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.
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 principal 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.
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, who was raised on a farm in Minnesota. 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.
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 2017 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., to share the story of how Landoll Corp. grew from a small welding shop to one of the largest independent farm equipment manufacturers.
“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.”
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.”