In the heart of Mankato, a remarkable story has been quietly unfolding for the past 75 years.
Volk Transfer, a name that has become synonymous with logistics excellence, emerged from humble beginnings as a one-truck operation founded by Frank Volk when he was just 25 years old. Today, that operation has grown into something beyond just trucks and warehouses and is more than Frank could have ever imagined.
Though Volk Transfer is a thriving business today, it had its fair share of challenges and roadblocks along the way. This is a story of survival, growth, and an unstoppable dedication to the spirit of family business and community.
Throughout their story you’ll discover, as I did, that while opportunity and luck play a part in any successful business, it also takes a lot of courage and difficult decisions along the way.
But through all the risk-taking and decision-making, the relentless belief and spirit of the Volk family and the surrounding community made Volk Transfer what it is today. And what it is today may surprise you.
While Volk Transfer is a family business, make no mistake: it’s not the mom and pop corner store that the term “transfer” so often implies. With services offered across the country as well as abroad, Volk Transfer is anything but small.
Lest we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a trip back to 1948 where the story of Volk Transfer begins.
From a single truck to steady success
Volk Transfer, in its initial iteration, was primarily born out of two factors: means and opportunity. Frank Volk, who started the business in 1948, was a farmer with a truck who started picking up loads and hauling them for local businesses as a way to supplement his farming business. Though today we’d refer to this as a side-hustle, at the time, it just seemed to Frank to be the logical thing to do.
Not much is known about Frank’s entrepreneurial spirit but in a recent conversation with family, Troy learned that Frank was only 25 years old when he started the business.
“He was a hard-nosed businessman, even though he just had three or four trucks,” said Troy Volk, Frank’s grandson and current Volk Transfer President and CEO. “He wasn’t a large hauler by any means, but he was working with all the businesses in town. He picked up at all of those businesses and did little bits here and there. He made it a point to know everyone and pick up opportunities where they presented themselves.”
Frank started with a single truck, focusing on light freight deliveries within Mankato. Gradually, the fleet expanded to include two and then three trucks, an early sign of the company’s steady growth and the local opportunities available to the business.
At that time, Volk owned the trucks, but not the trailers, so the company acted as an agent for a Less-than-Truckload (LTL) company, Hyman Freightways. Trailers were shuttled by the company’s drivers for pick-up and delivery operations, complemented by linehaul drivers from the LTL company overnight.
Ownership remained in Frank’s hands until 1974 when his son, Rick, Troy’s father, became President of the company. Frank phased out his involvement and from there, Rick grew to four trucks and that’s where business remained steady.
Tragedy and new beginnings
By 1993, business was humming along with Rick at the helm. Then tragedy struck the Volk family.
Rick Volk unexpectedly passed away in March of that year. He was only 47 years old.
Though Troy, Rick’s son, started officially working for his father’s business in 1991, when his father passed, his mother, Carol Volk, took over as President and did her best to keep the business afloat.
The family thought the business had been running smoothly, but it became clear after Carol took over that it was going to be a bumpy ride.
“My mother was a homemaker. She raised myself and my younger brother Wade, who is five years younger than me. To that point, my mother’s involvement with the business was primarily running errands for my dad,” said Troy. “She’d bring my dad lunch or take a deposit to the bank. If there was something that needed to go down to the accounting office, my mom would take it there. She often referred to herself as the gopher.”
Troy’s pride and love of his family made this transition period even harder on him. He knew his mother was trying her best but at the time, and to some extent even now, the trucking industry was male-dominated and it made running the business difficult for her, especially with having only an outside perspective prior to Rick’s death.
Troy continues, “she had to jump in because I had only been with the company for two years. I only started driving in June of 1991 and my role at the company was limited to driving and what
I’d seen all those years going to work with my dad.”
From a young age, Troy found himself fascinated by the trucking business. It was all he wanted to do. He spent many of his childhood Saturdays helping his dad out around the terminal. On his days off from school, while most of his friends were hanging out at the arcade, Troy was riding along with his dad’s drivers, picking up shipments and delivering them to local businesses. It’s what he loved to do. And not only was he spending time in the truck and around the business, he was spending that time with his dad, whom he looked up to throughout his childhood and early adulthood. Troy never attended college, because he knew from age twelve that he wanted to go into the family business.
“I was all in,” Troy says. “I had it all planned out. I was going to graduate high school. I was going to drive a truck for my dad. I was going to get married, have kids, and I’ll be set. You know, take over the four truck operation and be happy.”
