Lexington-based Clark Material Handling Co. is known worldwide for its forklifts and other manufacturing equipment. But it's not always the latest and greatest model of a forklift or pallet jack that attract eyeballs at the company's dealers. It's often the pink ones.
The company has been one of the strongest supporters of the Lexington affiliate of breast cancer group Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Taking their passion beyond just a check, Clark employees began producing limited-edition pink pallet jacks, which are used to move pallets of goods, and offered them for free to dealers and customers who gave $1,000 to the breast cancer organization.
"They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars over time and are unsung heroes," said Mary Allison Belshoff, executive director of the Susan G. Komen affiliate in Lexington. "I can't get over how wonderful they are."
For Clark, the strong connection to Susan G. Komen began in 2007 as the company was celebrating its 90th anniversary. With hundreds of guests coming from around the world, the company decided to highlight its past philanthropic efforts. It opted to continue helping numerous groups but decided to make one of its assisted organizations a focal point, said CEO Dennis Lawrence.
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Susan G. Komen was ideal, Lawrence said, because a lot of people at Clark care deeply about the fight against breast cancer.
Human resources manager Sherry Myers said several spouses of staffers are breast cancer survivors and sadly, just a couple of weeks before last year's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, one of the company's employees lost a daughter to the disease.
As it began its quest to help Komen, Clark had the idea to paint the pallet jacks pink. Today, about half of the company's dealers have a model in their showrooms.
"The goal is for them not to use it," Lawrence said, explaining the device is there to raise awareness and funds in each of those locations. "Everything we do is based on seed money and seed thoughts."
Myers said the company absorbs the costs of producing the pink equipment and shipping it. "It's our contribution to get a thousand dollars for Susan G. Komen," she said. "That's our seed."
And the interest has spread. Some of the company's dealers have painted forklifts pink. Among them is Valley Industrial Trucks in Youngstown, Ohio.
"With any rental income we received on those, we donated a portion of proceeds back to Susan G. Komen," said President Jim Hammond. "It was a big success within our dealership."
Hammond said the support of Susan G. Komen has a personal touch for the dealership, as one of its employees died of breast cancer in recent years at the age of 41.
The company has joined with Clark on a number of fund-raising efforts since, and he said he admires the Lexington company's dedication.
"It says a lot about their character and their willingness to give back to their local community and support their local people," Hammond said. "And it says a tremendous amount about their company."
The pink-painted equipment is far from Clark's only contribution to the Susan G. Komen affiliate locally.
The company held a cookout in its industrial park to raise funds for the affiliate, as well as an internal cornhole tournament. Clark also frequently holds jeans days, in which employees donate $5 to Susan G. Komen to wear jeans to work.
Clark's Korean parent company, Young An Hat Co., also lends it support by manufacturing collectible hats, most recently cowboy hats, that the organization sells, Myers said.
And Clark's race team members go beyond just raising the traditional funds. Myers said the company sells sponsorships on its team T-shirts. And there are plenty of those shirts made, as the company typically has 80 percent of its 100-person Lexington workforce, plus their families and friends, in the race. The company also often has some of the 40 employees from its Louisville parts facility come in for the race, Lawrence said.
"We even have suppliers and vendors come in on their own dollar to join the team," Myers added.
And the suppliers, dealers and customers all know what to expect.
"We never miss an opportunity to hold our pink cup out to them," Myers said. "They know when they come into town to bring their checkbooks."
Susan G. Komen's Belshoff complimented the company's creativity in raising money.
"They don't leave any market untapped or any angle," she said. "They're not only trying to raise money for Komen but are raising awareness for cancer education.
"There's no telling how many lives they've been able to save through sheer awareness."
For Lawrence, the variety of efforts is essential.
"Anybody can write a corporate check and say it makes me feel good for a day," he said. "I'm not diminishing that, but we try to get more people involved and spread that encouragement ...
"This isn't two weeks we do running up to the race. This is something we do 12 months out of the year."