By Scott Strack
Kailey Kiefus, the third generation of the Kiefus family is taking the reins as the Head of Operations at one of the original Big Joe dealerships, Big Joe Lift Trucks, Inc. located in Carson, CA. Her grandfather, Burton Kiefus, started Big Joe Lift Trucks, Inc. in 1968 in the Los Angeles County City of Lawndale. Her father, Jim joined the family business right out of high school in 1969 and continues to be involved as an advisor to this day. “Dad is not officially retired,” said Ms. Kiefus, “He still comes in a couple of times a month. He says he wants to retire, but we don’t believe him.”
Having literally grown up at the dealership, she has had the opportunity to observe and learn from people who have spent their entire careers in material handling. “One thing I appreciate in this industry is that 90% of the people who join it stay in it. I’ve been full time at the company seven years and that is a long time in most industries, but that’s just getting started in Material Handling,” she said. Just getting started may be a bit of an understatement though, as Kailey also worked for her dad every summer in high school and college. “Even when I was little, I’d go in with Dad on days off school. Any excuse to see my Uncle Brad (who recently retired) and a chance to get out to Carl’s Jr.,” she laughed, “they just cleaned out my old coloring books and markers from Dad’s bottom drawer!”
Kailey shares a laugh with her father Jim
While she never felt pressure to go into the family business, she does feel it is her legacy and earned a Business Management degree from Gonzaga, where she played Division 1 soccer. “The legacy, absolutely!” she exclaimed. “Personally, it was my appeal to coming in. My dad had me a little later in life and I knew if I wanted to learn from him, I had to come right away.” Before joining the management team, she worked in every department including sales, service and delivery, learning the ins and outs of the business and figuring out what it takes to make things work.
Kailey acknowledges that she had to work through being the boss’ daughter to earn the respect of their long-time employees. “I had to tread lightly because people had put in their time. Many of the guys remember me as that little girl with the coloring books, it took time for me to earn their trust and confidence as team member and peer. We have employees who have been here 15, 20 and 30 years and I love them like family, because they are. My goal is to develop relationships with them to feel confident as a peer and employer that I am the one to lead us into the next 52 years, like my Dad and Grandpa did for the first 52.”
Outside the walls of the dealership, she says has encountered a little pushback from being young woman in an old school, old man’s world. “There’s definitely a Boys Club feel to the industry. Having a South side of Chicago, old school dad prepped me for that a bit. He has been the best sounding board, we make a funny pair and team. I like being a female in the industry. It’s satisfying to see the look of surprise on a vendor or client’s face when you can confidently talk about load capacity, straddle width, battery voltage and charger amperage. You gotta know your stuff when you are dealing with people that have been in the industry for decades ... female or not.”
As the Head of Operations, Kailey is involved in every aspect of the Dealership, but enjoys the application side of the business most. “Sales is very important, my grandfather used to say ‘If we ain’t movin’ metal, it ain’t makin’ sense!’ but I really like seeing where our trucks go, seeing how the customers use them and how the techs service them, the vastness of the industry and how we are able to cater to it is really awesome.” This was never more evident than when Material Handling was deemed an essential business by the State of California during the COVID19 Pandemic. “We’ve been able to help hospitals, the steel industry, grocers, 3M manufacturing, it’s cool to see how far our reach can go.”
Excited to be “Movin’ metal”
When it comes to extending the reach for the dealership, Kailey has big plans to open up California’s “Inland Empire” region, a formerly agricultural region stretching east of Los Angeles that has shifted to a booming mix of residential and commercial usage. “We’ve planned to expand to the Inland Empire, as well as a physical branch in Orange County, hiring new salespeople who live in those areas and know those areas to develop and prospect further. Putting boots on the ground is the first step.” She sees a great deal of potential in the population centers of Corona, Riverside, Ontario and San Bernardino as possible locations for satellite offices and service hubs. “I’d like to see 5 more locations and 50 more employees to continue to grow our brand,” she said. “We’re always on the lookout for qualified service technicians to expand our service fleet. It’s always a challenge to figure out the steps to expand and to find the right people to help you grow.”
She also sees a lot of growth potential in the new Lithium powered products from Big Joe, including the LPT series of pallet trucks and L1 rider forklift. “We sell the most S22s and WPT45s and the Joeys are a fan favorite, too … there’s nothing quite like it, but I am really excited about the new technology and where Big Joe is headed. I feel very fortunate to be leading our family business forward with so much change going on in the industry and economy. I guess lift trucks are just in my blood.”
Kailey was born and raised in Orange County, CA. In her spare time, she enjoys working out and doing Cross Fit training with her husband, who is a US Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. They recently adopted a German Shorthaired Pointer puppy named Lenny.