The Green Bay Press-Gazette visits with people from a variety of business disciplines each week in its Saturday Q&A feature. This week, Ron Fritsch of Fritsch Equipment Corp. in the town of Wrightstown discusses the evolution of the business, product development and weathering recent low milk prices.
Q. Can you give us a brief history and description of what Fritsch Equipment does and how the business has evolved since you took it over in 1984?
A. We purchased the business from my father, Don Fritsch, in 1984. My father had been a Hanson Silo Unloader dealer since 1968. He was also a dealer for Metco conveyors.
When I first started out in the '70s I had a metal lathe, milling machine and welder. I graduated with a machinist degree from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College then worked as a machinist full time and did repair work, machined small parts and worked for my father part time. My wife, Marianne, has an accounting degree from NWTC.
When we first started, it was just the two of us plus one employee. Marianne was working in town as an accountant and also doing our bookwork. I was taking care of the two lines of equipment and repairing farm equipment.
We have since grown, and have a great group of employees. We outgrew the small building we were in and built a shop in 1989, which we've since added onto. Fritsch Equip. Corp. now carries dozens of lines of farm-related equipment including ventilation, barn and silo equipment.
Manufacturing has become a major part of our business. One of our products that we manufacture is the Fritsch Forage Facer. This piece of equipment is used for pulling silage down in bunker silos. Other equipment that we manufacture is a Hi-Dump Bucket so skid loaders can load quad-axle trucks, Poly Veyor, feed push-up plows, poly calf stalls and a front-mount 3-point hitch for compact tractors and utility vehicles.
Q. Can you talk about the development of products like the forage facer and Hi-Dump Bucket in terms of where the ideas came from and a brief description about how you go about designing and manufacturing them?
A. Ideas normally come from customers asking for a better way to get a job done. Listening to what the customer wants and their suggestions, along with our ideas, helps us to come up with new and better products. We have a great group of people to work with. I had the opportunity to show our products at nine shows last year across the nation.
Q. What is the primary avenue you use to market your products and why? Where (geographically) have you sold your products?
A. We advertise our product through farm publications, farm shows and by word of mouth. We log all of our phone calls and ask where they saw or heard about us. This helps us decide on where we advertise. It also brightens our day when the caller says they've been told by others that "this is the best product to get." We sell our products coast to coast, Mexico and South America.
Our typical customers are farmers, both large and small. We supply them with silage facers, feed mixers, conveyors, feeding equipment, ventilation and poly calf pens. We also supply products to other businesses including landscapers, electric power plants, municipality sewage treatment plants, and fish hatcheries. Our Poly Veyor® has been used for everything from processing cranberries, apple cider, corn, beans, fish and caviar.
Q. How has the recent decline in milk prices and other commodities impacted your business — if at all? How have you adjusted your approach to the business to compensate?
A. The poor milk and commodity prices have forced farmers to cut back on their purchases. It hurts everybody. After several years of double-digit growth for us, the first two months of this year have been slow, especially our foreign markets. However, now things are starting to pick up considerably.
During the slow months we have had to make some adjustments. We have been able to have a nice supply of products made ahead, whereas, in the past customers may have had to wait a couple of weeks for production to catch up with the demand. Our advertising strategy is the same. We still plan to keep going to shows from New York to California.
Q. Where would you like to see Fritsch Equipment go in the next few years? Are you doing things today you never would have expected when you bought the business 25 years ago?
A. Fritsch Equipment would like to have more new products making businesses more efficient, not only farmers but manufacturers also. We have products in the works that will help people and the environment.
I never thought we would be shipping products all over the nation and exporting. I knew we wanted to build things, just needed to have the need arise.
Q. Anything I didn't ask you about or I'm missing?
A. I am fortunate to have been around many great mentors throughout my life. We can learn so much from our elders; sometimes you just have to ask and listen.
Originally appeared in the Green Bay Press Gazette, April 11, 2009.
Reprinted with permission.