On Feb. 6, 1998, a young TIM PENNER received a phone call and dinner invitation from the CEO of the public company Owosso that owned DewEze Manufacturing. Penner asked if there was anything specific to talk about, the CEO said no, he and the company’s chief operating officer (COO) just wanted to have dinner with him. Penner thought they were coming for one of two reasons: to fire him or transfer him. He didn’t think the CEO and the COO would fly from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to tell him he was doing a good job. Turns out it was neither scenario.
They had decided to sell the company and if Penner wanted to buy it, they had a plan for him to do so. They were surprised when Penner said, “That’s great, I’ll do it.”
Owosso did not want to sell the business to another business primarily because DewEze was diversified—they were involved in the manufacturing of agriculture, hydraulics and turf equipment. That would have meant splitting the company and they didn’t want to do that to the employees.
Penner now serves as president of Harper Industries, where he started with DewEze Manufacturing in 1991 and where he says he always wanted to be a part of ownership. That is why Penner gives his management staff employees the opportunity to be shareholders—he believes you make things happen as a team.
Penner is often asked ‘Where did you get such good people?” Maybe he’s just fortunate, but people are what make a company. You can attribute the growth of Harper Industries to its employees. They started as a $5 million company and today they’re a $25 million company. Success like that doesn’t happen without great employees—it’s a team.
Harper Industries recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. In 1969, the start date of DewEze Manufacturing, the goal was to move hay better. Dewey Hostetler, a local entrepreneur, built the Hay MoBale and other useful tools in handling and feeding hay. The DewEze product line has grown and expanded over time.
Harper Industries products are now distributed worldwide. The Ag & Hydraulics Divisions span throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Turf Division’s most popular product, the TV40 turf vacuum, features Harper’s patented Recirculating Air System which is a popular choice to clear leaves and debris. The TV40 is distributed worldwide, particularly in the U.S. and Southeast Asia.
The company is also celebrating the acquisition of Butler Beds of Bixby, Oklahoma. All production of Butler Beds, a simplified version of the DewEze bed, will be moved to Harper. With the acquisition, Harper Industries will likely produce several thousand beds a year. The DewEze brand and Butler Beds brand target two different segments in the market.
Where does a company that has grown 500% over the last 20 years go from here? The goal is to grow another 25 percent over the next three years. Harper Industries has also identified four growth initiatives—the four areas they need to be most strategic in. Their ultimate goal is to increase revenue and jobs in rural Kansas. Each year, Harper Industries donates 10% of its profits to charity. Through increased revenue Harper Industries wants to give back more to the community and employ more people.
They’ve also identified product innovation and distribution as a growth initiative. They want to be as e‑ective as possible in sales and marketing. Harper Industries has a go-to-market strategy—they want to grow through their dealers.
Efficiency and employee engagement are their third and fourth initiatives. It’s easy for them to tie product innovation and distribution to increased revenue, but they firmly believe that effciency and employee engagement correlate with that and are equally important. Each initiative has a cross-functional team of five to six employees from different departments. Most of the teams are made up of people who would never regularly work together. They’re building relationships and trust while making improvements to the company.
Harper Industries may be one of the nation’s leading producers of agricultural, turf and hydraulic power equipment, but the people who make up the company are also having fun. Every Friday the service department welcomes Harper Industries employees to the local pizza parlor, where they brainstorm and come up with some wild and crazy ideas.
The suggestion to blow up a giant hay bale sparked a creative April Fool’s Day prank that reached more than 3 million viewers across social media. Terry N. Tugwell (also known as TNT) gave a video testimonial about the best way to “distribute” hay at the touch of a button. Harper Industries continues to reach millions through their creative YouTube videos each year. Tugwell reprised his role as an innovative rancher in 2019 in the “BeefCake Cotton Candy Edition” video.
Check out these videos and more at www.youtube.com/ user/HarperIndustries/featured.
It was evident in our time spent with Penner and Harper Industries that the employees are the company’s greatest strength and No. 1 asset. Penner’s story should motivate and inspire. “Go for it! You make things happen as a team,” Penner says.
Wheatland Member Since 2007
151 E US Highway 160, Harper, KS