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.”
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.
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.”
Read More from Farm Equipment’s candid interview with Don Landoll and other coverage at Farm-Equipment.com/0119:
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.”
To read more from Farm Equipment's Ag Equipment Entrepreneurs series, click here.
Farm Equipment‘s Ag Equipment Entrepreneurs series is brought to you by Ingersoll Tillage.
Ingersoll specializes in seedbed solutions. Whatever seedbed challenges you have, Ingersoll can give you the right tools to get the job done. For every tillage and planting practice, there's an ideal Ingersoll application, visit www.ingersolltillage.com.