Out Working > October 2018 > Innovation: A Family Tradition

Innovation: A Family Tradition

​Dan Ariens reflects on the company's near-century of leadership and a new path forward.

When Dan Ariens took on the role of chairman and CEO of AriensCo in 1998, he represented the fourth generation of the Ariens family to take the helm. Over these 20 years, the company has committed to five core values: to be honest, be fair, keep its commitments, respect individuals and encourage intellectual curiosity. These goals keep the company in tradition with its near-century of leadership, both in the landscaping industry and in its home city of Brillion, Wisconsin.

This approach has yielded not just talk, but measurable results. AriensCo has steadily been releasing new and innovative products under the Ariens and Gravely brands that make customers' jobs easier and increase their returns on investments. The company has also expanded its community outreach through the Ariens Foundation, offering scholarships and STEM training for thousands of young Americans.

Out Working™ sat down with Mr. Ariens to measure just how far the company has come, and with the upcoming launches of RapidCare™ and the Ariens Academy, just how far the company plans to go.

OUT WORKING: AriensCo has been a leader in the landscaping industry for nearly a century. What is the key to keeping the company on a steady path?

Dan Ariens: Our five core values are crucial to maintaining our leadership, both in the landscaping industry and our community. They're pretty simple: be honest, be fair, keep our commitments, respect the individual and encourage intellectual curiosity. Being honest is about being truthful and transparent with our customers, with our suppliers, our co-workers and our community. With fairness, we're trying to make money, but to also find a win-win for customers and dealers. Commitment is about delivering on our promises to all of our stakeholders—it's the difference between "I think I can" and "I will." As for respect, we all come with diverse backgrounds, values, and ideas. And we want to tap everyone's ideas and their own intellectual curiosities to help overcome challenges and grow as a company. This leads us to deliver on our tradition of innovation.

OW: What's your take on the current market for landscaping products and its state of innovation?

DA: The whole company is built on innovation. Producing the first rear tine tillers and zero-turn mowers on the market established us as leaders long ago, and innovation is still the number one ingredient to our growth. Our philosophy is to never, ever, stop investing in research, design and engineering. We hire top talent and give them the resources they need to be creative and successful.

There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for us. The number one thing that's coming to the industry, and it's coming very quickly, is the change in the power drive system. It's shifting to batteries and electric motors very quickly. If we don't further focus on technological innovation in this area, we're going to get caught behind the curve. Other big changes on the horizon will have us integrating our mobile devices with equipment to act as smart controllers that will increase efficiencies and make using products much easier.

OW: What is currently driving change in your business?

DA: It's demand that typically drives change, but demand is always temporary. We are committed to looking into the future. Our product pipeline is primed for the next five years with new and innovative products, but we're always working behind the scenes to make products tougher and more reliable. Our factory has new, smart paint systems, for example, and integrated cellular manufacturing. We've also done a lot of work to help meet the incredible demand for our products, such as creating faster assembly systems with less waste using the tenets of lean manufacturing.

Our business will also change a lot on the service side. The introduction of RapidCare™ will represent a sea change for the industry. We're improving service and support for our dealers and customers with a whole new segment of our company that is dedicated to improving the experience of using Ariens and Gravely products long after they've left the storeroom floor. Never before has the landscaping industry seen such sophisticated and dedicated support to increasing user uptime and profitability.

OW: Speaking of service and support, AriensCo has made many moves to improve its distribution, product availability, and parts and service support. Can you give us some insight into these efforts?

DA: Companies go through step changes and it's always been a challenge of mine to have the company ready for the next major growth initiative. Companies reach plateaus, and then you have to continue to push forward. That means hiring new talent, improving infrastructure and IT systems and more. This enables us to improve our customer-facing operations. The most recent challenge we had was in delivering parts and service, as orders for our products grew faster than we could support them.

To meet this challenge, we made investments into a major building in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to add 600,000 square feet of distribution space. It's a monster building for us, and it's a monster building for the industry. We also made some changes to our inventory operations planning system and increased its internal support. We really are a much more disciplined company now because we start with a strong planning system, and from that we feed all the way out to our customers. A new online system enables our dealers to see product availability and their own order flows. We're in a much, much better place now.

OW: AriensCo has always been involved in the community. What are you doing these days to continue this legacy?

DA: Henry Ariens, the company founder, was an integral part of the community of Brillion. This is a family business, so as we've grown up, we've always felt like the community has been a great support to us. Henry instilled those values in all his sons. Now, it's really important for us to be a support for our community. Henry's youngest son, Francis, created the Ariens Foundation to provide scholarships for Wisconsin youth. We also built the first Brillion technical school, which has now become the local high school's primary shop class. We've invested US$1.2 million into creating STEM education in Brillion and almost US$2 million into the public school system here.

Now, we are about to unveil the new Ariens Academy, right here at our plant in Brillion. It will provide a highly technical space to educate and train our internal employees and dealers in servicing new products, which are full of cutting-edge technologies. It will also provide community outreach. We're working with the local technical college and will develop curriculum to help improve our community's STEM resources. We think it's a win-win for our company and our dealers.

OW: What would you like people to know about AriensCo?

DA: There are three things our customers and potential customers should know. One is that we're very well-grounded. We're 85 years strong, and that strength gives us really a good foundation to build on.

We're going to continue to use this strong foundation to develop really strong leadership for the next decade. We are in a great place with things like training and development, the product pipeline, innovation, and ongoing efforts to improve service and support for our dealers and customers.

It's really astounding to see this company growing and improving at this stage of the game. We have strong roots and our branches are continuing to grow.

By Damian Joseph

09/11/2018 | October 2018

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