That all changed with his father’s passing. The few years that followed were some of the hardest for Troy and the rest of the Volk family.
By 1994, things had started to deteriorate for the business. Even though doing business had been difficult for Carol, there had still been some support from organizations that Volk had done business with for many years.
But when one of those main supporters had to close their doors due to bankruptcy, they went from a four-truck operation to a lone truck. Business ebbed and flowed for the next couple of years, but overhead was low; it was just Carol, Troy, and one other driver at the time. Since he stayed busy, it never crossed Troy’s mind that the business was in trouble.
That’s why in the Fall of 1996, Troy felt like the world was crashing down around him. At that time, he discovered that the business owed $150,000 in back taxes to the IRS. Nothing could have prepared him for that moment. Still a young man himself at 23 years old, he had to make a very grown up decision: let the bank close the doors to the business or fight like hell to keep his family’s legacy going.
It never felt like a choice for Troy. He was going to give it all he had to try and keep the business alive. After all, it was all he ever wanted to do. He couldn’t imagine what his life would be like without Volk Transfer in it. Not to mention, he had a wife and young son to provide for. He had to make a go of it.
As it turns out, deciding to push forward was the easy part. Getting others to have the same belief he did was the true challenge.
After the initial shock of learning about the debt, Troy set out to find someone who would give him the chance to turn the business around. Locking the doors needed to be a last resort. Every banker and accountant Carol talked to said no, so Troy got busy making phone calls and connecting with people in the community that had helped Volk Transfer along the way.
He eventually got in touch with the accounting firm Abdo, Eick, and Meyers and they confirmed the business was indeed in trouble. Rather than just throw in the towel, the people at Abdo gave Troy the tools he needed to try to work out of the situation. They told him he needed to find a banker, get a checking account set up, and line up funding. Mike King, at the time of Voyageur Bank, stepped in on the banking side. Troy credits much of his success to Mike’s belief in him.
“Mike’s one of my greatest mentors early on. He’s a great guy. My early success is probably 50 percent on Mike King. And I will continue to tell the world that,” Troy said, clearly full of gratitude for the man who believed in him all those years ago.
The gratitude that Troy feels toward those who stood with him is matched by the frustration he felt toward the people that wouldn’t give him and his mother a second chance.
“I started to get upset, to be honest, at the other people that my dad did business with for 20 and 30 years, that wouldn’t give me or my mom a second chance,” laments Troy,
The naysayers only added fuel to his fire, and with the Mankato shipping community now rallying behind him, Troy reached out to the IRS agent in charge of his situation, Ruth. He met with Ruth and told her his plan for getting out of debt. She was skeptical but offered him a deal: as long as you make the monthly payments, the doors stay open. If you miss even one, we have to shut you down.
And although you may not think of IRS agents as kind and supportive, that’s exactly what Ruth was to Troy. In 2013, many years after Troy had turned things around, Ruth sent Troy a very unexpected piece of mail.
“I got a card in the mail that said “Confidential” on the front. Anytime as a business owner you get something like that you get nervous,” Troy laughs, “but this looked more like a greeting card than business documents. I opened it up and it says, ‘Congratulations. I knew you could do it. I am so happy I gave you the opportunity and the chance, Ruth, aka, The IRS Lady.’”
The letter is one of his most prized possessions and now anytime he feels like he needs to be humbled, he pulls out that card to remember where it all started.
Even though Troy got Volk Transfer through what could have been the end of the business, it was often very stressful for him and his family. Throughout that period, when the days felt too tough to manage, Troy would visit his father’s grave and let the tears flow. He found himself at the cemetery several times a week, talking with his father, his mentor, trying to make sense of it all. His father’s mentorship and the rawness of his passing kept Troy moving forward, step by step.
It took Troy 18 months to pay off the debt to the IRS. He never missed a payment. Once that monkey was off the back of the business, it was time to stabilize and grow. Like his grandfather, Frank, Troy was always on the lookout for new opportunities.
“I had no idea what it could be. I didn’t know that. But I had the mindset and the vision for bigger things. And when I saw something bigger, I did it,” Troy says confidently.
One thing he did know is that his customers were the key to the business’s success, a lesson he learned early on.
As a new driver back in the early 90’s, Troy learned quickly that his livelihood was at the hands of his customers. If he had a day where he got five pallets to transport, he was eating that night. If he got ten pallets, he was as happy as can be. But if he didn’t get any loads to haul or he was undercut by a competitor, it was a disaster.
