Driving across Iowa on I-80, you can't miss Kinze Manufacturing near the Williamsburg exit. The showstopping displays catch the eyes of all passersby. First, there is the 60' planter extending into the air that pivots from a field planting position to transport position with a four-wheel-drive tractor grounding it. Then are the nine grain carts, ranging from a 1⁄16 scale toy to a 1,050-bu. wagon, stacked on top of each other.
However, Kinze Manufacturing and its lineup of planters and grain auger wagons stretch further than the interstate frontage. Founder Jon Kinzenbaw has grown this specialty manufacturer from a one-man welding shop into one of the largest privately held ag machinery companies in the U.S.
|A signature maker of grain auger wagons and planters, Jon Kinzenbaw, who grew Kinze Manufacturing with his inventions, is pictured in the 1970s with his wife, Marcia, and an early model of his single-axle grain auger wagon.
In 1965, at 21 years old, Kinzenbaw opened his welding and repair shop with a $3,665 bank loan and his ingenuity to ignite the business.
"I was interested in welding and repair, and I was fascinated by hardware: bolts, wire, tools, nails," Kinzenbaw says. "Then it dawned on me that mechanical things interested me. In my dad's farm shop, I had been doing some fixing for neighbors, and it turned into a welding business."
The first product that Kinzenbaw sold was a 13-knife, 30' anhydrous ammonia application toolbar with hydraulic wings that folded and could pull up to 2,000-lb. tanks.
That welding business grew into Kinze Manufacturing, which is located in Williamsburg, Iowa. The company uses 870,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space and produces planters ranging from 4-row to 36-row configurations and grain auger wagons with capacities up to 1,050 bu.
"I've always thought of the farmer first," Kinzenbaw says. "That's where my work with grain auger wagons started—from a farmer's frustration in getting corn away from the combine. He came to me and said, ‘I want big tires, and I want it to unload fast.' So I built it the way I thought it should be."
Recently, Kinzenbaw bought back the first grain auger wagon that he sold. Every wagon his company has built since that first model is a direct descendant of that wagon.
At farmers' request. The company is most widely known for its planter line, which began in 1975 with Kinzenbaw's invention of the rear-fold planter.
"The planter was a suggestion," he explains. "Farmers asked, ‘Why can't we fold a planter instead of loading it on a trailer?' So I built it and demo'ed it, and then the next year we built 20."
Currently, configurations include rear-fold, split-row planting, pivot fold, double frame and front-fold. The company offers planters with finger pickup or vacuum seed metering.
Kinze planters are sold at 270 dealerships in the U.S., and the top export markets are Australia and Ukraine.
Another business Kinze Manufacturing took on was tractor repowers. In the 1960s and 1970s, the company completed more than 200 projects. Demand for repowers faded, but Kinze restarted the venture in 1999.
Between 1999 and 2007, it repowered more than 600 four-wheel-drive John Deere tractors. The company has now concluded its repower business, but Kinzenbaw notes the repowers were a way to help many farmers who later became Kinze owners.
Lessons learned. Three years ago, Jon and Marcia Kinzenbaw's daughter, Susanne Veatch, joined the company full-time as vice president. Her role includes close interaction with chief operating officer Brian McKown, to whom all department heads report.
"I always thought I'd be here. I went to college with the mind-set I'd come back," Veatch says.
Veatch, who holds a business degree from Iowa State, brings experience from working at Caterpillar corporate offices before returning to Kinze Manufacturing. She and her husband, Ryan, who is an optometrist, moved to Iowa City upon her return to the company.
The business has involved the entire family. Kinzenbaw says they talked business, inventions and patents around the dinner table. Wife Marcia has been a supporting force and worked various jobs including payroll manager. Son Jonathan lives in Des Moines.
|Family-owned Kinze Manufacturing is led by founder Jon Kinzenbaw and his daughter, Susanne Veatch.
Many childhood memories of Veatch's involve the family business: farm shows, her father running the bulldozer for the company's manufacturing expansion projects and visiting dealers. A special memory involves a project she and her father undertook.
