For over 40 years, Fisher Barton Blades has produced some of the best lawn mower blades for the agricultural industry's leading outdoor power equipment manufacturers.
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Shane Bonner, President of the company, talks about the innovation, technical and production experience, and strength of partnerships that have continuously driven them forward, allowing them to effectively “cut” through the competition year in and year out. Steve Engelhardt reports.
Fisher Barton Blades is part of Fisher Barton Group, a corporate parent of eight different independent divisions that began in 1973, and yet the company represents the flagship branch, and signifies where the greater business began. “Our founder Dick Wilkey built our company upon a reputation of innovation and turning what was a humble lawn product into something more,” says Bonner.
Based out of Watertown, Wisc, with an additional facility in Fountain Inn, S.C., the company is positioned in a way that they can effectively handle the strong demand of lawn and turf care equipment from the Midwest and Southeast regions of the United States. With over 18 patents registered, the products manufactured at the company’s sites are truly an outcome of the continuous innovation and dedication displayed by the minds at Fisher Barton. “We consider ourselves a global leader in most of the blades we design and produce, with internal and external quality levels that exceed our OEM and end consumers’ expectations,” he says, adding, “Second to none, our blades don’t fail, and when you’re dealing with a safety critical product, that element is very important and is something our customers have full confidence in.”
Turning to Science
Bonner says that in many of the top lawnmowers available out in the marketplace, one of the key differentiators is found in their cutting system, and Fisher Barton Blades invests strongly into its products to ensure that they are providing the best possible. “We invest extensively into our engineering, in terms of our metallurgical and material science approach to how we design and develop our blades,” he says, continuing, “We have a lab that was built in 2011, where all of our research is conducted, and frankly has the capabilities and talent of something you’d see within a Fortune 500 company.”
Since its inception, Fisher Barton Blades’s Material Research Lab has been responsible for developing products like their patented MARBAIN® blade, a product designed for turf care professionals and industrial-strength lawn care needs. Utilizing additional patented methods of heat-treating that take the company’s austempering methods a step further, the blade presents increased hardness (48-52 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale) without the brittleness, a lighter weight with stronger resistance to bending, and lasts longer as sharpening is needed much less frequently.
“We really challenge the laws of physics when it comes to our blades, and utilize all of our resources to continuously improve their effectiveness.” He says through their leveraging of applications such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD),they’re able to understand how various designs of their blades will work in a number of different mowers, and can integrate them to see, for example, how various decks impact airflow, an important factor in lawnmowers.
Equally as important to their success are the methods and processes applied at their two production facilities in Watertown, Wisc. and Fountain Inn, S.C. The company last year relocated to an even bigger building in Watertown last year, a move Bonner says is a testament to the sustained effectiveness displayed in the production capabilities, which have allowed them to take on a much bigger portion of business.
“From a birds-eye view, our processes may seem simplistic, but looking closer, you can see we pay a high amount of attention to quality and detail,” he says. Fisher Barton Blades uses 10B38 steel in each of its products, and Bonner says that they are very selective in the supply chains they employ as to ensure they are only getting the highest quality of steel.
Outside of material excellence, the processes employed at each of the two production facilities are critical to the company’s success as well. In addition to cutting and forming mills, the company also has its own tool and dying operations, and utilizes a cellular-structured manufacturing strategy with in-line flow. “Our two facilities allow us to manufacture a product at a very high quality and in an extremely efficient manner.”
Given today’s complex world of evolving demands and compressed lead times, Fisher Barton Blades’ production prowess is key, and when catering to the U.S. market, the largest market in the world for lawn and turf care components, it’s the difference in distinguishing the leaders from the rest of the pack. “We’re very flexible and nimble in what is a cyclical market, with factors such as weather, economic patterns, and housing having a big impact on our customers,” Bonner says, adding, “Our OEM partners know they don’t have to worry at all, however, because at the end of the day, we can provide high quality products, on-time, no matter the month of year.”
He says that while the company currently enjoys a position as a leader in OEM equipment sales for the lawn care industry, the company is also closely monitoring the same markets in Europe, Asia, and regions along the Gulf of Mexico. “While these areas currently represent smaller markets and opportunities, we know that the quality of our blades can benefit users anywhere in the world and we have seen some growth in these regions that could potentially serve as additional markets for us in the future,” he says.
Amid quality products and production proficiency, one thing that can’t be overlooked is Fisher Barton Blade’s commitment to their customers and the relationships they foster through their partnerships. “Our customers are paramount to us, and our efforts in ensuring they are as satisfied as possible has led to sustained business that is beneficial to both sides.” He recalls one specific OEM who was off-loading a portion of their business in a very short time frame, and needed help transitioning in a manner that had no negative impact on their end consumers. “We teamed up with them and were able to execute an effective strategy that had them back up and running within two weeks, problem free.”
Looking at more than just words, Fisher Barton Blades also has the numbers to prove their impact on their customers. The company recently surveyed 25 of its customers on their partnerships, and received “fantastic feedback“. “We achieved a Net Promoter Score of 64 percent, far above the satisfactory range of 10-35 percent, which further validates our commitment to not just being a commodity supplier, but a dependable partner to our OEM’s,” Bonner says.
And that’s what Fisher Barton Blades represents as a business today. A concoction of innovation and reliability, supported by a dedicated workforce and a focus on the customer. “We’re more than an OEM supplier, we’re a lawn and turf care component solutions provider,” Bonner says, concluding, “when people think, ‘who can help me think outside the box and get ahead’, the answer is simple; Fisher Barton.”