Landoll Corp. is a unique success story in American manufacturing. Their portfolio of products includes heavy trailers for the towing and recovery industry, aircraft de-icers for the military and Swingmast forklifts for warehouse applications, but their foundation is agricultural equipment. Founder Don Landoll’s success is the result of seizing every opportunity to turn metal into finished products, regardless of the end use, while leveraging diversity in the product portfolio as a way to spread risk and acquire the latest in manufacturing equipment and technology.

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Landoll’s diversity has allowed his Marysville, Kan., manufacturing facility to grow to more than 900,000 square feet or slightly more than 20 acres. His guiding principle is “Quality is Always a Bargain” and while he acknowledges there’s a place in the ag market for lower priced equipment, he won’t be building it. His desire is for equipment with his name on it to be recognized as the best in its class, regardless of the application it’s designed for. That philosophy led him to a big break that helped him thrive in the decade of the 80s, when drought, high interest rates and low commodity prices claimed countless farm equipment manufacturers. 

Don Landoll

Landoll says the financial crisis in the farm economy was in the national news during that period and the negative publicity led to a huge opportunity. “FMC Corp. had a manager in the Silicon Valley, in California, where things were booming,” Landoll says he came to Kansas City to call on TWA and was in trouble for not being able to deliver product to the military in a timely fashion. So he drove across the interstate to an implement dealership, reasoning that somebody building farm equipment would be looking for more to do. He saw our product on their lot, looked at our welds and got on the phone and called me from there and asked if we would like to build PCD trailers. That’s the trailer they pull around under the aircraft where they’re unloading aluminum containers. I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to, but I’m not sure we’re good enough.’”

Landoll says the rep was persistent. “He told me, ‘You come to California and I’ll show you how we do it; I’ll come to Kansas and look at your facilities.’ We made a great relationship and he ended up spending 30 days here helping us build a prototype that got us into business with the military. We did such a good job that we won a national award that gave us important exposure.” A $43.8 million order in 1984, in the middle of the farm crisis, helped Landoll weather the storm and realize the value of diversity and seizing opportunities.

Listen to the story of Landoll Corp. in founder Don Landoll’s own words on the “How We Did It: Conversations with Ag Equipment’s Entrepreneurs” podcast.

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Recognizing Opportunity 

To trace the roots of Don Landoll’s success, start with his humble beginnings on a small farm in Hanover, Kan., and his parents recognizing an early gift for engineering. “Being the oldest boy of 8 children, they graduated me from tinker toys to an erector set at the age of 7 and I’ve never stopped building,” he says. “We had a family farm and Dad had three brothers and sisters, and the four families with 22 first cousins all lived within a mile of each other. Grandpa had a nice shop and we did repairs alongside him or Dad.” 

“I learned to weld,” Landoll says, “as a freshman in vocational ag. We had a teacher that wasn’t overly enthused about shop, but he recognized my abilities and turned me loose. When I was a sophomore, we went to Grandpa’s farm, sawed down trees, ran them through a sawmill, and built a shop to weld for neighbors. By my senior year, I actually taught hands-on welding and have been doing that pretty much for a lifetime.”

Landoll gained equipment dealership experience working for 2.5 years at the local International Harvester store where downtime was used to build various products. “They started building playground equipment, then picnic tables and later truck and trailer hoists,” he says. The senior welder there saw an opportunity to purchase a welding shop in 1963 and chose Landoll, who was not yet 21 years old, as his partner. Landoll says, “He was a World War II vet, 30 years older than me, and I’m not sure why he wanted me in the partnership. I had no money, so my partner paid cash for his half and I borrowed against my half. Since I wasn’t 21 yet, I had to borrow my half under his name and make him payments, so it was quite an opportunity. Two and a half years later, he had a chance to go back to the railroad, so he sold me his half. Since I didn’t have the ability to borrow money, he loaned me the money to buy him out. I’ve been on my own ever since. Because of that, when I’m talking to different groups, I always tell them to recognize and take advantage of your opportunities.”

Don Landoll sat down with Farm Equipment editors at the Farm Progress Show, to share the story of how Landoll Corp. grew from a small welding shop to one of the largest independent farm equipment manufacturers. 

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“We were a welding, radiator and blacksmith shop,” Landoll says and because of his experience at the IH dealership and since most farmers in eastern Kansas are diversified; he was open to a proposal to build for others. “A local factory had us build frames for campers which was the first contract job I had. Diversification is a big word in my vocabulary and it’s worked for us many times.

“The first product with my own name on it was a pickup slide-in stock rack,” says Landoll. “We weren’t the first people in that business, but were first with a high quality product. That’s when the style side pickups were first coming out and people wanted something that looked nice, so we started with quality, which we’ve never gone away from, and we sold lots of them. That product gave me an opportunity to get my name out and to fill in during slow times. You have peaks and valleys almost daily in the job shop business; it’s always been that way and always will be.”

In the early days, Landoll wore many hats, “In the first 11 years, I was everything. I was sales, purchasing, buyer, plant manager and engineer. I’m a big believer in setting attainable goals and, if you meet one goal, set another one and continually climb the ladder. When I was getting started, there was a factory down the road whose plant manager was married to a first cousin, so I had access to their shop and his knowledge. They had 200 employees, so I established a goal to someday have that many people, which was a great incentive.”

