Concentrating on needs of DOTs, counties, municipalities and contractors, Winter Equipment’s systems provide practically engineered solutions for everything from highway and city snowplows to light-duty trucks.
(Winter Equipment photo)
The manufacturer of innovative wear parts for more than three decades, Willoughby, Ohio-based Winter Equipment's blade-saving technologies have become a quality standard in the snow removal industry. Concentrating on needs of DOTs, counties, municipalities and contractors, the company's systems provide practically engineered solutions for everything from highway and city snowplows to light-duty trucks.
While the municipal sector still remains the core market, Winter Equipment's emerging market over the last few years has turned to the private sector.
"We've continually tried to reach that market and have specific products coming out with our technology," said Nate Kallay, director of sales and marketing. "We traditionally are a company with a focus on government, we know how to reach that market and sell to them. We've moved to a retail market or consumer product private market. This is a very big space for us to figure out where we need to be. We have an eight-person sales staff and we've identified roughly 27,000 accounts in North America that we believe have a snow removal responsibility, so it's a challenge."
That aside, the uncertainty of the weather has always played a vital role in business operations given Winter Equipment's products are all seasonal and weather dependent. There've also been a few other trials to address in recent times. The global pandemic hit closer home with a few personnel affected by COVID-19 at Winter Equipment's offices. The company shut down for the better part of 10 weeks in the spring but ran production heavy in the summer to build up inventory to prepare for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, an ongoing challenge for the operations of the business has been material sourcing.
"We don't lack for equipment or labor force so that's never a concern, but materials are," said Kallay, stating the company has moved from sourcing domestic to global for a majority of its materials in recent times. "We moved a lot of that just to maintain the quality, but we have managed to drive costs down. It has to do with our technology, engineering, product development due to our relationship with Black Cat Wear Parts, working with its facilities in Asia to bring their prowess here to the United States at a fair price that allows us to be competitive in the market."
Founded in 1989 by Kent L. Winter, the first product at Winter Equipment was the PlowGuard. Since then the company has evolved to offer blade change packages called systems, to reduce the process of ordering, inventory and installation of parts.
Winter offers 13 such systems catering to different segments of its client base: highways/DOT, parking lots, cities/municipalities and rural/counties. In fact, the company holds 23 patents and even a trademark for the signature shade of orange you see on its snowplow blade products.
A complete line up of hard-faced wear parts for snowplows is the core of what it makes now, including guards/shoes, nuts, washers and bolts, with 90 percent manufacturing occurring in its 20,000-sq.-ft. Ohio facilities where the company employs more than 50 staff.
All team members undergo a 90-day training process, customers receive onsite training when requested and there's a 3 to 5-day instruction course for dealers as well. Winter's dealer network is small at the moment but Kallay believes that will grow and expand as more products are introduced for the private market. The company has a presence in 30 states that comprise 97 percent of its sales, including the Great Lakes region.
Among Winter's top product offerings are Razor XL and BlockBuster HammerHead Carbide Cutting Edge Systems — DOT-rated carbide cutting edge snowplow blades proven to last three to four times longer than typical carbide blades, according to the company — and the Patriot Steel Cutting Edge System — municipal and city-rated steel cutting edge snowplow blades.
"When we go to sell an account, we are not trying to sell them ‘a' product, we are trying to sell them ‘the' product that they need … understand what kind of equipment they have, what road material are they plowing and determine the desired level of surface," said Kallay on the systems sold at Winter. "Some of our systems have what's called the WearFactor to guarantee how it would perform amongst a commodity part."
The company has a satisfaction guarantee and performance guarantee on select parts and parts generally ship in two weeks.
With a focus on making parts that are more universal in nature, Winter Equipment engineered its first big product this year, the Xtendor Universal plow guard. Considering the hole pattern changes frequently on the blades when working with various OEMS, its steel alloy casting allows for easy installation and promotes the wear life throughout the entire guard, according to Winter Equipment.
The flexibility to fit a range of snowplow manufacturers ensures that fleets using multiple manufacturers can order and inventory one guard that universally fits all.
"So, whether you have a Western or a Fisher, this one part is going to fit that regardless, which makes it easier for us to sell to the customer, and we are pushing those purchases to an ecommerce online platform," said Kallay, a 13-year employee of Winter. During his tenure, he has witnessed business operations and the industry change in that time.
"The biggest difference is how we communicate. Email is the preferred main driver of contact and social media has really picked up. You wouldn't think social media would matter for a company selling industrial product to government entities," he said.
Winter has increased its email campaigns, advertising, launched a new website and now does virtual customer consults.
"We have 3D printers to create scale models of our blade systems out of plastic to send to customers," said Kallay.
These are mailed to interested parties and then meetings held virtually to explain the system's benefits.
"What Winter Equipment wants to do next season is continue to bring the technology and the quality of parts that we have developed for the municipal market to that private small truck pick up style plow market," said Kallay. "We are looking to grow and do better. What you will see from Winter Equipment going forward is instead of being a company that's sells a product, we want to be a company that sells an experience. We have a robust CRM and want to give you that level of experience when you deal with Winter Equipment." CEG