Amerequip Equipped for Growth

as published in The Business News

Amerequip is on the cusp of significant growth that will include additional employees, a substantial addition to its Kiel, Wis., facility and positioning the company as a partner who can take concepts through the entire continuum of design, engineering, prototype, testing, manufacturing and shipping.

The designer and manufacturer of custom equipment for the lawn, landscape, agricultural and construction markets has significant experience in the agricultural market, but they are far more than a commodity manufacturer.

"We are well situated to take a concept from the napkin and through all the stages, and to bring highly engineered products to the market for our customers," said Mike Vander Zanden, presiden and CEO.

That's a nod to the company's core competencies including laser forming, welding, final paint and assembly as well as the front-end engineering, in their entirety.

"We really look at ourselves as a one-stop shop for our customers and partners," he said.

Those customers are on board.  The company anticipates a 25 percent growth revenue in 2014, a combination of improved economic conditions and new business.  Thanks to their confidence in Amerequip, original equipment manufacturers (OEM's) contracts warrant the company hiring 60 people in 2014 (with 23 more already on board by mid-January), in roles from the manufacturing side to the office and administrative side of the business.

Collectively, the employees comprise the workforce that is so adept at responding well to custom requests with an agility most bigger companies with their capabilities just can't.  "We can act as an extension of a large OEM; our flexibility and responsiveness provides the greatest value and we earn their confidence in the process," Vander Zanden said.

Though often referenced for their backhoes and mower decks, that's only the beginning.  Amerequip is not only a one-stop shop from a capabilities perspective, but customers also look to them to be the experts in some of these fields.

"When we meet with customers, we look at where are their needs and what are their pains, and what value can we bring to them.  Bottom line, we're here to help them solve problems," Vander Zanden said.

Not surprisingly, the company has some very long-standing relationships with customers.

"We strive for extreme customer service and care, flexibility and responsiveness, caring for them better than anybody else," said Timothy Dorn, vice president, sales and engineering.  "We're focused and execute at a high level for a limited number of customers."

In addition to increasing their manufacturing footprint with additional staff, the company is also growing its physical presence.  A 70,000 square-foot, $5.6 million addition to its Kiel plant should break ground in March.  The addition will enable Amerequip to consolidate its manual and robotic welding operations into a single, state-of-the-art facility.  In turn this will free up space at its New Holstein plant to grow fabrication and machining capabilities.  They are hopeful the Kiel addition will be completed by September.

Amerequip has been working closely with key members of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and local City of Kiel officials on the business expansion.  The state has approved job creation tax credits up to $216,000.  The City of Kiel has created a tax incentive district (TID) and, as part of the agreement, will make certain investments valued by the company at more than $600,000.

With the expansion, Amerequip is doubling its manufacturing floor space (excluding paint and assembly) and consolidating all weld operations from New Holstein into Kiel.  In doing so, it's freeing up floor space in New Holstein to grow fabrication, machining and welding operations.

"It's very exciting that we're not only investing in new technology but also better positioning ourselves for what we anticipate will be a 55 percent growth in revenue between 2014 and 2015.  This will allow us the ability to grow and expand efficiently and cost effectively," Vander Zanden said.

Everyone, from the buildings and grounds person to the assembler and machinist takes ownership in the company.  "The products here are painted an labeled with the OEM's colors and decals," Dorn said.  "Everyone wraps their arms around the fact that we cannot compromise our customer's reputation because what leaves here, leaves with our name on it."

While Amerequip is not employee owned (it dissolved its ESOP in 2011), it operates as a family, and Vander Zanden refers to it as "the Amerequip family".

"Our reason for existence is to hire high-character people, create a better standard of living, open doors and make a difference in the community," he said.  "We want the business to be an employer of choice and to make a difference in people's lives."

Operating as a team has led to wonderful longevity among the staff; in the last three years, seven people retired with more than 40 years of experience each.  New hires go through an extremely rigorous and thorough process.

"We spend a great deal of time in hiring and onboarding through a very disciplined process to find individuals who share the values and have the character we're looking for," Vander Zanden said.  "We can train anybody to do any of the functions we have.  We cannot teach them to smile, have a positive attitude and communicate.  When we bring new people on, it's a celebration."

At the end of a new employee's first week, their goal is for that person to believe that choosing to work at Amerequip is the best decision they've ever made, and one they've made for life.  "We sincerely believe that it's all about the people," he said.  "If you focus on and care about the people, the business will be successful.  This is the mindset we've adopted over the past six years, and its provided rewards and successes."

Employee empowerment is a fundamental component of a happy work family as well as Amerequip employs the use of several cross-functional teams.  Whether they're working on a piece of capital equipment or designing and developing this expansion, everybody is involved.

"We often talk about accountability being side to side and up and down here," Dorn said.  "We're very transparent.  I don't like surprises, and I don't want any of our family members surprised, either.  So, we emphasize communication and involvement by all."