In 1956, a Northwest Iowa farmer built his own PTO-powered grinder mixer. Arthur Luscombe’s invention marked the beginning of Art’s Way Manufacturing. Now, in 2023 the publicly traded company (NASDAQ: ARTW) hosts more than 140 employees across three locations — with a product line as reliable as Art’s first-ever grinder mixer.
Art’s way of doing things inspired a focused, independent and straightforward practice of equipping producers with the highest standard of manure spreaders, forage boxes, high dump carts, bale processors, graders, land planes, sugar beet harvesters, and yes — grinder mixers.
How did one farmer’s vision influence a company’s success more than 60 years later? Art’s legacy established a product line that can tackle even the most demanding jobs, a trait that powers the company’s reputation across the industry. Being known for quality remains a focus of the company, while updating efficiencies and expanding product lines mark most efforts from the last two years.
In 2020, Art’s Way welcomed David King as the new CEO following Carrie Gunnerson’s retirement after more than 17 years at the helm of the company.
“I like to think Art and I have similar outlooks,” says King when reflecting on his transition to the company. “He was straightforward, down to earth and possesses the same passion for agriculture as I do.”
The Northern Iowa native brought with him more than 25 years of experience in agriculture. He spent 18 years on the precision farming side with extensive experience in sales and marketing. Attracted to the challenge of modernizing an equipment manufacturing company, he took charge in March 2020 — the start of what would be an inauspicious time for the industry.
However, despite a pandemic and ongoing obstacles, King and the Art’s Way team have successfully grown and evolved through the challenges of the last three years.
“We refreshed our brand and overall look, gotten out of some products while not losing sight of the core products that made the company,” says King, who even amidst industry-wide layoffs was able to increase employment at its Armstrong, Iowa headquarters by 16%.
The fresh branding and improved product line accompanied several internal changes, including better support and interaction with dealers and end users. With an easier-to-use website, users can now build out equipment with options they’re interested in and immediately see a quote or list price for the product. Additional customer service staff make it easier to connect with someone with less hold time to get the answers they need.
Supply chain strategy
When considering the turbulence of the last three years, Brianne Anderson, Art’s Way supply chain manager, says two major changes helped Art’s Way navigate the volatility of the supply chain to keep providing top-notch customer service.
“When parts availability started impacting everyone, we began implementing higher minimum-order quantities with our suppliers,” says Anderson, who began her role at Art’s Way at the start of the pandemic. “Ordering less frequently leads to savings and a flexible inventory so we’ve got a bit of a buffer for our customers.”
Anderson says identifying alternate and backup suppliers has also been critical, even when parts come at a higher price. Supply-chain mapping has also helped the company become familiar with other tiers to the chain to better accommodate disruptions.
“Mapping our supply chain helps us move forward if another pandemic or a war or an earthquake happens” says Anderson. “We can have a backup plan to assess risk and understand how we can bridge that gap in the future.”
Improving dealer experience
With a goal of better supporting Art’s Way dealers, the company created a dealer council. King and others meet with the council once per quarter to solicit feedback on how they’re doing and what could be better. Using feedback from these meetings, the goal is to make doing business with Art’s Way easier for dealers.
“We’ve also strengthened our core management team,” says King. “We are focused on hiring the right people for the right job and with broader skillsets than we’ve seen in the past.”
In addition to new team members, the Armstrong location also received upgraded equipment, improving efficiency, quality and automation — upgrades that have helped the company better weather the storms of the last three years.
“Nobody expected these supply chain challenges to transpire,” notes King. “The changes we’ve made certainly helped us, but we could have solved more if we implemented them sooner.”
Anderson says Art’s Way has experienced problems sourcing parts. But to mitigate that, they look 18 – 24 months ahead in the manufacturing schedule on certain purchases and components, making them better equipped to handle challenges in the future because of the strategy they’ve implemented.
“I believe what we’ve seen in terms of supply chain backlogs will continue to be a norm,” says Anderson. “It’s going to take years to work through the enormous backlog, increased demand, labor shortages and downstream parts availability.”
To be more consistent moving forward, Anderson reports that standardizing Art’s Way processes and improving forecasting abilities will be important. With flexible stock and supply-chain mapping, they’ll also be looking ahead to risk management to lessen the impact of disruptions.
Forward-thinking and continued dealer and customer support mark the progress Art’s Way has seen despite unanticipated global challenges. Looking ahead, the company plans to continue to expand livestock and sugar beet product lines both organically and through acquisitions.
“Part of that strategy will be upgrading more of our facilities and equipment while implementing as much automation as possible,” adds King. “All the while keeping our focus on the quality we’re known for.”