Uline has nearly doubled employment in five years

Unick to discuss massive expansion at M&A Forum


Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:03 pm

In the past decade, Uline has moved its headquarters from Illinois to Pleasant Prairie and taken on a massive expansion totaling 5.3 million square feet of distribution and office space in Wisconsin.

Most of the company’s growth has occurred in Pleasant Prairie, with two 1.1 million-square-foot buildings on its corporate campus and several other facilities in the LakeView Corporate Park. The shipping, industrial and packaging materials distributor has grown from 2,841 employees in 2011 to more than 5,000 employees today.

And Uline has done it all without taking on any debt.

Liz and Dick Uihlein, founders of the 36-year-old, privately-held family business, have led the rapid organic sales growth at the company.

Uline’s Expansion into Wisconsin

July 2006

Uline adds first building in WI with 602K sq. ft. distribution center in Pleasant Prairie

January 2008

Uline announces plans for new corporate HQ in Pleasant Prairie

December 2009

Uline moves into new 1.1M sq.ft. Pleasant Prairie distribution center

June 2010

Uline moves into new 276K sq.ft. Pleasant Prairie HQ office building

July 2013

Uline relocates former Eagan, MN branch to new 649K sq. ft. Hudson, WI location

December 2013

Uline expands into new 256K sq. ft. space in Pleasant Prairie’s LakeView Corporate Park

July 2015

Uline adds additional space in the LakeView Corporate Park with new 521K sq. ft. facility

February 2016

Uline moves into second 1.1M sq. ft. distribution center  on Pleasant Prairie corporate campus

August 2016

Uline to complete new 14K sq. ft. conference center on Pleasant Prairie corporate campus


Uline to relocate former Waukegan, IL branch to new 800K sq. ft. Kenosha, location


Uline to move into second HQ office building on Pleasant Prairie corporate campus


Frank Unick, chief financial officer at Uline, will discuss the lessons the company has learned along the way at the 2016 BizTimes M&A Forum on April 21.

Increasing product offerings and grabbing market share have driven Uline’s dramatic growth, Unick said. Gathering customer feedback and studying competitors has led to a catalog of more than 30,000 products.

Uline has recently entered new markets in Canada, Mexico and in additional locations across the U.S. With geographical proximity to customers, Uline can reduce their freight burden and deliver product faster, he said.

“Geographical expansion, product line extensions and then certainly for Uline, it’s very aggressive marketing—making sure we buy up keywords on Internet search engines such as Google, making sure we have a beautiful catalog that is widely circulated, buying up key lists,” Unick said. “Our business model is built around exemplary service, so word of mouth certainly helps us, too.”

One of the keys to Uline’s success, Unick said, has been its culture.

“As you grow and grow and grow, it’s so critical that you retain that culture and a huge piece of that is hiring the right people,” he said. ”We put our candidates through a number of tests just to assess their personality and characteristics.”

As Uline expands, leaders put an emphasis on communication with employees and keeping service levels high with initiatives such as assuring that each one of its locations has all 30,000 products in stock, Unick said.

They also address leadership development by assessing employees’ adaptability and skillsets through job rotation.

“We are very metric focused, so we look for people who are able to meet or exceed performance requirements in their current positions,” he said. “As a high- growth company, we have tremendous opportunities for internal promotions.”

As a private company, Uline carefully monitors its cash flow and reinvests profits in the company’s growth.

“We aren’t a public company, so we can’t lean on Wall Street and stock offerings to generate cash. So we have to make sure that we have a successful, profitable business model,” Unick said. “High- growth private companies have tremendous cash pressures, but…we’re very proud of the fact that we’re debt free.”

The Uihleins have also made succession plans for Uline’s future growth. All three of their children are active in the business, and the company has an advisory board that understands the owners’ core beliefs and strategies, he said.

The M&A Forum is on Thursday, April 21. More information and registration is available at biztimes.com/maforum.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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