Can a company be successful if, in its first few years of business, top wages are $4 an hour and vacations are unheard of? Can a company be successful if it hires kids right out of high school to run the business? Can a company be successful if top executives meet with a strategic planner once, and then throw everything they learned to the wind?
If the company in question is Bandit Industries Inc. in Remus, MI, then the answer is yes. Starting out just 20 years ago, Bandit sold only $90,000 worth of equipment in its first half year of business. Today, that same company’s sales are approximately $75 million. As for hiring kids right out of high school? Those same “kids” now claim top supervisor positions throughout the company.
This year, Bandit is celebrating 20 years of success, which started with a company-wide party that was held in late June. The party honored Bandit employees and management alike for the dedication and hard work that has gone into making the company a success. In celebration, the company looks back on the past 20 years, honoring its humble beginnings and remembering the challenging climb to success.
Bandit is the brainchild of Mike Morey Sr. and Dave Forquer. The pair worked together at a Bandit competitor before branching off in 1983 to start their own line of hand-fed chippers. “We just thought we could do a little better job than [the competition],” Mike explained. The pair started the business in a 6,000-sq.-ft. (557 sq m) building with no employees. Before receiving a loan from a bank, they used a credit card to buy materials to build their first machine, according to Mike.
Once a prototype of the new company’s first machine was completed, Mike set out to find dealers for the equipment. Gaining four dealers almost immediately, the company’s first order was for 14 chippers.
The first few years, Bandit focused on perfecting the products they built. In 1983, Bandit’s first machine was the 12-in. (30.5 cm) Brush Bandit chipper, which featured the Bandit slide box system. 1985 brought the creation of the 9-in. (23 cm) capacity model 86. Versions of these machines are still available today.
Current Bandit models 150, 200 and 250 are all 12-in. (brush chippers, with 18,000 in operation. These models are available with gas engine options from 65 to 130 hp (48 to 97 kW). A 9-in. chipper also is available, although not as a model 86. Current 9-in. chippers are the models 90 and 95.
Orders during the first few years were shaky. “We went through times with no orders and times with more orders than we could ever dream of filling,” said Mike. At one point, Bandit’s owners sat down to discuss whether it would be plausible to produce 20 machines a month. It was decided this was an impossibility. Looking back, Mike has to laugh at this; Bandit currently can produce 200 units a month and has produced more than 2,500 in a year.
Eventually, Dianne Morey, Mike’s wife, left her job as owner and manager of a real estate firm to join Bandit, performing human resource tasks. When she started, she said, “There must have been around 20 employees. I asked where the personnel files were and received blank stares. So I literally started the personnel office with nothing.”
Bandit continued to grow and in 1987 three important factors entered the scene: a new equipment development and two new co-owners. In equipment development, the first hydraulic winch was designed for a hand-fed chipper.
In human resources, Dennis Tracey and Jerry Morey both entered the company as co-owners coming from a Bandit competitor. “Jerry and Dennis took over what I was never good at — sales and marketing,” Mike said.
Mike described Dennis, who passed away in 1997, as a “great guy and a great competitor, whether on the golf course or going after a sale.” Of the three owners, Dennis was the most methodical. “I think we drove him nuts,” Mike explained of his and Jerry’s not-so-meticulous management style.
Jerry interviewed with a number of companies before meeting with Mike to discuss a future at Bandit. Shortly after starting with Bandit, Jerry was on the road, working on sales, setting up dealers and going to trade shows. He worked on expanding sales and marketing and adding people and products to the company.
“Our growth is a fairly remarkable accomplishment. I don’t think there’s a company in the industry that has had the kind of growth we’ve had,” Jerry said. “Essentially, as the demand for our product grew and when our capital allowed, we added on, hired more people and built more equipment.”
Since 1990, Bandit has added six new manufacturing buildings to its complex, averaging one expansion every two years. The latest building was added to produce the 1,000-hp 5680 Beast recycler.
With the continued growth, Bandit started making more money, which was used to expand the business and product lines. Enough money was eventually made to introduce the first self-propelled whole tree chipper in 1991, the model 1900 Track Bandit. In 1997, Bandit created what Mike considers Bandit’s biggest accomplishment thus far: the Beast recycler. This monster grinds hard-to- process materials including whole trees, asphalt, shingles, telephone poles, wet leaves and even refrigerators.
