in the Cedar Falls Industrial Park has grown to 362,000 square feet with the addition.
Johnson could immediately see the benefit of the new space.
“It’s a lot more efficient,” he said. “We can organize things by temperature zones, we have more room now. We can put product where it needs to be.
“It was all in good zones, but we’re able to customize it more,” Johnson explained. “Little changes make a big difference.”
Space in the warehouse was at a premium when the expansion was completed.
“By the time we moved into this, we were really tight in the current building,” said Ethan DeWall, the company’s warehousing director. The 17-year employee noted growth has been an ongoing factor in recent years, reflecting an increasing number of customers. “This is the seventh build we’ve done since I’ve been here.”
The most recent addition, at a cost of $16 million, was the largest for the company in terms of dollar value. The company was founded in 1940 by brothers Roy and Glenn Martin, starting in their parents’ Cedar Falls garage and later relocated to a warehouse on South Main Street. It moved to the industrial park in 1969.
Overall, there are more than 660 people working for Martin Bros. today, which is still a family-run business. That includes 150 employees in the warehouse and 170 truck drivers. “We’ve had continuous growth of our work force, kind of to match up with our customer growth,” said DeWall.
Among their customers are the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. But business has grown well beyond the company’s home state and includes regional distribution of products for a number of restaurant chains such as Pizza Ranch and Godfather’s Pizza. Martin Bros. has become one of the Midwest’s largest food service distributors.
“We’ll send out about 105 trucks a night to parts of 11 states,” said DeWall. The company is shipping “65,000 cases a night, give or take.”
The warehouse now has 45 loading docks, and the expansion created more food storage space at the facility. Temperature control is important to maintaining quality of the perishable goods Martin Bros. receives.
For example, said Johnson, the produce quality inspector, “There’s an enzyme in tomatoes where, if it goes below 50 degrees, it loses its flavor.”
Around the docks, the thermometer is kept at a chilly 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Other zones are 28 degrees for fresh meat, 45 degrees for produce that includes potatoes and bell peppers, and 60 degrees for produce like tomatoes and onions.
The company strives to be environmentally friendly in its operations.
Highly efficient LED lighting is used throughout the facility. “We started that in 2012,” said DeWall. Sensors help limit energy costs, as well, activating lights only when someone walks into an area.
Additionally, Martin Bros. recycles huge sheets of plastic shrink wrap that are used to stabilize pallets stacked with boxes of produce. The company also recycles other materials it uses such as cardboard, pallets and paper.