The year the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial, Roy Applequist achieved a milestone of his own. In 1976, he founded Great Plains Manufacturing Inc.
The Salina, Kan., based company began with a single product—a 30' folding grain drill. Three decades later, Great Plains Manufacturing offers a range of ag implements, property maintenance equipment, a trucking line and its own credit corporation.
The manufacturing business runs in the Applequist family.
"My dad started his company the year I was born,” Applequist says. "I grew up in a factory and in an ag community. When I was 11, I started working at his factory in the summers.”
Before starting Great Plains Manufacturing, Applequist worked for eight years managing the foundry and did design work for his father's company, which manufactured products ranging from ball bearings to grain augers.
"It was a good training environment to understand how all the parts of a company fit together,” he says. "When I started Great Plains, I started in the same cement-block building my dad did.”
Applequist says he has purposefully positioned his eight manufacturing locations in rural agricultural communities across central Kansas. In total, the company has 1.25 million square feet of manufacturing capacity under roof in Abilene, Assaria, Ellsworth, Enterprise, Kipp, Lucas, Salina and Tipton.
"Having these satellite plants could be looked at as a disadvantage, but for us, our plants are in smaller ag towns that need the jobs,” he says. "We have really good workforces at our plants, and we've found some strength in having the factories separated.”
The company's two equipment divisions, Great Plains and Land Pride, have separate manufacturing facilities and research and development departments. Both research and development facilities have been renovated in the past two years.
"I started the company with grain drills because it was a piece of equipment I thought we could successfully build, and today we're the leading manufacturer of traditional grain drills in North America,” Applequist says.
The company's product offering has evolved and grown to include a range of implements designed for farmers beyond the high plains. The Great Plains line of farm equipment now consists of grain drills, planters, tillage, pull-type sprayers and nutrient application equipment.
"We're approaching row-crop equipment as a total system—field preparation, planting, chemical application and fertilization,” says Rick Hanson, Great Plains division president.
In 1999, the Great Plains division regeared after a purchase by AGCO Corporation was cancelled.
"Looking back, that falling through has turned into a positive for our company,” Applequist says.
In 2000, the company made an acquisition of its own. With the purchase of Kent Manufacturing, Great Plains added tillage equipment to its product offering.
"Without the Kent acquisition, I'm not sure we would have made a move into the tillage equipment market,” Applequist says.
The company's pioneering spirit created a line of machines that make two concepts in production agriculture successful. Today, Great Plains is known for its line of vertical tillage products and twin-row planters.
Great Plains' largest twin-row planter is 60' and capable of planting 48 twin rows (8" apart on 30" centers). The company partners with seed companies in testing the concept of twin-row crop production.
This year, the company will add to their mix and begin production of Nutri-Pro, a nutrient application toolbar.
The company's other equipment division, Land Pride, launched in 1986 and diversified the markets served by the manufacturer. Today Land Pride spans rotary cutters, small seeders, aeration equipment, dirt working equipment, post-hole diggers and zero-turn mowers.
"Land Pride has a strategic marketing alliance with Kubota to match Land Pride implements with tractors at Kubota dealerships,” says Linda Salem, Land Pride division president.
"This has been very helpful in today's soft market.”
Equipment from both lines is sold in all 50 states at 1,100 Land Pride dealers and 700 Great Plains dealers.
"A lot of times, the markets are counter-cyclical between the Great Plains and Land Pride lines,” Applequist says. "The diversification has often helped us during slow times in one division.”
To move equipment for the distribution network, Great Plains Trucking was started in 1982. Applequist says he almost immediately recognized the need to control his products' delivery.
"Most of our equipment is delivered with our own trucks,” Applequist says. "Our drivers understand our equipment and can provide really good service because they know about what they're hauling.”
A fourth division, Great Plains Acceptance Corporation, was started to provide wholesale and retail financing options for dealers and customers.
"A lot of farmers would like to use their local line of credit for input costs,” Applequist says. "Most of our dealers also carry a major line, and we also felt we needed to offer a financing option of our own.”
During the peak market in 2008, the company encountered a shortage of qualified welders for its factories. To keep up with production demand, Great Plains started its own welding training facility on its Salina campus.
An addition to the primary Great Plains location in Salina this past July was a new 113,000-sq.-ft. building, including a 40,000-sq-ft. parts center.
"We're able to provide speedy parts service,” Applequist says. "On average, 96% of parts ordered by 2 p.m. are shipped the same day.”
Included in the new building is a computerized product manual printing shop. The factory sends the printer an alert of how many machines of which models were made, and the manuals are printed on demand. The engineering department has access to edit any portion so that when the manuals are printed they are as current and up-to-date as possible.
The updated manuals are available to dealers online.
In addition, Great Plains puts an emphasis on training its sales and service representatives.
"We host our Gold Medallion Dealer service training programs in the winter for Great Plains dealers,” Applequist says. "On the sales side, we try to train our dealer salesmen on how our machines work in the field and their agronomic performance.”
Applequist says the company hosts regional trainings and field days to spread the word about its products.
A growing sales opportunity for the company is export markets. The company sells equipment in more than 30 countries. Eleven years ago, Daniel Rauchholz, who is married to Applequist's daughter Penny, joined the company as export manager.
The company currently has three overseas sales and service offices in Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria, where the main products sold are tillage, planting and seeding equipment.
Applequist's daughter Hannah is a registered nurse and is the company's corporate wellness coordinator. The rest of his family includes his wife, Donice, and their son, Gus, who is a senior in high school.
Applequist attributes the company's success to the people of Great Plains.
"We have low turnover throughout the company and are blessed with a great many very talented people,” he says.
Great Plains has diversified its product lineup and responded to changing markets, all while maintaining its focus on the customer.
"We provide a wide range of innovative, quality products with excellent customer service after the sale. We feel we offer our customers a first-class source for many of their implement requirements,” Applequist says.
Great Plains Manufacturing Statistics
- 1,250,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing footprint across eight locations in central Kansas: Abilene, Assaria, Ellsworth, Enterprise, Kipp, Lucas, Salina, and Tipton
- 33 patents
- 1,000 employees
- 1,100 Land Pride and 700 Great Plains dealers across the 50 states
- 30 export countries, including Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan
- International sales and service offices in Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria
- The company has four divisions: Great Plains, Land Pride, Great Plains Trucking and Great Plains Acceptance Corporation.
- Most Great Plains and Land Pride equipment is delivered with the company's trucking line.
- In 2006, Great Plains Manufacturing received the Kansas Exporter of the Year award.
You can e-mail Margy Fischer at email@example.com