Ariens Corp. makes walk-behind lawn mowers, riding lawn mowers, garden tractors, garden tillers and snow blowers. From precarious beginnings, the company’s American-style success story is a lesson in turning around adversity.
“My great-grandfather Henry and my grandfather owned another business, Brillion Iron, but lost it to the Depression,” said Dan Ariens, chief executive officer and president at the power equipment company. “They took a lathe, though, from that company before the bank got there and they used it to start making tillers. That got them going on Ariens.”
The two officially founded Ariens Corp. in 1933 in Brillion, Wis., about 25 miles south of Green Bay. The company is still located in Brillion, but it now employs 800 people who work in a 650,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. The factory houses necessary machining, stamping, laser cutting, powder coating, welding and assembly operations, Ariens said.
“When my great-grandfather and my grandfather founded the business, we were all about making tillers,” Ariens said. “We did that for about 15 years and then along came the war. Like most manufacturers we were turned into a plant to help the war effort.”
Ariens was awarded the Army Ordinance Award for crisis manufacture of shell casings and other materials for World War II battles. But after World War II, Ariens Corp. turned its attention to becoming a manufacturer of power equipment. It now makes equipment for consumer and commercial use under the Ariens and Gravely brand names.
The Ariens family prides itself on being one of the first manufacturers to introduce a riding lawn mower. Ariens introduced its mower in the early 1950s. Three consumer products, the Jet Tiller, the first consumer rear tine tiller, and the Imperial riding mower, helped establish Ariens as a major manufacturer of lawn and garden equipment. In the early 1960s Ariens introduced a two-stage snow blower. Once again Ariens was one of the first to market with its snow blower.
Now Ariens Sno-Thro equipment, the company’s line of snow blowers, is available in a variety of models and sizes ranging from single-stage consumer to deluxe professional models. Ariens lawn and garden equipment now includes walk-behind and zero-turn mowers, yard tractors, string trimmers and tillers. Products made under the Gravely name include two-wheel tractors, zero-turn mowers, walk-behind mowers, out-front mowers, riding lawn tractors and chippers. The company makes equipment for both residential and commercial lawn and garden care.
Acquisitions Expand Product Lines
Beginning in the 1970s, the company grew through acquisition. In 1974, Ariens acquired the New Holland Company’s lawn and garden division, which helped Ariens further develop its lawn and garden tractor line. In 1982, Ariens purchased the Gravely Company, of North Carolina, which made its first Gravely tractor in 1916. The companies merged operations under the Ariens name at the Brillion facility.
In 1995, Ariens purchased Stens Corp. That company, headquartered in Jasper, Ind., has provided aftermarket outdoor power equipment parts since 1969. It now boasts seven distribution centers in addition to the Jasper headquarters. When Ariens bought Stens, Dan Ariens took over as president. In 1998, Dan’s brother Peter Ariens succeeded him. Peter continues to run the business in Indiana. Stens provides parts for more than 12,000 machines used in the outdoor power equipment industry. Distribution is through a number of outdoor power equipment dealers and distributors. More than 50,000 customers in more than 40 countries use Stens parts. Stens employs about 120 people who can fulfill customer requests within 24 hours, Ariens said.
Mowers for Home Owners, Professionals
Ariens’ products are sold through a dealer network as well as at home center and farm stores throughout the United States, Canada and more than 36 other countries. The goal is to have dealers sell all three brands, Ariens said. The Ariens and the Gravely power equipment lines are differentiated from each other based on the type of consumers they reach, he added.
“The Ariens brand is a line of landscaping products for the high-end homeowner,” Ariens said. “The Gravely brand is designed and built for professional landscapers. The guy who is cutting lawns professionally is using Gravely.”
Spring 2003 marked the largest new-product launch in company history, Ariens said.
This is when Gravely introduced its new line of intermediate zero-turn mowers that include Kawasaki air-cooled engines ranging from 19- to 23-horsepower. Deck options include 44-inch, 48-inch, 52-inch and 60-inch cutting widths. Features include a hydraulic deck-height control to change deck height, monster tires and a shorter frame for easier fit on trailers. The intermediate zero-turn mowers operate at speeds of up to 10mph and feature a 10-gallon fuel tank. The Gravely Air-Flo deck design provides maximum airflow to expel clippings faster.
Also new this year is the residential line of Gravely@Home ZT mowers, which features engines that range from 12- to 22-horsepower. Cutting widths are available from 32 inches to 52 inches on the mowers. Features include a durable commercial grade deck, a deck-lift system and a two-year warranty.
Newly released under the Ariens brand is the Ariens Zoom mower, ideal for lawns of one-half to three acres. Features of the Zoom model include a fabricated, welded steel deck, the company’s Qwik Step deck-lift system and a low center of gravity. Engine choices include a 16-, 18-, 20- or 22-horsepower. Cutting widths for these models begin at 40 inches and range to 52 inches. The Zoom will operate at speeds of 7mph forward and 3mph reverse. Ariens has also introduced this year its new Sport-Zoom zero-turn mowers. These mowers have excellent zero-turn maneuverability to help cut mowing time. Features include a 12- or 14-horsepower engine, a 32-inch or 40-inch cutting width and operating speeds of up to 6mph forward and 3mph reverse. These Sport-Zooms are good choices for yards of one-fourth to one acre, Ariens said.
Setting the Trends
Ariens stays one step ahead of industry trends. Looking into the future, Dan Ariens sees more emphasis on zero-turn maneuverability mowers, which Ariens already provides. The company will expand on its line of zero-turn mowers in the future. That type of mower is differentiated from a tractor by its better maneuverability, which shaves mowing time, Ariens said.
“You can mow a typical yard in half the time with a zero-turn,” he said. “They’ve been around for 30 years, but new hydrostatic technology is getting more cost effective so more companies can adapt zero-turn to their own machines.”
Ariens is a lean manufacturer, which allows it to grow from within. The company is highly vertically integrated, Ariens added. And while his company will continue to grow with the times, one thing will always remain the same: the family dedication to the business, he added.