He knew then that in an industry ruled by price, he had to find a way to stand out. He set out to befriend his customers, truly get to know them and the pain points of their businesses, then find creative ways to solve for them. It didn’t matter what the problem was, Troy would find a way to help his customers out.
He recalls one situation where a customer needed to have trailers full of pallets hauled away, “I convinced the customer to let me put the pallets on my trailer and I’d bring it over and sort through the pallets and pick out the good ones. I’d resell the good ones and then take the bad ones to burn on some property I had on the Kasota prairie.” Even early on, he was a master of solving customer problems and finding the opportunity for his business within the challenge.
That focus on the customer and providing a local, personal experience for those he worked with not only powered him through the tough times, but continues to be the essential ingredient in what his business is today and what it will be in the future.
“Our customers love us and that’s why they keep coming back,” says Volk matter-of-factly.
Putting the customer front and center
During the first few years of operation, Frank Volk used his simple marketing strategy to create their company slogan, “You call, we haul.” It wasn’t just a proclamation of the service they offered, but also a testament to how Frank treated his customers the same as he would his close friends.
Though the slogan was changed to “Smart Move” many years later to reflect the versatility of Volk Transfer’s services, the original sentiment remains the driving force for the business. In a day-and-age when communication seems fully digital, Volk Transfer still staffs a significant customer service team that stays deeply connected to their customers.
“We are picking up the phone and calling every customer, understanding their pain points firsthand,” Troy says. “We may seem behind from a communication technology perspective, but that’s actually what makes us unique.”
While the business continues to innovate and automate on the logistics side, they’ve intentionally stayed behind the times, so-to-speak, on the customer service side.
Troy says this approach extends to every part of the business, “We want that personal touch. Even the marketing we do is very hands on rather than digital. We want our sales reps to be knocking on a door and meeting face-to-face with somebody telling our story of what we can do and who we are. We do so much with the various divisions of our company nowadays that you have to be able to sit down with somebody and be able to explain that.”
While contracts are not the norm in the trucking industry, Volk does have a few long-term commitments from customers. But even those aren’t set in stone. At a moment’s notice, someone could pull millions of dollars worth of contracts to go with someone else who perhaps undercut the pricing, so Volk Transfer has to stay sticky with their clients throughout the year. This mindset keeps the company very in tune with their customers. But that type of transience within the business also puts strain on the team. You have to perform or you risk losing that business.
Troy explains, “when we mess up, we take care of it. Everybody is going to mess up. We’re always going to have issues. It’s how you handle it after you mess up that keeps that customer. You have to own it and I think that they [the customer service team] take ownership and pride, too, in what they do day-to-day.”
Volk credits their hands-on approach to customer service with their stability and even growth during and post-pandemic. Without an intimate knowledge of their customer’s needs and the willingness to get out and meet with business leaders around the community and beyond, Volk Transfer wouldn’t be able to effectively problem-solve for businesses that took dramatic hits during the COVID pandemic.
Throughout the early days of the pandemic, while the Volk Transfer team was still adjusting to the remote work life, they were picking up the phone and calling every customer and asking about any changes they were making to their process so their driver’s and operations team could be prepared. Some customers wouldn’t let drivers into the warehouses and had set up a phone or a doorbell, they then opened a box you put your paperwork in, the customer opened the door to collect the paperwork and then slid a signed document back through the box. These extra steps were essential for keeping people safe but also for keeping the business running smoothly.
Since the Volk team was getting out ahead of customer changes, they were able to get them into their system in a timely manner and let their drivers and office staff know. Their customers absolutely loved it because they were acting as a partner, not just another business. They knew their pain points and were quick to adopt the solutions the businesses had put in place.
Being tuned into their customer’s needs during the pandemic also allowed Volk to identify new opportunities that may not have otherwise presented themselves. For example, they were able to help a local client avoid exorbitant price hikes on container shipping by setting up a hub on the docks on the West coast so they could take containers off the ship, reload onto Volk trailers and deliver them directly to their customer rather than going through the multitude of middle-men that had inflated costs due to overwhelming demand.
Volk Transfer also goes the extra mile to help customers who operate seasonal businesses or businesses with clear ups and downs throughout the year. The Volk team acts as an extension of those seasonal businesses and is ready to step in on a moment’s notice to help out with their unique logistical challenges.
Just as Volk Transfer stays dialed in with their customers, they also stay plugged in to the community. “I want to keep as much business local as we possibly can without hindering the growth of our business,” says Troy.