Landoll says his next opportunity came from livestock feed companies, “They came out with a liquid supplement, a nitrate-based molasses and they had to have a container to put it in with lick wheels on it. If cattle drank all of it, it would kill them, so you had to have a product they couldn’t get into. I got started when the local elevator bought my container to put their product in.  Then, we worked with Nutrena Feeds selling nationally, and took that product into Canada. We built thousands of those and that was a means of cash, with no terms and no sales commissions.”

The next expansion for Landoll came as tractor horsepower grew in the 1960s. “We’re just 30 miles down the road from Dempster, a good manufacturing company that built a lot of product for Ford, Massey Ferguson and Ferguson in the old 2-row and 4-row days. Farmers started tearing up their product and they had no desire to do better. Their sales manager had a nice dual toolbar concept and wanted to start building it. I manufactured his toolbars and he would finish and market them.” 

“In 1968, one of my friends wanted a chisel plow.” Landoll continues, “He was a great entrepreneur and farmer, so we built him the first one using an anhydrous ammonia bar that we beefed up and spread out. It was a defining moment for our company. I went to the Nebraska State Fair trying to find somebody to sell that product and picked a distributor from Kansas City who was losing their Fox Chopper line and looking to get into tillage.”



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Landoll says the popularity of that implement led to contact with a major tractor manufacturer, “Case wanted somebody to build a chisel for their stores without their name on it. We had four people come down from Case, three executives and an engineer, to evaluate our product. I didn’t have an engineer on staff; at that time, I was the only engineering part of our company. Their engineer actually voted against letting me build their product, but the other three liked our enthusiasm so they went with me and that project went well.

“We built their pull-type unit and our quality was good enough that they eventually wanted the Case name on it,” Landoll continues. “When subsoilers, V plows and coulter chisels came out they wanted to offer those products as well. So we were building four products for Case and getting orders by the box full which was huge for us. When the Case IH merger came along 14 years later, and International had the largest tillage plant in the world in Hamilton, Ont., we lost the contact.” 

Valuing Your Contacts 

Landoll has always valued his contacts in the equipment business and has a reputation for being open to giving tours of his plant and eager to see those of others in the business. He’s constantly learning from his peers, “Selling through distributors and working with the majors gave me the opportunity to get to know fellow manufacturing salespeople,” he says. "That led me to FEMA, the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Assn., and I’ve been a big supporter ever since. It’s been a great part of my life for finding friends and quality manufacturers.”

“Our goal is to build the highest quality tillage manufacturing plant in America and, if we’re No. 1 here, I say we’re No. 1 in the world. To this day, we’ve never been challenged…”

As farms and equipment were growing in size, Landoll saw an opportunity to build trailers. “Dealers needed a way to transport larger equipment,” he says. In 1970, the company was granted numerous patents for an innovative traveling axle, ground-loading trailer, which is still the backbone of the Landoll Corp. trailer line. “What made that popular is that when a dealer took a moldboard plow and tractor out for a demonstration, nobody had means of hauling them. Our traveling axle, or a low angle tilt with the trailer wheels going completely to the rear to get the payload spread out, was a perfect answer.”

A Diversified Business 

While Landoll was expanding his company, he was also growing his relationship with the FMC representative who had led him to military contracts. “At one point, when building aircraft de-icers, FMC workers went on strike,” Landoll remembers, “so he called me and said we have 10 machines half built, I want to send them to you to assemble. If you’re short any pieces, I’ll get the drawings, so you can make the parts, and get those units out the door. And I did. The second year we built 16, the third 42, and then the military wanted 391 of them. Around Thanksgiving of 1984, we received a single order of $43.8 million, and in a bad farm economy, that was unbelievably handy.

“At one point,” Landoll continues, “we were doing such a great job, FMC contracted us for all of their commercial and military orders and we ended up building over 2,000. Without a non-compete agreement we have that parts business as long as we want it. Not many people can say this, but since 1984 we’ve never been without a military contract. Building for the military daily, all our material comes in as certified; we have to have papers on the metal and a fulltime welding instructor. That keeps the quality of our farm implements high, because those products go through the same shop.”  

While the military business was developing, Landoll’s phone rang again, this time it was a New Jersey man in the towing and recovery business. Landoll says he had purchased one of his trailers used, “He said, ‘you have something our industry needs, but you need to make a few improvements on it.’ The man flew to Kansas at his expense and outlined the changes needed to sell trailers to his peers. The wrecker business has many ups and downs. He wanted a trailer with a lot of versatility, but the main goal was to haul a bus. We jumped in with both feet and ended up in the ‘Towing Hall of Fame’ with it and we’re still a leader in that industry.

“The trailer business has been excellent, because when you’re in that industry you get a lot of other opportunities,” Landoll says. His presence in towing and recovery led to supplying trailers for large rental yards. “We have one customer who bought over 500 trailers in 2 years for their own use and, if they don’t have enough capacity to take care of their customers, they call the local towing and recovery businesses to deliver containers for them. It’s amazing how many things you can hook together if you keep an open mind.”