"In college, we built a Jeep from a wrecked S-10 Blazer," she explains. "We shortened the frame and rebuilt the transmission to be manual. Everything metal we built and welded. We used the powder coat paint system here."
It was a true partnership between father and daughter that they only worked on when they were in the shop together. A family photo with the "Wrangrolet" hangs in Kinzenbaw's office, and the Wrangrolet is stored in his garage today.
The partnership has extended into the present as Kinzenbaw has transitioned the day-to-day operations to his daughter's responsibility.
Kinze Manufacturing Statistics
- Employs about 600 people
- Has a 25-acre footprint, including the factory, offices and a training center
- Receives 5 to 7 loads of raw materials a day
- Uses 35 million pounds of steel a year
- Holds 31 patents
- Sells through 270 U.S. dealerships
- Sells products in U.S., Canada, former Soviet countries, Australia and New Zealand
"A lot of success for Kinze Manufacturing has come from the ideas of my father and other employees," Veatch says. "His love has always been the engineering, and that's where his focus is today. My strengths are the administration and business sides of things. I keep him very much in the loop with the day-to-day company business."
As the family executes the company's succession, Kinzenbaw is proud that another generation is taking charge.
"I think it's the greatest move we've ever made to have Susanne come in. I can't say enough about her coming in here and taking the bull by the horns," he says.
With Kinzenbaw refocusing his attention on engineering, he has enlarged the company's prototype shop and expanded its research efforts.
"It was never a good thing for me to sit in the office. I usually keep about 100 acres of my land to do my own work and the rest is rented out," he explains. "We've also gone south to Arizona with our research. We've got farmland that we'll plant several times with a semi-load of seed before the winter is over."
The work space for the engineering department and prototype shop now totals more than 100,000 sq. ft.
As Kinze Manufacturing looks to evolve the technology to optimize farmers' productivity, the company is conducting more focus groups and
doing extensive market research.
"The goal is to minimize the farmer's input cost with accuracy and agronomic science," Veatch says. "We are charged with coupling what the farmer wants with technology and iron."
The company recognizes the diversity of options farmers demand in their planting machinery. As an example, Veatch cites the preference for finger technology or vacuum technology.
- Jon Kinzenbaw plants 100 acres of his own farmland for testing purposes.
- Totaling more than 400 units, Kinzenbaw has an extensive collection of antique tractors—many of which he's restored himself.
- In Williamsburg's 2007 Fourth of July parade, Kinze Manufacturing displayed 150 years of corn planting history, ranging from a wooden hand planter and a horse-drawn, one-row planter to a modern 90' planter.
|Near Williamsburg, Iowa, Kinze Manufacturing occupies a 25-acre footprint with offices, a training center and production facilities.
"When you have two ends of the spectrum in terms of customer needs, you have to meet both. Overall, we are looking at opportunities that will be a factor in that next big yield bump," she says. "Our rich history of innovations will ensure Kinze will be a major player moving forward."
Kinze formed a partnership with Ag Leader Technology in 2007 to introduce the Kinze Vision system. The technology builds on the Ag Leader Insight platform to offer control and mapping with Kinze planters. Operators can control electronic seed monitoring, variable-rate hydraulic drive and air-actuated, single-row clutches for manual or GPS auto-swath control with a single touch-screen display.
"Moving forward, we are surrounding ourselves with people who are experts in their fields—whether that is computers, electronics, air and vacuum technology or other areas," Kinzenbaw says.
Kinze Manufacturing adds value to its dealer relationships with an expansion of its training programs.
At its dealer meeting in 2007, the company held the first full-scale event in its recently completed Product Training Center. Located on the Kinze Manufacturing campus, the building includes a showroom that is large enough to display examples of every Kinze model in production. Classrooms are equipped with computers that are hooked up to Kinze monitors. The training center houses dealer, customer and company events and training sessions.
Veatch says the company achieved a record year in 2008. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the coming crop year and beyond, she says Kinze Manufacturing will continue its quest for information and further open up the dialogue with customers.
"We have my dad's inspiration for everything we do as we head into the development of new products, innovations and technology," Veatch says.
You can e-mail Margy Fischer at email@example.com.
- February 2009