While they also deal with national vendors for many of the necessities that keep their business running, Volk is also committed to keeping business local. When the trucks are fueling up in town, the fuel is always bought at Freyberg Petroleum off of 3rd Avenue and they still have an account at C&S Supply for parts and tools. Even their trailers come from North Central Utility, just up the street in North Mankato.
Celebrating 75 years
As the company marks its 75th anniversary this year, it’s not just about longevity; it’s about the evolution that shaped their identity. The journey wasn’t without challenges, including supply chain disruptions, but the commitment to their customers remained unwavering. It’s this partnership with local and national businesses that has sustained them through decades, creating a sense of loyalty that’s hard to replicate.
There’s no doubt that this multi-generational family business has had its ups and downs throughout their history but the longevity of the business speaks for itself: they’re here to stay.
We recently sat down with President and CEO Troy Volk and their Marketing Manager, Carrie Flanagan, to talk about how they are celebrating this important milestone.
Connect Business Magazine (CBM): Volk Transfer was a title sponsor for Rib Fest this year. What drove the decision to do that?
Troy: We knew that we wanted to do something big for our 75th anniversary and we wanted to not only celebrate our team but also the community at large. So we were going to ultimately have some type of a large community event where we had Greater Mankato Growth, local businesses, friends, family, customers, and vendors, that kind of thing. Our initial thought was to do it here [at the Volk Transfer offices], do it all in one night, invite everybody, and do that kind of thing. And then as we were brainstorming, Carrie came to me and said, “Well, what do you think of something like Rib Fest?” We were going through all of the costs associated with having the event here, and when she approached and said that, and I’m thinking, “Oh, I don’t know, but let’s go down the path and see.” Before you know it, here we are, we’re the title sponsor of Rib Fest. We brought everybody on different nights and had a great time.
CBM: What other things have you done to celebrate your 75th anniversary?
Carrie: We started out our year-long celebration with employee engagement. Early in the year, we sponsored a Minnesota State University, Mankato hockey game. We took all of the employees to the game, and we had shirts made with our player’s (the Troy R Volk Men’s Hockey Endowment scholarship recipient) name on the back. We’re also doing a lot of giveaways for our team members throughout the year that celebrate the people who’ve helped us get to where we are today.
Troy: One of the biggest things we did to celebrate was to have a 75th-anniversary logo designed. We printed it on signage for the office, and it is on the front of the building. We also had it printed onto mugs, apparel, and some other fun things like BoomCupz, a tumbler with blue-tooth, portable speakers.
CBM: How many employees do you have at this point?
Carrie: We have 67 full-time team members.
CBM: How else have you stayed connected to the community?
Troy: A while back, we started the Chuck-A-Puck event with the Minnesota State University hockey team to raise money for the Troy R. Volk Men’s Hockey Endowment Fund. That fund is now up to about $300,000, and each year we’re able to give a full scholarship to a men’s hockey player. So that’s a very special thing for us and is a way for us to stay deeply connected to the community and the university.
Carrie: Like most businesses, we get asked a lot for our support. Sometimes we will donate financially while other times we get involved by in-kind donations. We are passionate about all the events, organizations, charities, and non-profits we support. I have to say last year’s Boy Scouts Drag Race was something new and a lot of fun. Each business was asked to create their own pinewood derby car. Being that we drive 18 wheelers here at Volk, one of our employees created a truck and trailer out of the supplied materials to fit the weight requirements. Our truck wasn’t the best, but it was unique and represented our business well. We have also been engaged in United Way, Echo Food Shelf, FOCP, Kiwanis Holiday Lights, Miracle League, Day of the Dead, to name a few.
The future of Volk Transfer
Reflecting on the challenges Volk has faced, Troy’s journey from purchasing a struggling business to leading a thriving logistics enterprise has been shaped by adversity and opportunity alike. The once modest trucking company, rooted in Mankato, has evolved into a comprehensive logistics provider, driven by Troy and the rest of Volk’s leadership team’s vision and unwavering commitment to excellence. The spirit of growth and innovation that Frank embodied in 1948 continues to shape the Volk Transfer narrative.
With a keen eye for opportunity, Troy’s growth mindset has fueled the company’s expansion. From its modest origins, the business has since transformed into a national and international player, serving customers from coast to coast and abroad.
