Named as one of Inc.com's "5000 Fastest-Growing Companies" last year, OTR Wheel Engineering represents a company that has been around for a couple of decades, yet continues to accelerate through a focus on innovation and superior service.
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Jeff Williams, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the company, discusses the company’s history, offers a glimpse at a brand new product developed by them, and explains how the company’s wheels “keep moving, no matter what’s in the way.” Steve Engelhardt reports.
It was 1987 when Fred Taylor and a partner rented out a small shop in Rome, Ga., and began to manufacture off-the-road (OTR) wheels and wheel components for individuals in the surrounding southeast industrial markets. Having worked for Titan Wheel and Titan Tire earlier in his career, Taylor saw that the bigger accounts like Caterpillar and John Deere were receiving the lions’ share of servicing, leaving those in the small and mid-size range of companies forgotten and in need of help. There was a niche market available, and given his initial experience in the tire industry, he knew how to fill it.
“Fred founded the business on the model of being an integrator,” says Williams, adding, “He told companies that he would buy the tires and wheels, set up a facility near these companies’ plants, and deliver in a ‘just in time’ manner that would prevent buildup of inventory.” His philosophy caught on quickly with the smaller tier OEM’s and soon Taylor and OTR found themselves expanding at a rapid rate.
OTR’s success has continued and accelerated into today, as the company owns a sister division called Blackstone, a move that expands their product and servicing capabilities into the aerial lift business, and oversees nine manufacturing facilities spread out across North America, as well as satellite shops in China, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. What began as a regional goal for servicing a niche market in the United States, has now taken on a global identity as OTR in 2014 represents a dynamic company with an innovative spirit.
Ear to the Road
Williams says that one of the key factors in OTR’s sustained success over the years has been their ability to continuously identify not only the current needs of the tire and wheel component industries, but also where the future of each are headed. “After the economic downturn in 2009, when everyone was still hurting and trying to figure where to go next, we decided to look into an aftermarket rental products through companies like United and Sunbuilt,” he says, adding, “we also looked at the market and predicted that the next boom was going to be in power sports, like ATV’s and RTV’s, and began integrating products built around the power industry into our pre-existing lawn and garden division.” OTR quickly found success and picked up partnerships with the likes of Honda, Club Car, E-Z-GO, and more.
These two decisions proved to be instrumental in facilitating the company’s continuity as today, OTR’s aftermarket products and power sports tires and components account for 20 and 40 percent respectively of the company’s overall sales.
In terms of product specificities, OTR offers tires, wheels, rubber track, and wheel components for military-grade vehicles. Williams says that while they don’t exactly try to “reinvent the wheel”, innovation is an extremely important focus to their overall product goals. “We keep our ears to the road, and are always on the cutting-edge of new technology,” he says, adding, “when developing our wheels and tires, we always utilize foam fill technology, a two-part, sponge material that goes inside the carcass of the tire that facilitates much more durable product with a stronger integrity.”
The engineers at OTR recently developed a material called Flat-Proofing TireLiner, which Williams describes as a “self-sealing gel that is injected into the tire and prevent flats.” “A flat tire to our customers means downtime and lost revenue,” he says, adding, “with this material, if you get a nail or anything stuck in your tire, you can pull it out and the gel will self-seal again, a function that has proven to very popular with our users thus far, as you can imagine.”
Strength of Service
In addition to their product line, they have an extensive line of servicing capabilities, which Williams says is one of the company’s key differentiators. One of the areas they particularly excel in is that of the aerial lift market. “We impact the aerial lift market quite a bit through servicing tires and wheels that go on a variety of man lifts,” he says, continuing, “a lot of times these man lifts are leased and serviced by rental companies like United, who might have 20 JLE lifts and 20 Genie lifts that they service.” Williams says that companies like JLE and Genie will often charge expensive rates to repair the wear and tear of the tires and wheels on these man lifts, and that’s where OTR steps in. “We come in through United and will provide this servicing for a much lower rate, and as a result, everyone wins.”
OTR applies this same servicing strategy to their lawn and garden division as well, and have even moved to printing their phone number on the side of each and every tire out in the field. “We have found our servicing to be superior in many areas, and placing this number on the tire gives our end users a number to dial right away when something goes wrong, and al lows them to get the tire fixed right away at a better price.”
The company handles its servicing capabilities primarily through its nine wheel shops across the United States and Canada, whose strategic locations allow them to find solutions for their customers in a swift manner. “If one of these big construction company’s calls us with an issue involving, say, a cracked wheel, we will send the shop that is closest to go pick it up, fix the issue, and return it them within two weeks,” Williams says, adding, “this is achieved through our manufacturing efforts towards always having extra tires on hand, enabling us to resolve these issues efficiently and effectively.”
Williams says that manufacturing is key to their servicing capabilities, and represents yet another distinguishing aspect of the company. In fact, the company last year received a “United States Excellence In Manufacturing Award” from the U.S. Institute for Excellence in Commerce, an honor given to companies who have demonstrated a strong commitment to upholding business ethics and values. “This award just further evidences our ability to conduct business in an efficient and effective manner, while maintaining our professionalism and fulfilling our obligation to our valued customers.”
And that’s what OTR sets out to do in each and every project. Williams recalls the beginning of their partnership with Kubota Tractors, a lawn and garden company that was looking to enter into the ATV market. “They came to us and asked if we could design tires for their machines, and while it was something that had to be done from scratch, we stepped up to the challenge and came through for them with an effective product that was designed and manufactured in a timely manner,” he says, adding, “it’s something that we really like to promote about ourselves; we can come in fresh and design a product that’s going to provide a durable, sustainable solution.”
Williams says that OTR’s reputation relies on the relationships they form with their customers through their products and servicing. “Anyone can provide a tire or a wheel, but it’s our service, our quick response to emergencies, and finding solutions for companies no matter the conditions that really set us apart not just in the tire business, but as a company in general.”