Robert E. Rich III’s interest in trucks and trains started at a young age.
The grandson of the founder of Rich Products liked hanging out with the drivers and checking out the rigs in the company’s transportation division, and he was thrilled at 10 to ride in a tractor-trailer on a run to Sandusky, Ohio, and back.
So it’s no surprise that he went to work in the industry, first with Extra Mile Transportation and now as president of ROAR Logistics, a Rich Products subsidiary and third-party logistics provider that he started in 2003.
Rich’s wife, Kärin, came up with the name, which is an acronym for Rail, Ocean, Air and Road. ROAR links manufacturers that have something to transport – baseball caps, frozen food, steel – with shipping, trucking, rail or air carriers.
The company has grown from three to 52 employees at its headquarters in the Adam’s Mark Hotel and three other offices in Atlanta, Illinois and Southern California.
ROAR had $41 million in sales last year and is looking to boost that figure to $45 million to $50 million this year.
Rich, 45, carries a prominent local name but doesn’t take himself too seriously. He plays guitar in two bands and gets a kick out of receiving residual checks for his performance in a classic 1980s baseball movie.
Q: You had a small but key role in “The Natural,” which was filmed in Buffalo, as Ted Hobbs. What was that experience like for a teenager? And do you still get residuals?
A: I auditioned for the part of the bat boy, but I didn’t fit what they were looking for. They called me up a few days later and said, “The bad news is you didn’t get the part of the bat boy. The good news is we want to cast you in a role as Robert Redford’s son.” In the end, one of the positives to come out of it is he reconnects with his son he never knew he had, which is my moment in the sun. So two hours and some minutes later I make my grand appearance at the final game and at the final scene out in the wheat field, I think it was Wyoming County, or Batavia. As for residuals, it’s funny you mention that. I am a Screen Actors Guild member, sort of inactive. But the other day I got a check for, like, 15 bucks. It’s every couple of months, depending on when the airlines show the movie. I do better in the spring because that’s when baseball fever starts up again.
Q: How did you get the idea to start ROAR?
A: My dad gave me a task when I got back to Rich’s. “We’re going to do a startup, and here’s what I want,” he said. “I want you to find something that’s unique, something with an Internet component, something that’s scalable. And we want something that we can market to other companies.” We looked at everything from health food stores, to different widget manufacturers. And everything in my mind kept going back to, you know, I really miss transportation. What can we do in this industry that’s really unique? A friend of mine in Atlanta was a traffic manager at the time, for Home Depot. He’s a guy who used to work with me at Rich Trucking, he worked for me in our brokerage. He said, “Bob, you really ought to look at the intermodal industry.”
Q: As an intermodal marketing company, ROAR doesn’t own the trucks or railcars. So what’s your role?
A: The railroads do so much business and they do well enough with that business that they can afford to have companies such as ROAR as their conduit to the customers. So if General Electric says, “Hey, we’ve got 20 trailers of light bulbs that need to go to the West Coast. CSX, Norfolk Southern, will you do that?” “No, you’ve got to talk to one of our intermodal marketing companies.” We are a marketing arm, in a sense, for the railroads, but we’re an independent company.
Q: Why did you open an office in Southern California?
A: You have some of the largest ocean import-export ports down there. You have the Port of Long Beach. You have the Port of Los Angeles. You’ve got San Diego. You’ve got San Francisco. Just a tremendous opportunity out there. We feel that to compete there, we have to be there. To grow there, we have to be there. And in opening an office out there, we feel there’s a potential to grow our domestic business, as well as our overseas business, as well as cross-border business into and out of Mexico.
Q: Rich Products was started by your grandfather, and now run by your father. You share with them one of the more well-known names in this area. I’d imagine there’s a benefit to that, but is there also a downside or a burden you might feel?
A: There’s a pride. There’s also a responsibility. We joke sort of tongue in cheek about it, when we have a shareholder meeting. I have a lot of siblings that are also shareholders in the business. The six words we will never use, and this has been ingrained is, “Do you know who I am?” Those are the “sin” words.
Q: Can ROAR continue to thrive in Buffalo?
A: We’re always looking to grow in Western New York, because this is our backyard. This is home to us. Western New York used to be one of the three biggest centers for trade at the turn of the [20th] century. We feel this is an amazing logistics hub and we’ve got an opportunity to do some good things here.