Volume 13 | Issue 3 | Year 2010

Hoist Liftruck Manufacturing Inc.’s roots reside in America’s toughest towns: Chicago (poet Carl Sandburg’s city of the “big shoulders”) and New York City (writer Pete Hamil’s metropolis of “tough, damaged people”).
Hoist is tough but certainly not damaged – indeed the century-old company is quite resilient – and while it may not possess the broadest shoulders in the industrial nation, it is still stockyard strong. In fact, when you listen to Vice President of Sales Jonathan Miller talk about Hoist, you get the impression that he could be describing the pugnacious middleweight prizefighter forced to move up into the heavyweight class and who then prevails after the 15th-round bell.

“We’re not an extremely large manufacturer, but we keep up with the best,” he says. “Most of our main competitors are owned by huge entities, while we’re a one-owner private company. Unlike others, we’ve been able to adjust quickly to recent changes in the economy.”

In other words, Hoist can bob, duck and weave and then deliver a Haymarket-style “haymaker” when the opening presents itself. “We’ve managed to push through and come out on the other side, where we look forward to better times, as we’ve become one of our industry’s leaders,” says Miller.

Indeed, Hoist’s products are as solid as an “Iron Mike” fist. That’s turn-of-the-20th century slang, but it’s readily applicable to Hoist’s 21st century output: The company produces heavy duty lifting equipment that ranges in capacity from 15,000 to more than 100,000 pounds. Further, products are engineered for the speed, power and durability required of any heavy industry – sort of like the company itself. Its line includes electric, LPG and diesel cushion tire trucks, diesel empty and loaded container handlers, LPG and diesel pneumatic tire trucks and marina pneumatic trucks.

That’s the bullish power. Here’s the graceful motion: “Recently, we’ve smoothly transitioned into full and empty container handling markets, and we’ve targeted environments such as rail yards, ports and container yards,” says Marty Flaska, Hoist president and owner.

True, these are tough environments, but Hoist negotiated the terrain with the industry’s largest forklifts and a revamping of previously available equipment. Efforts underscore the company’s nature: Survival means a continual reinvention of self and product.

Headquartered in Bedford Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, Hoist recently revamped its P-Series pneumatic forklift line based on the idea behind the company’s ECH series empty container handlers. The redesigned series features a modular chassis, similar to the ECH Series, which allows for containerized shipping. It saves customers as much as 25 percent on shipping and setup costs. Also, the modular design offers efficient serviceability. Bolt-on assemblies (such as fuel and hydraulic tanks) can be easily removed and replaced if damaged. And it offers more capacity and wheel-based options, Flaska points out.

The redesign is particularly beneficial to customers requiring high-capacity lift trucks in tight working environments.

Sure-footed forward motion also propels the company in new directions. “We’ve expanded beyond domestic markets and ventured into international markets,” reports Miller. “This has taken us into Canada and Mexico and provided us a strong presence in overseas markets. So far, we’ve been successful in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Australia, and success results from our new modular design and new products. Basically, we can disassemble a product, ship the parts via containers and reassemble the product on site, wherever that may be.”

This continuing international expansion also includes the opening of a sales and service office in Shanghai, China – where Hoist offers the same U.S.-made, high-capacity material handling equipment that elevated the enterprise to a leading U.S. forklift manufacturer. The company’s tagline proclaims that it takes customers products to “greater heights.” With its recent activities, the company has raised itself to equally lofty levels.

This ascension began as far back as 1893, the year the company’s roots were planted, with the Elwell Parker Electric Company – one of the innovators of electric-powered and manufactured industrial trucks designed to handle cargo and other materials. Over the years, Elwell expanded its line to include pallet trucks capable of moving cargo to various heights, thus creating the origins of the modern day forklift. The company would later factor into Hoist’s development.

The intertwining Hoist DNA includes Silent Hoist & Crane. Established in 1918 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the company produced heavy-duty material handling equipment. Its products moved most of the cargo in the port of New York in the early 1920s.

Fast forward to the 1980s, when Flaska founded Forklift Exchange, a company that bought, sold and rented used material handling equipment and provided service and parts. Flaska started the business from his house located in Chicago’s western suburbs. The company subsequently experienced tremendous growth. Why? Well, suppliers – they can’t sit still; the best of them become manufacturers. And that’s what happened with the entrepreneurial Flaska.

