FERRIS INDUSTRIES LOOKING TO EXPAND
May 23, 2016
Source: Oneida Daily Dispatch
Munnsville, New York -- From approximately 50 employees to 500. From 125 mowers produced in a year to more than twice that in a day. The growth of Ferris Industries is undeniable.
Now, 30 years after Dave Ferris debuted his first mower at a trade show in New York City, Ferris, now owned by Briggs & Stratton Power Products Group, is in need of expansion. The Ferris Commercial Products Plant in Munnsville is operating at full capacity, and company officials are investigating different avenues of expansion.
"Our plans are to continue to grow. Currently, we're looking at any and all operations to increase capacity in the Central New York area," said Philip Wenzel, vice president of commercial products. "Everyone in the area has worked with us and helped us grow. We've earned the right to continue and keep growing."
Before any expansion, the company has to do its homework. Company officials have been reaching out to contractors, landowners and building owners, which has led to speculation the firm will move from its site beside Stockbridge Valley Central School. Nothing is concrete as of yet, however.
Any investigation Ferris is doing in regards to expansion is "exploratory" at this point, but Wenzel expects the company to "sort it out in the next few months."
There are "no foregone conclusions that we are leaving Munnsville," Wenzel said.
While Wenzel could not offer many specifics, he made it clear that the growing demand for Briggs & Stratton products produced at the Ferris plant will require a change in the current model of production.
"We plan to have increased production ability in place starting in 2018," he said. "We'd be hard-pressed to meet customer demands if there is not some sort of change. We need to be able to expand to meet the growing need for products."
When asked how Ferris has been able to thrive in a sometimes tough Central New York business climate, Wenzel was quick to credit the 500 full-time Briggs & Stratton employees.
"I have a favorite saying," Wenzel said. "Products are a reflection of the people who build them. Central New York is a great community of people in which we have been able to acquire a workforce."
The company's success "is a testament to people of this area," he said.
Jennifer Loran, marketing and advertising manager added, "pride in craftsmanship resonates with dealers."
The manufacturing of lawn mowers has changed drastically as Ferris' operations have expanded. Laser cutters and robotic welders have replaced work once done by people. Wenzel said the advances in technology have brought a "bigger diversity of jobs" to the company.
Power equipment built in Munnsville is now available all over the country and beyond, and the Ferris brand is sold locally at White's Farm Supply's three locations in Canastota, Waterville, and Lowville, and at Clinton Tractor and Implement Company. The brand has traversed the globe with markets in Europe and Australia.
The business started in 1909 as businessman Jesse Ferris and milking machine inventor William Uebler began the Uebler Milking Machine Company. Unfortunately, by the mid-1980s, the third generation of the Ferris family saw their dairy farm customer base was dwindling along with profits.
Then Dave Ferris took a close look at another company's lawn mower and decided his company could build a better one.
In 1986, they debuted their first Ferris mower at a trade show in New York City -- and the rest is history. In 1987, they introduced the first-ever hydrostatically driven walk-behind mower, using familiar technology from their feeding machines. It revolutionized a market that until then had seen only belt-driven mowers and earned Ferris the Innovation Award at Expo '89.
In 1998, Ferris again made history with their independent suspension system, riding mower technology cushions the operator from bumps and jolts. This earned them the OEMmie Award for Innovative Engineering Solutions. Also that year, Ferris and its 78 employees at the time, moved from Vernon to their current location at the old Stockbridge Valley Central School.
Simplicity Manufacturing bought Ferris in 1999, and within six months their sales increased by 40 percent.
An additional 50,000 square-feet of assembly area was added to the facility in 2003, and Briggs & Stratton Power Products Group bought Simplicity -- along with Ferris and its other subsidiaries -- in 2004. That sale brought another addition of 10,000 square-feet to the Munnsville location.
Then, in 2007, Ferris, under the parent company Briggs & Stratton, moved into the old Oneida Ltd. warehouse on Highbridge Road in Sherrill. The facility became the warehouse and transportation center for Ferris products. Completed mowers are shipped from the Munnsville factory to the Sherrill warehouse before being sent to dealers.
Wenzel said there is a "lot of expense" in shipping mowers and equipment in this fashion, but would not speculate as to whether or not the shipping facility would remain in use or be relocated in order to cut some of shipping costs.
"We need to evaluate all things as we figure out how to expand," he said.
Briggs & Stratton Corporation with its headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the world's largest manufacturer of air-cooled gasoline engines.