The growth hasn’t just geographical either, it’s also been cultural. The company has shifted from being a mere terminal to an integral part of their customers’ teams. “We’re an extension of their team,” Troy emphasizes. This mindset enables them to adapt to changing dynamics, offering solutions that are ahead of their time.
For Troy and his team, innovation is more than just a buzzword; it’s a way of life. Adapting to changing technologies and customer needs, they’ve embraced an era of digitization and efficiency. From integrating customer changes into their system to streamlining operations, innovation has been a driving force behind their continued success. “We’re not that small family business anymore,” Troy acknowledges.
With a growing list of different divisions within their business and continued physical expansion in the area, it’s hard not to notice how much of a juggernaut they’ve truly become. In the Fall of 2021, Volk purchased a building in North Mankato, which grew their warehouse space by 60,000 square feet. Another 84,000 square foot addition was just completed, making the space ideal for their expanding fulfillment and distribution business.
The current Volk Transfer organization has several core divisions with many sub-divisions within each. The core divisions include: Local, Over-the-Road (OTR), Logistics, Warehouse, and Fulfillment.
One of the fastest growing divisions is fulfillment and warehousing. Often, businesses that do not have a warehouse (or sometimes even an owned manufacturing facility) need a third-party fulfillment partner and that’s where Volk comes in. The old belief that you had to have a warehouse attached to your manufacturing facility is falling by the wayside. With the number of co-manufacturers on the rise, companies are desperate to find warehouse space and a fulfillment partner. These customers have products shipped straight to Volk’s facility where they warehouse, fulfill, and ship orders.
Along with growth comes a lot of big questions. Especially when it comes to what’s next for Volk Transfer. “We’re at a crossroads right now for the size we are and the size we’re going to be in the next couple years. We’ve made some recent hires that are going to put us on the big map,” says Troy on the company’s future.
Troy Volk has now been leading Volk Transfer for longer than any other leader in its 75-year history and he has no plans to slow down anytime soon. He believes the company is still in growth mode and he wants to keep pushing the company forward as long as he can.
When asked about the future of Volk Transfer, Troy had this to say, “We want to continue to grow the business and we are definitely in growth mode. We’re pushing forward and crossing each year and goal off the list. Our next phase will be adding $20+ million of revenue within our global LTL and Logistics divisions by utilizing our new sales initiatives and recent hires.”
Between a newly acquired refrigerated transportation company, the ever-expanding warehouse and fulfillment business, and value-added services such as having a food-grade facility and retail compliant labeling, it’s easy to see that the future of Volk Transfer is just getting started.
A business, a community
From Frank’s can-do attitude and community contribution to Troy’s innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, the history of Volk Transfer continues to write itself.
With each twist and turn of Volk’s journey, you can see a reflection of our community’s evolution, too. The history of Volk Transfer acts as a poignant window into Mankato’s past, encapsulating days gone by as well as the potential for our future.
The company’s growth under Troy’s leadership, coupled with its innovative strategies, paints a picture of a dynamic tomorrow. This energy radiates not only within the company but spills over into our community.
Trucking and Logistics 101
Throughout this article, we used terminology specific to the trucking and logistics business. While you don’t have to be a trucking and logistics expert to enjoy the story we wanted to provide you with a brief primer on some of the key terms we’ve used and that are important to the Volk Transfer business.
Local Delivery: Local logistics and delivery refers to operations focused on short-distance transportation within a specific region or metro area. This division typically handles the delivery and pickup of goods, often utilizing smaller trucks or vans.
Over-the-Road (OTR) Deliveries: The over-the-road (OTR) division of a trucking and logistics company specializes in long-distance transportation between different cities, states, or even countries. OTR drivers operate large tractor-trailers, covering extensive distances and delivering goods across diverse geographic regions.
Logistics: The term logistics refers to planning, coordinating, and optimizing the movement of goods throughout the supply chain. This involves managing various aspects such as transportation, warehousing, inventory management, order fulfillment, and distribution. The logistics division aims to ensure the efficient and cost-effective flow of products from suppliers to end customers.
Warehousing: Perhaps the most straightforward, warehousing refers to the storage and management of goods before they are transported to their final destinations. Warehouses serve as centralized hubs for inventory storage, order processing, and distribution. These facilities may provide services such as inventory tracking, picking and packing, and even value-added services like labeling or assembly.
Fulfillment: Fulfillment as a service handles the process of preparing and shipping orders directly to customers. This division is closely connected to e-commerce and drop ship operations and often involves picking products from inventory, packing them for safe transport, and coordinating the final delivery to the customer’s specified location.