Chairman and CEO Dan Ariens Chats Gravely AXIS™, Re-Entering the Compact Utility Loader Market
As Gravely continues to grow, the brand has recently announced its entrance into the compact utility loader (CUL) industry with both diesel and gasoline models being announced later this month. We can expect to see the new diesel CULs in dealerships this winter, with the gasoline models coming later this spring.
The exciting news comes after AriensCo purchased the outdoor equipment manufacturer Thomas Equipment based in Beechwood, New Brunswick, Canada from A-L Parts Inc., the creators of a powerful mini skid steer line, which will be branded Gravely.
AriensCo Chairman and CEO, Dan Ariens took some time out of his day to sit down and chat with us about all things Gravely AXIS.
This isn’t the first time AriensCo/Gravely has gotten into the compact utility loader market, right?
D.A.: Here’s a little story about Gravely, the Gravely brand, and how we expanded that brand after we purchased Gravely in 1982. We always saw the Gravely brand as a wonderful and terrific high-end professional brand. In the early days of that - the early and mid-90s, before 2000 - we launched a product called the Skid Steer. It was a mini skid steer bucket, multi attachment product.
We didn’t do so well with it. Our product was good, but it wasn’t great. We had some problems with production, but the skid steer was a product I’ve always had a lot of passion for. I’ve always liked that product. In fact, I have three that I still use at home. So, when the Thomas acquisition came along, for me, it was a natural extension of where Gravely is now. So, I’m excited about where this is going. We’re ready for an exciting launch. I’m excited to have this product back in the family of Gravely.
Why was Thomas Equipment and the Gravely brand such a great fit?
D.A.: Thomas Equipment have always been innovators. They’ve done a lot of contract manufacturing for other brands. Many of these brands would get started by asking Thomas to build them a vehicle on a platform they had and then Thomas continued to offer their own brand as well. However, the challenge with contract manufacturing is once the scale gets big enough, the manufacturer goes off and does their own thing.
Thomas is a good fit for us because we basically combined everything together. The owners were able to continue to work with us, but then move on with a retirement after the fact. What appealed to Thomas was we could give them some real scale. We could buy engines, we could buy steel tires, the hydraulic systems, etc., because the Gravely and the AriensCo scale was able to get us affordable supply chain componentry.
Now, transitioning the whole thing into the United States from Canada will be a significant move for Thomas and that’s another reason why this a good fit for them. Where they’re located is a challenging location. It’s difficult to ship in and out of northeast Canada. Great skills up there but difficult logistics.
How did the purchasing Thomas Equipment go, in your opinion?
D.A.: Well, the conversation on the Thomas acquisition was actually quite quick as acquisitions go - less than six months. I had conversations with Larry Weyers (AriensCo President and COO) where we talked about the possibility and then we talked to the owners. Within three months, we had a letter of intent and within three more months, we had the acquisition completed. So, it was great.
Plans are in place to move production of the compact utility loaders from the Thomas Equipment facility in Canada to Fayetteville, Tennessee. Why Tennessee?
D.A.: The Tennessee location, overall, for the Gravely brand is a terrific location. The majority of our growth is going to come from Texas to Florida and the southeast corner of the Tennessee Valley and south. That’s where the market's growing. That’s where the population is moving to. So, putting Thomas there is a perfect location. Not to mention easy access to freeways to help with distribution.
With the re-entry into the compact utility loader industry, will Gravely step deeper into the machinery world?
D.A.: Where our product line goes from Thomas is going to really depend on the customer base we serve and that’s both our dealers and landscape contractors, the professionals using the product. When we give them a terrific product in the Gravely AXIS, we have to see customers come back to us and ask us, ‘Can you do this?’ ‘Can you add that?’ ‘I need you to provide this.’ That’s why it’s a great partner with our dealers. If our dealers are taken good care of, the professional is going to want to use that dealer for more tools, more products, more things they can do, work with, and make money on.
Want to hear more from Chairman and CEO, Dan Ariens about the back story on the Thomas Equipment acquisition, logistics of the manufacturing move from Canada to the Tennessee facility and more? Check out the full interview here.
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