Head of Virginia firm sees success through flexibility, trust
By Jesse Huxman
As printed in The Marketplace - November/December 2017
Devon Anders is all about building relationships. Anders is CEO of InterChange Group, a Harrisonburg, Va-based logistics firm. From the outside, you might think the business is just a warehouse company. It’s really about relationships.
Devon grew up in a Mennonite family near Souderton, Penn. Much of his business education came from watching how his father, a banker, treated others. “I learned that it was about treating people right. …My approach has always been, ‘Hey I’m going to try to be upfront with where I’m at with you, and I want you to do the same back to me.”
After graduating from Eastern Mennonite University with an accounting degree, he joined a local public accounting firm. He ended up doing a significant amount of work for two clients, Wayne Ruck and Jerry Morris, building a relationship that would open new doors.
“My relationship with Jerry and Wayne was extremely important. They gave me the opportunity. They gave me financial backing.” Over time they approached Anders about becoming a partner. Along the way, he learned about engineering and operations from Wayne, while Jerry offered lessons on sales.
Anders’ partners started in the packaging industry. Their niche was working with clients who needed small quantities. They also saw an opportunity in the public warehousing business, so they purchased land and built space to help clients who had storage needs.
“One of our core values is flexibility. When people ask, ‘can you do this?’ We don’t say no. We try to figure out how to make something work,” Anders says. “This idea of flexibility and building on that client relationship is part of the fabric of InterChange. The goal is not just to fill their buildings with client’s storage. …They prefer to build for the long term.”
There was only one employee in the warehouse when Anders joined the firm in 1993. Today there are more than 120 employees in six locations, 40 drivers and a company-owned fleet of trucks to move materials to and from the storage facilities.
InterChange offers a variety of storage options including frozen, refrigerated, air conditioned, dry or food grade warehousing. They also have real estate ready for development with varying degrees of customization.
InterChange’s impact can be seen all around the Shenandoah Valley and, increasingly, throughout Virginia. Company leaders are active in Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, and often serve on non-profit boards. Anders encourages his team to be active in the community at the level they feel called and comfortable. He was named Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce businessperson of the year in 2013.
One of the company’s unique relationships is with Friendship Industries. This not-for-profit social enterprise hires people with disabilities and trains them to work in their contract packaging business. Friendship Industries has attracted a range of commercial clients including the Department of Defense, which is typically a difficult organization for suppliers to gain as a customer.
About a decade ago, InterChange and Friendship Industries struck up a partnership to produce, package and distribute coffee creamer for Danone Wave (formerly WhiteWave Foods, a major American consumer packaged organic food and beverage company). “It was basically a marriage. They supplied the people. They supply the equipment. They charge us on a per-unit price. We supply the material handling, store it on our racks and ship it out. All the things we normally do in a day’s work.” To meet demand, Friendship Industries needed more workers, so they created a new subsidiary, Able Solutions. Able assists people with barriers to employment, which includes disabilities as well as people recovering from addictions.
For Anders, this relationship is personal - his brother has a developmental disability and is now working in Pennsylvania. “My brother works on a cleaning crew for the last 10 or 12 years. They clean schools and businesses. That’s important to him. I don’t think a lot of people get that.” He is also pleased to provide employment opportunities for those with questionable backgrounds. “There is a certain group we can’t put on the rolls. But here’s Able Solutions — their purpose is to help rehabilitate these people into employees with meaningful work.”
Anders clearly cares about his employees. “I deal a lot on trust. I trust my team members. I trust them to make the right decisions.” He knows for many of his employees, this is more than just a job.
“That’s something that has always spoken to me. I know how it impacts families when someone has to come out in the middle of the night to load a truck, respond to a fire alarm or whatever it is.”
Of all the relationships he values, no relationship is more important than the partnership with his wife, Teresa. That partnership has evolved over time. When Devon started he worked long hours. Teresa cared for their three children, getting them to school and activities and treasuring the time when Devon was home. “Work was always the enemy for her. We had plants four or five hours away, so I did a lot of travel. I kept climbing the ladder.”
In 2002, Teresa came to work at InterChange and saw first-hand the workload Devon was juggling. She has become a sounding board for Devon, sharing her opinions and suggestions for the company. She’s also taken on the role of liaison. Devon’s original partners, Jerry and Wayne, have transferred their ownership interest to their own children. Teresa keeps them informed and plans a biennial meeting for all the stakeholders. “She’s an integral part of what we do. She lives the business as I do. She knows what’s going on.”
The Anders family are actively involved at Lindale Mennonite Church in Linville, VA. Devon is quiet about his faith, but recently started meeting with a spiritual mentor, a local businessman who he respects. He’s grateful for his faith foundation — being raised in a Christian home with strong family support. “You’d have a tough time finding anybody that has something bad to say about Devon,” says Kevin Longenecker, InterChange’s chief financial officer. “He’s a man of principles.”
Over time, Anders has learned what makes him happy. ‘I’m a pleaser. I like to make a deal work, how to get the customer what they want.” And that’s exactly how he wants to be remembered. “I hope they say: ‘he treated me fairly and with integrity.’”
Not that he is ready to slow down yet.
“We’ve grown a lot. It’s still Jerry, Wayne and I, but we have other partners, along with the cabinet business, the excavating business, and real estate ventures. I’ve always said we’re not a business that sits still. That just goes against our nature.” ◆