Product diversification, manufacturing flexibility, computerized proficiency, and distribution expertise have taken Happ Controls from making joysticks for amusement arcades to creating the operating controls for snow plows. Gloria P. Cahill describes how the Illinois company adapts to new markets.
Stack the Happ Controls product catalogs and new product bulletins and you’ll have a 3-inch pile of publications with titles that name the company’s markets: Amusement, Vending, Gaming, Interactive and Industrial. The catalogs and bulletins describe the enormous collection of pushbuttons, joysticks, lamps, fuses, trackballs, steering wheels, interface kits, keyboards, monitors, coin doors, cash boxes, bill validators, and a host of parts, accessories, tools and chemicals used in those five industries.
Frank Happ, president, comments on the expansive growth of the enterprise he founded 15 years ago: “We’re proud of the fact that we’ve grown every year in profits and in number of customers. We have a large line of human interface controls for amusement games, vending machines, gaming machines, and industrial equipment. Sales last year were $42.5 million. Our goal for this year is $48 million. And we now have more than 4,000 active customers.” Tom Happ, vice president of marketing, describes the company’s 15-year history as “growth through diversity.” The founder’s son explains that, “Our core products are re-marketed to different industries. For example, a trackball and pushbutton from the arcade line is adapted for use in the interactive kiosk and museum market. … It’s an ever-changing market based on customers’ demands.”
Commenting on quality standards, Wayne Segedie, marketing manager for the amusement and interactive industries, notes, “We’re talking about a product that has been proven for perhaps 30 years and has stood the test of time, so we know it is durable and can make the transition to industrial. One example is the joystick that was adapted to control a truck mounted hydraulic snowplow.” Rich Santercola, marketing manager for vending, gaming and industrial products, provides another example: “Now we’re building for a customer a Shiatsu massage chair that will be installed in airports, truck stops and shopping centers. It has a bill validator – and leaves you feeling relaxed after the 5 minute massage.”
Origins in Diversity
Happ Controls began as Coin Controls, a British company that made coin doors for arcade machines and eventually diversified into making joysticks, switches and controls. Frank Happ was employed in the U.S. division when the company decided to sell the controls portion of the product line. At that point, Frank purchased the diversified controls division and formed Happ Controls.
Twenty years later, Happ Controls purchased the Coin Controls/Wells-Gardner coin door division – essentially reassembling the two parts of the business under one roof in Elk Grove, Ill. Operations expanded steadily, now filling 42,000 square feet in the main building, 36,000 square feet in warehouse space and 20,000 square feet in a third building used for contract manufacturing.
Facilities also include a 15,000-square-foot distribution facility in Las Vegas, Nev., which provides fast delivery to the city’s casinos. The European market is served by Happ Controls Europe, located in Kent, England. Employees in the United States total 225, including 44 people in direct sales.
In addition to manufacturing and assembling its own line of products, Happ Controls distributes an impressive line of brand-name products and accessories for use in all five industries served. Tom Happ emphasizes that Happ is an ISO 9001-certified business that focuses on quality and cost-effectiveness in manufacturing, purchasing and customer service.
A major benefit to customers is ehapp, the company’s 24/7 Internet e-commerce system, enabling customers to set up accounts, place and track orders, and review account history. Tom Happ says, “Happ is a one-stop shop. Our customers can shop anytime on the Internet, and we pick, pack and ship in-stock orders in one to two hours.”
Future in Adaptability
When asked about anticipated opportunities for growing Happ Controls’ product lines, each of the three marketers identified more than one trend. “In the last 10 to 15 years the amusement industry has evolved from small operations to family centers and large complexes,” states Segedie. “These larger locations have one supply center or use Happ Controls for 24-hour delivery. Growth will also be in kiosks, such as at airport check-ins and in-store shopping. This is an offshoot of amusement equipment – monitors, trackballs and keyboards. So we use the products we have and expand their uses. We design, build and add value to produce “Turn Key” solutions for our customers.
“Challenges and opportunities – there are a lot of them,” asserts Santercola. “Gaming is growing quickly. For example, in California, casinos are being built up and down the coast. In the industrial market there are tremendous opportunities. We can sell to numerous companies that make snowplows, lawn mowers, ice machines and kiosks.”
On the subject of products, Tom Happ focuses on the potential for custom orders. “Sometimes we have a customer come to us and say, ‘Just make it.’ Our engineering department uses a 3D solid modeling program to design products. For one customer, this technology enabled us to design a kiosk control panel, and all the approvals were made using only the drawings. This allowed us to quickly get into production without building a prototype.”
Tom Happ’s view of the future includes corporate expansion. “We have to look at the last five years to see where we’ve been and to see where we’re going. Additional growth will also be in sales by acquisition of companies that make like or similar products and by growth in our product diversification.”
As CEO, Frank Happ views the future in terms of the people at Happ Controls. “Our growth has been and will continue to be through the efforts of our excellent staff who work very well together. A company is, after all, a collection of people working together toward one common goal of success. Most of our executives have been employed with Happ Controls for nearly ten years. Happ Controls will continue growing via diversification and acquisition.”The future is bright and Happ is in Control.