“We are proud of our products and innovations,” Jerry said. Bandit’s current line of products includes hand-fed chippers, whole tree chippers and grinders. Both disc and drum hand-fed chippers are available with 6 to 18 in. (15 to 46 cm) diameter capacities. Whole tree chippers are available with 14 to 24 in. (35.5 to 61 cm) diameter capacities and with engines ranging from 275 to 60 hp (205 to 48 kW). Bandit’s grinders, the Beast recyclers, come in four sizes and offer high production, smooth operation, and low operating costs.
Beyond the success of the equipment, a few other things have aided in Bandit’s profitability. Mike pointed out his decision to hire people right out of high school years ago. “That’s why we’re successful; they grew up with the business.” He also pointed out two other factors that have contributed to Bandit’s success. “One is good equipment, and two is a great group of people that make this place happen.”
Even with great equipment and employees, Mike has to admit that Bandit’s trademark mascot, a cuddly little raccoon, hardly fits the rough and tough image of chippers and grinders. Yet as soon as he saw the logo, Mike knew it was just what his company needed. Looking for the perfect character to match his new company, Mike dug through an encyclopedia until he found the word “Bandit,” accompanied by a picture of a raccoon. Immediately, “Brush Bandit” popped into his head as a catchy name for his new machines.
Mike contacted Jerry St. Andre, current owner of Grafx Central Inc., and requested that St. Andre create a sketch of a vicious raccoon, complete with fangs and bared teeth. He did as Mike requested, but also created a second drawing of an endearing little creature shyly clutching a branch between his paws. The whole company fell in love with this second image, which has since graced everything from machines to flags.
Logo in place, Bandit now needed a business strategy. As Mike explained, the company’s strategy has been simple, if existent: “everything we do is by the skin of our butt, but it seems to work.”
Jerry believes this has worked because, in the beginning stages of the company, “We had an advantage because we had a tremendous amount of experience [in the industry] … We had a lot of experience in knowing how a business is run and understanding the industry and market.”
Through the years, many things have changed in the company, but Jerry said one thing hasn’t: “Our basic philosophy of building quality equipment and taking care of the customers and employees.”
Bandit strives to see that customers are completely satisfied with their experience. “The nice thing about Bandit is they were willing to work with us,” Lorn Larson, of Larson Logging & Tree Service, said. “They’ll listen to the ideas you have. I told them we had to have an articulating tongue [on our 1890]. They’d never done it before, but they were able to engineer that for us. They’re just a great company. They listen to what the guys who are using the machinery need. That’s very important.”
Judd Hart, of J.H. Hart Urban Forestry, one of Michigan’s largest tree services, can attest to Bandit’s customer service. Hart’s company owns approximately 30 Bandit machines, from chippers to grinders.
“The customer service is superior [to other companies] in every arena, from recyclers to small hand-fed chippers. No one’s ever scratched the surface of the things Bandit does. One of our chippers broke and the salesman had one down the next day because he knew I needed it. I didn’t even have to ask,” Hart said. “Bandit isn’t just a vendor, they’re a partner. And when you’re in the forestry business, you need partners you can count on. I know that anytime I call for anything, it will be there, no questions asked.”
Dianne Morey is quick to attribute Bandit’s success to the employees. “We have gotten where we are today because of the hard work of everyone here. Because of that we have shared our profits with the employees when we were able to.”
Knowing the importance of employees to the company, Dianne explained that the company philosophy “has been to treat all employees with kindness and understanding and work with them through any difficulties they may have, whether it be personal or work related.”
Bandit’s philosophy on treating employees well is obvious. Of the approximately 300 Bandit employees, 84 have maintained a job with the company for 10 or more years. “The fact that we have very low employee turnover shows that people like what they’re doing. Otherwise they wouldn’t be here,” said Jerry.
Where does the future lie for Bandit Industries?
“Our future is extremely bright because of the markets we are in. We’re dealing primarily with recycling of green waste and there will always be a need for equipment to deal with it. “There also are great opportunities for us in foreign markets and we’re putting forth great effort to expand into those markets,” Jerry said.
To emphasize Bandit’s willingness to expand, Jerry hinted that a new line of products is being developed and is planned for introduction in 2004.
For more information, call 800/952-0718 or visit www. banditchippers.com.