Another in Illinois Review's ongoing series about Illinois-based manufacturers -
UNIVERSITY PARK, IL - Every manufacturing company has to have tables, workbenches, carts, hand trucks and storage cabinets to create products and keep the shops organized. They are so rudimentary to manufacturing, that these items are often overlooked and taken for granted.
But the leadership team at Brennan Equipment and Manufacturing Company is very aware of all of those hardy utility items because they and almost 80 others design and make Little Giant products in Chicago's south suburbs.
Terry Thomason, the company's General Manager, Pat Bowden, Engineering Manager of Brennan Equipment, Jim Reschke, Sales and Marketing Manager, and E-Marketing specialist Ashley Benjamin insist that each team member is crucial to the company's continued success.
Little Giant products are made of welded steel with powder-coated finish. Whether in standard sizes or custom made, the Little Giant's durable products built in University Park are sold exclusively through dealers and distributors.
One of the team - sales manager Jim Reschke - has been with the company for over 30 years. He started working for the Brennan family business before they acquired the Little Giant Brand in 1979.
Reschke's longtime job of organizing and photographing the company's products for its annual catalogue continues to be at the heart of Brennan Equipment.
But equally important is the team's creative thinking that keeps Brennan Equipment ahead of its competitors.
"We stay ahead of the competitors with innovation and electronic distribution channels," Bowden said. "We engineer smartly to make a cost-effective product."
"We're always developing our product line to work smarter and safer to reduce employee costs," General Manager Terry Thomason said. "Ergonomic products that make it easier on the employees tend to be high in demand. We develop items that reduce employee wear and tear."
And once Little Giant products are made, they last for years and years.
"Our products generally don't wear out," Thomason said. "Our work benches are made to hold 10,000 lbs. They're in a line of products made for manufacturing, not for personal use. "
The in-house construction of Little Giant items involves assembly, fabrication and welding, Bowden said. They use both robotic and manual welding during construction. Learning that art often takes 12 to 18 months, and Brennan trains young workers to weld, along with other assembly tasks.
Networking has made it easier to gather the items they need for production.
"Through TMA we've found some good Chicago sources for some of the components we need," Bowden said. "We like how TMA has a way to type in what you need into their website, and it brings up the sources that could supply what they need to complete their utility items."
And then team member Ashley Benjamin has the task of building the company's brand via the Internet and social media.
"My job is to build our company's brand name, get our products out there and get more of our products into the distributors' websites," Benjamin said. "It's important that we use the terminology that our customers understand, and then make it easy for them to navigate the website and find what they need."
Jim Reschke, who has overseen the company's annual catalogue development for decades, now is adapting to a modernized web-based presence in addition to its previous hard copy presentation.
"We have to stay one step ahead of the game," Reschke said. "Our product is a leading indicator as to how the economy is doing. When business starts picking up, our products are the first clients begin buying. On the other hand, our products are the first to stop when an economic slowdown is developing."
But for Brennan Equipment, designing, developing, producing and distributing Little Giant products are all about teamwork.
"I'm an engineer by training, so I like to build things, I like to see things from imagination, and then out on the floor, and out in the marketplace," Thomason said. "It's about solving customer problems, creating something that can fit a need. To me, that's fun."
"I'm responsible for product development," Bowden said. "My job is to keep us competitive and moving forward."
And for Jim Reschke, the task ahead is the new catalogue to introduce new products the company's developed to their distributors and customers.
"We need new products, we need copy and specifications, we need photography, we need printing, pricing and more," Reschke said.
And Ashley's job is to get the information easily accessible and recognizable on the web.
The point is the Brennan Equipment team works together and that's the way it works best for them and most importantly, for their customers. That type of company organization requires a unique amount of cooperation, trust and leadership.
"It's different perspectives basically," Thomason said. "We get together and its open conversation - it's not a right or wrong - it's different points of view. We just try to get on the same page. That makes for the best possible product."
Used by permission of Technology & Manufacturing Association, Schaumburg, Illinois