tight-knit, family-owned trucking company has consolidated its business into its first company headquarters under one roof.
Grammer Industries was founded in 1968 by Charles “Shorty” Whittington in Grammer, the unincorporated town in southeastern Bartholomew County.
The company debuted its new company headquarters June 24 with an open house in the redesigned and modernized former Kawasaki building at State Roads 46 and 7, celebrating the first time the company’s 45 employees who work at the headquarters were all in one building. Grammer Industries was previously based in four separate buildings.
The company’s signature “Wounded Warrior” and “Breast Cancer Awareness” tankers were parked in the grassy area outside the headquarters, as visitors from around the state gathered to congratulate the Whittington family on its new headquarters.
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Company president Shorty Whittington, who runs the trucking business with his son, company vice president John Whittington, said his son had long suggested to consolidate the company into one building.
Initially, the family had decided to build a new building in Grammer. But when the former motorcycle dealership building became available last summer, they saw an opportunity and seized it. The space had an open display area in the front which would be open to redesign, and the necessary garage and shop areas needed for the business.
It is also located on one of the busiest entry paths to Columbus on east State Road 46.
While Shorty Whittington had been reluctant to leave the town where the company was founded, his son was reminding him that the company was growing and needed to find a new headquarters building that reflected the company’s growth and progress.
The former motorcycle dealership building was completely redesigned and refurbished, with photos of tanker trucks and the history of the company as accents.
The Whittingtons kept one wall of each office’s product display rack to instead display awards and photos.
The design, by Columbus architect Jeff Marshall, also includes a new company boardroom that John Whittington has nicknamed “the fishbowl” for its wide expanse of windows.
Over the years, the company has become one of the leading hazardous materials trucking firms in the United States. Grammer specializes in transporting anhydrous ammonia, liquefied petroleum gases, carbon dioxide, nitric acid and other hazardous materials and liquids, something that requires specialized equipment and technology.
In turn, that has created a company culture of safety, which has become the bedrock of the company’s national reputation, the owners said.
In a hallway in the new headquarters, there are plaques recognizing 45 of the company’s drivers as Master Truck Drivers with the Indiana Motor Truck Association. The designation means the honored driver has completed more than a million miles of accident-free driving.
Safety is one of the hallmarks the company is built upon, Shorty Whittington said. The other two are family and service to the community, he said.
“If you take those and put them in a pie, you get a pretty good pie,” he said. “From 2007 to 2011, we doubled in size when the rest of the world wasn’t in very good shape.”
The company has a fleet of more than 200 specialized tankers that are dispatched out of 10 locations in Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida. The company’s customers include those who produce fertilizer, food, power generation and chemical manufacturing.
Hauling hazardous materials is somewhat of a niche business, but the company has found success by partnering with, or acquiring companies that need an in-house hauling firm, John Whittington said. A shift in the anhydrous ammonia business, with less importing and more domestic production, has helped grow the hauling business domestically, he said.
But no matter the expansion, Shorty Whittington said he has worked to retain the family feel for the business. And that family feel has extended to relationships with Columbus area businesses, including Cummins Inc., which recently turned to the company for a favor.
A group of Chinese Foton truck executives were touring Cummins and Columbus on June 17 and asked to see a trucking company. Grammer invited the group in to check over their trucks, which have Cummins’ engines, and their operation and safety procedures.
The company already had moved to the new location, which provided another opportunity to showcase its new company headquarters.
“It was neat exposure for us,” John Whittington said of the visit.
Cummins officials, who also attended the June 24 open house, have indicated they may bring other international tour groups by for a visit in the future, Shorty Whittington said.
Grammer Industries is also known for its community service through two of its signature tankers, one that promotes breast cancer awareness and another that supports the national Wounded Warrior program for veterans.
The tankers were collaborative efforts among Grammer Industries partners and friends, who agreed to donate to the project, including donating parts of the tanker, and Grammer then paying full price for the vehicle and donating the difference to the cause.
For the Wounded Warrior tanker, sponsors Cummins, Peterbilt and Mississippi Tank Co. all donated to the project. The breast cancer tanker raised more than $60,000, and the Wounded Warrior tanker raised more than $110,000, the owners said.
The tankers continue to raise awareness for veterans and for those fighting breast cancer.
“They are working trailers, and they are out on the road every day,” John Whittington said. “It gives us a lot of pride when those trailers roll out. And it’s fun for the drivers who pull that trailer.”
As the company moves forward, Shorty Whittington said it will continue to invest in technology beyond what most people might think a trucking firm of Grammer’s size would have.
“We have the ability to track shipments in trailers just like UPS and pinpoint where they are,” he said. “Not too many small trucking companies can do that.”
There will be more partnership opportunities in the future and Shorty Whittington believes advances in technology will drive some small trucking companies out of business, or looking for a buyer. Those are opportunities for the company to expand, not only in business, but also taking Grammer’s values to new opportunities, he said.
“We just want to keep making it one big, happy family,” he said.
As part of its open house on June 24, Grammer Industries honored one of its drivers as the 1,000th driver in Indiana to achieve Master Truck Driver status since the designation became available in 1977.
Jim McKeand, North Vernon, was honored with the designation with a plaque from Indiana’s state trucking association.
McKeand and his wife Lois were congratulated by company employees and customers as Grammer celebrated the opening of its new company headquarters.
McKeand has been driving for Grammer for about 35 years and said he’s way beyond the 1 million miles without an accident, a requirement for the award.
“I’m pretty sure I must be up to 2 or 3 million,” he said.
He started as a truck driver working on a farm in Hayden, he said. Now working part-time, he said he’s not sure when he’ll fully retire.
His son, Scott McKeand, is Grammer Industries’ fleet manager.