If there’s anything the folks at Witte Bros. Exchange understand, it’s the importance of keeping grocery stores stocked. CEO Brent Witte often quotes the Troy, Missouri-based company’s motto, “We deliver the foods that feed America,” to keep his team motivated and ensure high standards.
It all started back in 1946 as a family farm with a single tractor-trailer. In the early days, founder Clem Witte found success selling cattle to local farmers. When his sons took over the company in the 1960s, they opened a livestock supply business, providing feed for chickens, cattle, and hogs. Since then, Witte Bros. has grown into a nationwide company.
The Witte family discovered the livestock market could be unpredictable, and the search for a stable source of income led to an investment in refrigerated transport. Witte Bros. was revamped, with the conversion of the feed store into dispatch offices.
Later, the company added a two-story office building, a maintenance shop, a 20,000 pallet-position cold-storage facility, and a temperature-controlled 33-door cross-dock facility.
“What we’ve been able to accomplish is expanding our footprint for pickup and deliveries,” shared Brent Witte. “We were able to build a warehouse to create our own supply and demand, but we also have products for customers all over the country. It enables us to use the center of the United States to expand the company’s services to the lower 48 states.”
While Witte Bros. has gained a solid reputation for distribution solutions, the company’s capability for cold-storage logistics is what sets it apart from traditional less-than-truckload (LTL) companies. Witte Bros. handles truckload carriage or services requiring shipments, partial shipment consolidation, LTL compilation, cold-storage services, warehouse, and logistics management.
From Day 1, when Clem Witte bought a tractor-trailer to haul livestock, to 2021, with Witte Bros. recognized as a leader in LTL transport and cold storage, the heart of the company has remained the same: the Witte family. Brent Witte, a member of the family’s third generation, says the company will one day be owned and operated by a fourth generation.
“I believe ownership continuity and stability is important,” he said. “Being family owned allows some of that stability.”
Family ownership also allows for a tight-knit community within Witte Bros., creating a culture in which everyone can feel invested in the family business even if their last name isn’t Witte.
“We’re not huge, but we’re large enough. Everybody’s got to pitch in with what they can do,” noted Witte. His favorite part is watching each endeavor come together and seeing the outcome of the team’s ideas. “I trust my management team to run the day-to-day operations. The people that we have hired are the ones I’m proudest of, because they make it happen day in and day out.”
Finding the right people is the first step in ensuring continued excellence for the company.
“We definitely have room to grow,” he added. “We are continually working on our culture and finding the right people to fit within it.”
The biggest challenge is driver turnover. The company is well below the industry standard, but nevertheless it is still a challenge, according to Witte.
“We’re really trying to focus on quality of life, which begins with more home time” he stated. “We’d like for them to be able to get home 48 hours each week allowing them to spend some quality time with their families.”
Most drivers are on the road five to six days at a time and then home for 24 to 36 hours. The ultimate goal would be to get the driver home every night, Witte said, adding that he realizes this is simply not the nature of the business. Instead, the company has set a goal of five days out, followed by 48 hours of home time.
In addition, new drivers receive paid training at Witte Bros. Truck Driving School, which has been serving potential drivers for more than 20 years. Like the rest of the company, the school has grown through the years and now has three instructors. A $500 fee jump-starts a new truck driver into the industry with Witte Bros., and training lasts about five weeks.
“We realized that all we were doing was stealing drivers from other companies,” explained Witte. “I was thinking that the future isn’t to steal other drivers — the future is to bring more people into the industry. I thought, if they can start out with a good company, they can get a good taste of the industry. If they don’t work out here, hopefully they’ll stay in the trucking industry. The students sign a one year commitment in exchange for their training. We hope they will love it and stay with us for their entire career.”
By staying up to date and utilizing modern resources, Witte Bros. continues to grow.
Three years ago, Witte Bros. stepped out in a unique — and award-winning — direction to feature its drivers and the company, and give others a peek into the life of a company driver.
In partnership with Clix Group, Witte Bros. created a mini docuseries featuring longtime company driver Joe Dunaky, titled “Shiny Side Up: A Witte Bros. Documentary.” The four-episode series provides a virtual weeklong ride-along as Dunaky hauls ice cream and frozen goods through multiple locations in the U.S. Soon after its release, the docuseries was the Silver Winner at the 2020 Telly Awards.
“It was a pretty cool thing to give life to what our drivers encounter throughout their week in multiple places (over the road),” noted Witte. “We basically use that for trying to get people to understand what truck drivers are going through — the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
The “ugly,” according to Witte, is the challenging situations drivers are faced with on a daily basis, such as long delays at shippers and receivers. “We try to control the things we can, but it’s the things we can’t that are so frustrating for them.”
Ultimately, Witte is most proud of Witte Bros.’ high standards and people that make up the team, from the drivers to the shop, warehouse, and office staff. “It’s all of us working together to make it work. We can’t do this without each other,” stated Witte.
“Witte demands high standards of everything here,” Dunaky explained in the miniseries. “They want a high-quality driver. When you’re out in the general public, dealing with a customer at the receiving dock, they want a very professional person representing them on the road.”
“The future is very bright for Witte Bros.,” concluded Witte. “We continue to evolve and perfect what we are doing. I am excited to see what the future brings.”
Hannah Butler is a lover of interesting people, places, photos and the written word. Butler is a former community newspaper reporter and editor for Arkansas Tech University’s student newspaper. Butler is currently finishing up her undergraduate print journalism degree and hopes to pursue higher education. Her work has been featured in at least nine different publications.