VIEW FROM THE TOP
AM: Tell us how KINZE Manufacturing started 40 years ago.
JK: In 1965, after a stint in the U.S. Army Reserves and a few jobs at implement dealers and automotive shops, I opened a small repair and custom metal fabrication shop in Ladora, Iowa. At age 21 I borrowed $3,500 from a local bank and put $500 down on a 1,500-square-foot building and spent $3,000 on tools and equipment for the business. One year later I hired my first employee and began custom projects, such as building machinery to meet the specific requests of farmers. A few years later I started re-powering tractors with larger engines. For example, we would take a tractor with 140 hp to more than 300 hp.
This work took me all over the Corn Belt and led to KINZE's first "claim to fame" â€" a two-wheeled cart to haul grain. This was the first successful grain auger wagon with giant tires (5 feet tall and 2 feet wide). The larger tire was great for flotation and was the same type used on combines. As harvesters got bigger and faster, we made the grain wagon bigger and faster to keep up the pace. Today all grain auger wagons have tall, wide tires.
Now based in Williamsburg, Iowa, our corporate offices and manufacturing facility occupy more than 20 acres under roof, and encompass engineering, manufacturing, warehousing, sales/marketing and administration. In addition, KINZE employs more than 500 people.
AM: What are your primary products?
JK: Giant grain auger wagons have been a continuous product for more than 30 years. But in 1975 we began a new market by re-pioneering folding row crop planters for easier hauling and transporting in response to a customer who asked for a planter that would fold horizontally. This was the first project that I took on with just an idea in mind.
The grain wagon is a niche market and comprises less than 10 percent of our sales, while row crop planters are 90 percent of our sales. We specialize in planters, and we manufacture twice as many types and models as all the other companies combined in regard to number of rows, formats and models. For instance, we manufacture planters ranging from 12 feet wide to 90 feet wide.
AM: How do you stay ahead of equipment needs and trends?
JK: I am a farmer at heart, and I plant anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 acres of my own land using KINZE's freshest ideas and product improvements to continually bring new technology to market. To stay ahead of the curve, I personally go to the field with new models of planters and wagons to monitor the needs and trends of today's changing cropping practices.
I am there during planting and harvesting â€" the phases of farming that utilize KINZE products. In addition to doing field research I listen to dealers and customers, and if there is a problem, chances are I am already aware.
We seem to have a pretty good pulse on the wants and needs of today's farmers and custom operators. In fact, you'll probably see even more evidence of this with some of the new innovations we're planning to launch during our 40th year.
AM: How do you competitively market against major equipment players?
JK: The main reason KINZE can maintain a competitive edge against major equipment manufacturers is because the company is privately held. We can react to change quicker than the others. When we see something and like it, we don't have to wait for someone up the line to say yes or no. We have the ability to do what needs to be done to succeed.
In addition, we set out several years ago to differentiate our products from the majors. A large selling point for KINZE products is that they are engineered right here in Iowa and are manufactured to a high degree of accuracy because of automation. Also, we have one of the largest powder coat paint systems in the industry, which is a process that most majors don't use. Even with this technology the cost of a KINZE machine is often lower than majors' but with every bit of quality in the components.
KINZE also has a great dealer network with some 300 dealers in 30-plus states. Our traveling representatives call on the dealers across the country in seven major territories. KINZE also utilizes hotlines for dealers, service and parts distribution, as well as a Web site with dealers-only and customer components.
Another reason for our success is that 90 percent of our employees have roots in agriculture. The workforce is made up of hard-working Midwestern people who take pride in their work. They are very interested in building a piece of machinery because they are farmers themselves and appreciate what it takes to be one. AM