In 1994, Flaska acquired the rights to build Silent Hoist & Crane’s forklifts. “I purchased it from the family that started the company,” recalls Flaska.

Eventually, Flaska moved his business to Addison, Ill., where he transformed Silent Hoist & Crane into Hoist Liftruck Manufacturing Inc. (annual sales soon exceeded $40 million) and established his enterprise as the preferred vendor for high-capacity, cushion-tire forklifts deployed by clients in the automotive, steel and aluminum industries.

In 1998, to accommodate continuing expansion, Hoist Liftruck moved to its current Bedford Park location. Two years later, it acquired the Elwell enterprise (by this time known as Elwell-Parker and located in Cleveland). Subsequent acquisitions included Schreck and Autolift (2001).

During this period, Flaska also moved all manufactured parts to the Bedford Park facility, and he incorporated new CNC machining centers and robotic welding units, an advancement that represented a multi-million dollar investment. The result: Hoist’s in-house parts manufacturing substantially enhanced the quality of its products (liftrucks) and its on-time delivery capabilities.

The production facility is a 300,000-square-foot, vertically integrated operation that employees about 200 people. “As we’re vertically integrated, we accomplish just about everything beneath a single roof,” informs Miller, adding that about 85 percent of its machines are produced in this location.

The single-roof setting also houses service and administrative operations. But, as far as manufacturing, the facility divides into several departments. All provide the most efficient assembly process. “We have large welding and machine shops, and we have more than 12 highly automated CNC machines,” Miller says. “Basically, this is how it works: We bring in the steel and from there, our technology enables us to weld chassis and produce steel axles, masts, carriages, cylinders and attachments. We even produce cabs in house.”

In this way, the company produces as many as six different product series, including its Titan Series (a cushion-tie forklift line that handles between 18,000 to 22,000 pounds of product), the FKS Series (which boasts capacity that range from 23,000 to 100, pounds) and the Lazer Electric Series, which can handle between 15,000 and 100,000 pounds.

In the meantime, certain elements—such as wiring connectors, shifters, wheels, bearings, and, basically all of the elements that Hoist doesn’t need to or want to produce—are purchased from North American vendors. “All of our products are built with North American sourced parts and components,” states Flaska.

All the while, Flaska has remained a hands-on owner: It was his vision that developed an engineering team that ultimately designed new products and redesigned existing products. We’re talking about things such as the new Lazer, Titan, FKS, P-Series and Neptune liftrucks, as well as the new Empty and Loaded container handlers.

Neptune represents yet another company series update. On land or sea, this company just doesn’t stay in one place too long, and its new line of Neptune marina lift trucks (which, of course, integrate the company’s new modular design) provides Hoist customers many additional benefits, such as visibility, ergonomics, and serviceability.

But Miller isn’t too optimistic about the current marina product possibilities. But, no bother: Hoist is octopoidal (imagine entering a boxing ring with an eight-armed foe, with a boxing glove on each fist – that’s sort of like what Hoist competitors face).

“Our resilience comes from the fact that we have many hands in many different areas,” describes Miller. “This provides us a significant advantage. If one area slows down – and I think that’s happening in the marina industry – then another area picks up. We have the luxury of being able to slow down, focus on the industry sectors that are doing well, and then adjust accordingly.”

Take the military, for instance, which is one of Hoist’s major customers. “We always do well by them and they do well by us,” says Miller. “The military always has a strong budget and always needs new equipment for bases and depots around the country and throughout the world. That’s how we help.”

But that’s not to say that Hoist has latched on to a bread-and-butter customer in an all-eggs-in-one-basket scenario. Hoist is a versatile operation that has expanded its horizons. However, at the same time, it comprehends the importance of domestic manufacturing. “Within our one-roof production facility, we produce heavy duty products and we’re prepared to answer the call for the need of domestically produced equipment,” says Miller, addressing the Flaska philosophy that helps define the company mission.

Indeed, Flaska’s company is more than 100 years old, and its mission is as deep as the sea and just as endless. But that’s the space that Hoist treads: Infinity – no barriers, no limits on possibilities, no limits on opportunity.

In the meantime, Hoist’s existence is not so ethereal that it can’t ground its talents and deliver an uppercut punch to its competitors’ exposed chin.

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