Quality First 

While very diversified, Landoll hasn’t lost sight of his agricultural roots and his product quality has never been more relevant to his customer base. “Farmers are getting bigger, covering more ground, and there’s a shortage of labor, so the highest quality people run the planters, fertilizer equipment and sprayers. Who’s doing the tillage work? That’s the semi-retired dad or brother-in-law taking a week vacation from the city job to come and do one thing … drive! So you have to have a piece of equipment behind them that doesn’t plug up, leaves a quality seedbed and doesn’t break down because they didn’t come out to repair something. That’s how we’re successful against some of the majors; they’re willing to pay a premium for that.” 

For Landoll Corp.’s 50th anniversary, founder Don Landoll hosted a luncheon to recognize suppliers, lenders, dealers, friends and past presidents and board members of the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Assn. who helped him build his farm equipment manufacturing company and a VIP tour of Landoll’s Marysville, Kan., facility. When Landoll couldn’t find a robotic welder supplier that could meet his requirements, he built his own. Today the company has 30 welding robots. 

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What has changed is the color of the Landoll product. “Changing from yellow to blue was a big transition,” Landoll says. “It started when Sunflower, who had been owned by numerous holding companies, sold to AGCO and laid off everyone but the sales manager. Gerald Meier, Sunflower president and a good friend, was going to retire but he and his son Jamie called me and we had a couple of meetings. They told us they had some of the best tillage salespeople out there, and we had some of the best products and they could enhance them. After lengthy discussions, we hired 9 ex-Sunflower salesmen in one day. Then we had two new challenges: selling enough and building enough. We built a new shop building and were just nip and tuck trying to keep up. We’ve now built on to it three times, and bought a lot of manufacturing equipment.” 

At this point, Landoll wanted to make a bold statement that the company had enhanced their position in the agricultural market. “We all agreed maybe the quickest way was to change the color of our products. We didn’t want to go with major colors and some of our shortline friends have been successful with blue, and we had built product for them. So that’s how we picked the color blue, and the Sunflower influence turned out to be a very good relationship for us.”  The success of the Sunflower staff acquisition led to two more growth opportunities. In 2003, Landoll acquired the Drexel Forklift Product Line and began manufacturing the SwingMast line of trucks. Then in 2010, the company acquired Brillion Farm Equipment, which added a full line of tillage, seedbed preparation and seeding equipment.

“Our goal is to build the highest quality tillage manufacturing plant in America and, if we’re No. 1 here, I say we’re No. 1 in the world,” Landoll says. “To this day, we’ve never been challenged.” The additional manufacturing opportunities led Landoll to search for robotic welders, but companies that built them told him his requirements were unattainable, so Landoll built his own. “I took 3 or 4 people and we built our first big robot the way we wanted it. It was so successful that the Japanese came over here wanting to see what we had. We’ve built three since that time and now have 30 robots welding. With laser cutters, we’re a vertical integration; we bring plate and tubing in the door and ship out finished products.” 

“That’s where the military fits in well,” Landoll continues. “When we get a major military contract, we buy the best manufacturing equipment available. We built 1,785 military wreckers and the day we got done with them, we had the best equipment in America to build tillage tools and trailers. So that’s a way of getting the quality of our equipment up.” 

Landoll recognizes a challenge in the agricultural market today is getting orders. “You just don’t see many tillage products on dealer lots, so everybody’s expecting products to be instantly available when sold. That’s difficult when you consider the different sizes and product combinations. We try to stay in that 3-4 week build period, because you have to when you’re what I consider a small manufacturer. 

“The main thing is to support the dealer, and our salespeople are geared to sell quality and be hands-on in setting the machines in the field,” Landoll says. “We guarantee service and I’m proud of our Parts Distribution Center, where our goal is to support up to 40-year-old products. Nothing bugs me worse than people telling you it’s out of warranty or no longer supported. When you take care of people, it increases your resale value and when customers get ready to buy their next piece of equipment, it’ll be yours.”

Landoll sees a bright future for his agricultural division, because large manufacturers don’t focus on tillage products. “Their sales volumes are tractors, combines and planters, no matter what brand. When you look at what percent of their income comes from tillage, it’s small. So there’s always going to be a need for innovative products. Weed control is a good example right now, also high speed planting. It’s a matter of how fast you can go and still leave that proper seedbed in order for farmers to cover more acres. To sell their planters, they need people like us out in front of them, preparing that seedbed.”

Landoll’s business philosophy is quite similar to his engineering philosophy. “It’s so important to have a solid foundation, whether it’s under a house, a shop, the family, the banker or employees. We’re going to have ups and downs, but a strong foundation has always carried us. I put a lot of faith in our vertical integration and diversification; you also need common sense with that. A second thing I preach is one man’s problem is another’s opportunity. Whenever someone has a problem, usually there’s an opportunity to solve that problem, and if that fits your work, that’s a great place to start. The greatest entrepreneur in the world still has to solve somebody’s problem to be successful.”  

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January 2019 Issue Contents


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