For the immigrant pioneers carving out lives in the Utah mountains and plains, survival was often reduced to one common denominator: water. Max Ericksen’s ancestors were among the first to realize the importance of irrigation in Utah. Yet it was Ericksen who transformed a survival instinct into a successful business by founding Orbit Irrigation Products.
Ericksen began in the 1950s as a distributor of sprinkler and plumbing products. In the late 1970s, his company developed a proprietary line of irrigation products. A reorganization of the company occurred in 1986 and two divisions were created. The first, Pro-Mark Distributors, continued the distribution business and the other, Orbit Irrigation Products, Inc., handled the irrigation business.
“The Orbit mission is three-fold,” says Michelle Blackburn, a company spokesperson. “We exceed the needs and expectations of our customers; we manufacture innovative, quality products that conserve and manage water resources; and we improve the lives of our associates.”
Currently Orbit employs more than 400 people, and has turf and retail sales representatives in every state of the United States and in Canada. Orbit has regional distribution centers in Arizona, Florida and Canada. In 1996, the company consolidated from three locations in Clearfield, Bountiful and North Salt Lake City to a new facility in North Salt Lake City. In August 1996, Orbit acquired Arizona Mist, an outdoor misting system manufacturer.
Alliances for Quality
“Orbit uses several strategic alliances and partnerships in its effort to supply the best product at a reasonable cost to the consumer,” says Blackburn. “Our strong alliances with three injection molders ensure that high-quality parts are delivered while costs are controlled. Orbit’s engineers meet regularly with suppliers to review mutual objectives and jointly develop cost-saving initiatives.”
According to Blackburn, Orbit manufactures products to meet every watering need. The company offers products for underground irrigation systems that are specific to different climates. It produces anti-siphon or in-line valves, which are used depending on the region. Also available are automatic rain shut-offs for areas that experience a lot of rain; and drip-irrigation (retrofit microwatering, an Orbit innovation) products to help conserve water in very dry climates. “Orbit manufactures a full line of hose-end products to meet the need of every consumer, from watering hanging baskets in a patio area to a large garden area that requires seasonal watering,” adds Blackburn.
Its Utah location has given Orbit the ability to test products under real conditions – everything from the Wasatch Mountains to the blazing deserts down south, from the freezing cold winter nights to blistering summer days. Also, by strategically placing its warehousing facilities to meet the growing demands of the business, Orbit saves both time in getting its products where they need to go and money in shipping costs. These locations also allow the company to easily maintain control of inventory.
The Innovation Channel
“Orbit continuously explores innovative ways to better manufacture high-quality products,” says Blackburn. “If there’s a better way to do something, we want to discover it. In fact, suggestions from Orbit associates are often implemented based on their experience. The associates at every level of the company are heard. They’re the experts in the job they do, and we rely on their input and knowledge.”
In marketing, nothing creates skepticism like a hollow slogan. At the same time, nothing builds a brand better than a slogan put to action. In Orbit’s case, “conservation through innovation” is more than words, as evidenced by the company’s many technological firsts, all of which contribute to both water and dollar conservation. The conservation-green-earth approach in manufacturing and marketing makes Orbit one of the broadest, most innovative and most reliable lines of irrigation products available.
“Orbit’s innovative, driven state of mind keeps us on the forefront of technology,” says Blackburn. “We want to be the first one to introduce something new into the market. Yet even as products become more technologically advanced, we want to be sure that they remain very easy to use.”
Numerous Orbit products have become industry standards. The company was the first to introduce the WaterMaster sprinkler timer with remote control to the retail market. The WaterMaster timer is the first ever to allow the convenience of controlling a sprinkler system from up to 200 feet away. It saves time and prevents the need of running back and forth to the timer when making adjustments or repairs.
Orbit also introduced drip irrigation (derived from Orbit’s microwatering line, DripMaster). This type of watering system conserves water by taking it right where it needs to go, to the plant. It is most often used for watering individual plants, flower pots, hanging baskets and small, hard-to-water areas.
Also, Orbit’s SunMate hose-end line recently introduced the Ultralight line of watering nozzles, so-called because of its lightweight aluminum construction. The heavy-duty aluminum withstands extreme conditions while maintaining the light weight that characterizes aluminum products.
The WaterMaster timer, which combines a battery-powered electronic timer and valve, is still a featured product in Orbit’s line. The timer connects right to a hose faucet, and a wire remote accessory can be added to move the timer to a more convenient location. For the ultimate in convenience, the WaterMaster enables underground sprinklers, microwatering products, hose-end sprinklers or patio mist cooling systems to be operated from a hose faucet.
“Servicing our customers on time is a top priority for Orbit,” says Blackburn. “In order for Orbit to continue to grow, our customers need to remain pleased with our performance.” According to her, many consumers from across the country have written to express their gratitude and appreciation for Orbit products.
One consumer from New York writes, “I have installed your new six-station timer with remote control following what were clear and explicit instructions. The unit is an extremely useful response to the problem of sprinkler adjustments and aging legs.”
Consumers often send comments regarding the ease of use of Orbit products. One writes, “I just finished installing my system. I really like the new Saturn II gear-driven heads, they are very easy to adjust. Also, I’m a real believer in using your automatic drains in every low spot. They work very well, and they certainly go a long way toward preventing damage from freezing weather.”
Consumers have also commented on Orbit’s help with understanding its competitors’ products. A recent email: “What a wonderful experience I had today! I had a problem understanding the wiring diagram in a competitive timer, I called your 800 number and my question was very quickly and courteously answered. Kudos to Orbit!”
“These may seem like minor messages from individuals, but to us such satisfied customers are what we’re in business for. Orbit cares about its customers and associates,” says Blackburn. “Customers inspire us to constantly strive to create something that’s new and advanced, to use less water to do more.”