Douglas Dynamics LLC

Douglas Dynamics LLC

 7777 N. 73rd St., Milwaukee

Industry: Snowplows and related equipment

Employees: About 250 in Milwaukee, 200 in Maine and 100 in Tennessee


Contractors, landscapers, commercial property owners and people with large driveways depend on Milwaukee-based Douglas Dynamics LLC to build reliable equipment for snow removal.

The company designs and builds snowplows and related accessories under three brands – Western, Fisher and Blizzard. Douglas Dynamics’ headquarters is on Milwaukee’s far northwest side, where it builds all of Western’s plows. It also handles limited Western and Fisher production there.

“Western is the best known brand (in Milwaukee),” said Jim Janik, president and chief executive officer of Douglas Dynamics. “We are the largest (manufacturer of snowplows) in the world, with our three brands, in light truck applications.”

Western, Fisher and Blizzard make plows designed for vehicles between an ATV and super duty truck in size. Most of their systems are designed for half ton to one ton trucks, which encompasses most truck designs.

Each different brand and model of truck needs to have a different mounting system designed for it, so Douglas Dynamics three brands makes hundreds of different products, Janik said.

“A half ton truck from GM might have a different axle capacity than a similar truck from Ford,” he said. “And the truck frames are very different from Ford to Chevy to Dodge to Toyota, and also between the different weight classes. We’ve got at least 200 different vehicle-specific mounts, and we have to design and manufacture them when (customers and dealers) want them.”

The company’s engineers have to cope with both the range of trucks that Western, Fisher and Blizzard plows are attached to and the great pressures they are put under, Janik said.

“Plowing is a very destructive activity,” he said. “When you’re hitting curbs and posts at five to 15 miles per hour, you have to make sure that airbags deploy or don’t deploy when it’s necessary or not. And we have to design the systems so they’re strong enough, but don’t go over the truck’s weight ratings.”

Douglas Dynamics has about 250 employees in Milwaukee. It also makes Fisher snowplows in Maine, where it has about 200 workers, and Tennessee, where about 100 workers make Blizzard products. Each of the company’s facilities is about 150,000 square feet.

Douglas Dynamics consolidated all of its engineers and designers in Milwaukee, moving some from Tennessee and some from Maine, in early 2008.

The Milwaukee plant has been able to maintain a higher level of production within the same footprint by rearranging its production and transforming its operations with lean manufacturing principles, Janik said.

“Lean, for us is not about cost savings,” he said. “It’s about the ability to ship and react to the market at a better pace.”

The company builds a large portion of what will be sold in peak season during off-peak times, and responds to seasonal demand during peak season.

“That’s when lean really kicks in for us,” Janik said. “(In the busy season) we ship orders for fewer dollars, but more unique orders. If a customer calls and says, ‘I need something in two days,’ we ship it to them within two days.”

Douglas Dynamics’ 2009 sales will be about the same as its 2008 sales, but the company believes it will see moderate improvement in 2010.

“We believe that we’re at the very bottom or at the beginning of the next cycle,” Janik said.

However, the economy is presenting the company with some opportunities. Douglas Dynamics expects to hire about 40 new employees in late 2009 or early 2010.

“The labor pool is as good as it’s ever been,” Janik said. “There are very talented people now looking for a home.”

The company recently purchased a 45,000-square-foot building at the intersection of North 73rd Street and West Calumet Road, just south of its headquarters and manufacturing facility. Early next year, it will open as a distribution center for all three of Douglas Dynamics’ brands.

For 2010, the company is also working to expand its distribution, both domestically and internationally.

“We have a great depth (in the domestic market) but there are a few states that are strongholds for our competitors,” Janik said. “And we’re looking at sales opportunities in China. We’re exporting some product to China now, but not a lot.”

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