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A CUT ABOVE: Schiller offers a variety of power equipment for landscaping and more

May 2015, RentalManagementMag.com

Editor’s note: Pat Cappucci has been president and chief operating officer of Schiller Grounds Care, Southampton, Pa., for more than seven years. Previously, he was at Select Comfort, and prior to that, worked with the Toro and Lawn-Boy brands at The Toro Co., Bloomington, Minn., for more than 11 years, including general management, sales, marketing and product development. Previously, Cappucci worked with 3M for nine years in various leadership roles. Rental Managemen​t recently had the opportunity to speak with Cappucci at the Southampton facility about the company’s evolution and expansion. The following is an edited version of the conversation.  

Schiller offers a variety of power equipment for landscaping and more

Interview by Whitney Carnahan

RENTAL MANAGEMENT: Schiller has over 75 years experience in lawn care. How have things changed over time?

Pat Cappucci: Schiller was established in 1938 in Philadelphia with the acquisition of the Little Wonder hedge trimmer from Detra Manufacturing in the United Kingdom. In 1938, the U.S. was just starting to come out of the Great Depression, the 
economy was getting stronger and new homes were being built with spacious front yards surrounded by white picket fences — a visual we still associate with the American Dream today. World War II started in 1939. It’s hard enough for a young company to survive its first year, but the rationing of materials like steel and rubber were especially hard on manufacturing during World War II. 

Schiller has spanned 13 presidents, numerous wars and various recessions. From that modest beginning, we have grown our business to include a wide variety of power equipment categories to serve the landscape industry for the many landscape maintenance and turf cultivation jobs that are performed by our customers. From manicuring plants and shrubs and cutting lawns to turf cultivation and debris management, there are Schiller products designed to meet the exacting and uncompromising standards of landscape professionals. All of this equipment has been constantly refined to increase personal comfort, ease of use, productivity and durability for our customers, while meeting the ever more stringent regulations set by the EPA.

RM: The company has several brands and locations. What is handled in each location?

Cappucci: The Classen, Little Wonder and Mantis brands are manufactured in our Southampton, Pa., facility, while Ryan, Bob-Cat and Steiner are based in our Johnson Creek, Wis., facility. Our Southampton facility is more of a design, development and assembly operation. We have the components manufactured to our design standards and shipped into the facility here where we assemble the machines. In Johnson Creek, we are more vertically integrated. In that facility, we also design and develop products, but we also do all of our own metal fabrication, welding, painting and assembly work on-site. Johnson Creek is more focused on our larger products, like Bob-Cat commercial mowers and Steiner tractors. Southampton is more of a high-volume facility. Looking at the Mantis brand as an example, we’ve sold well over two million Mantis tillers worldwide since the brand launched in the early 1980s. By unit volume it is our most popular product line. We run tillers just about every business day. If we did all of the component work here we wouldn’t have the ability to meet customer demand. We have a sister company locally, Germantown Tool and Manufacturing, which does a lot of tooling work for our Southampton manufacturing facility.

RM: The company has several brands and locations. What is handled in each location?

Cappucci: Rental is a very important sales channel for Schiller and a big part of our business. The percentage of sales varies by brand as we sell to the rental dealer market through both two-step distribution with our Ryan brand and directly to the dealer through our Classen, Little Wonder and Mantis brands. The Ryan and Little Wonder brands have a steep history in rental dating back before the American Rental Association (ARA) started hosting a national trade show and are the oldest exhibiting members in the small equipment category of The Rental Show, this year celebrating 57 and 56 consecutive years exhibiting respectively. Ryan, by The Rental Show exhibiting standards, is the oldest Schiller brand exhibiting at the show. However, Little Wonder is just one year shy of Ryan in rental show exhibitor standings. Mantis came into rental as a sister brand to Little Wonder in 1983 and Classen has been an exhibiting member for 25 years. Bob-Cat does some rental with mowers. It’s not a large part of Bob-Cat’s business, but it’s growing. More and more rental dealerships are carrying mowers for landscaper use when their everyday mower is in for service work. Steiner is a brand of compact tractors and tractor implements. While the tractor itself is not a big rental product, the unit’s more than 20 various implements are. A customer will purchase a tractor with a mower deck, scoop, sweeper or snow plow for general use then rent an implement like an auger or stump grinder for specialty projects as needed.

RM: How did the agreement with Sound Manufacturing come about? 

Cappucci: Sound Manufacturing originally made small truck loaders for Giant Vac® and large custom built debris loaders for municipalities with 80-hp-plus engines. When its relationship with Giant Vac ended, Sound developed truck loaders under the new brand name of Monster, aptly named for a unique impeller with teethed blades on all three edges of the blade that produces a debris reduction of up to a 15 to 1 ratio — the best in the industry. Sound had a great product, but a limited distribution area and little brand recognition to grow from. The Monster line of truck loaders at the time included 18-, 29-, 35- and 36-hp engine models as well as a 5-yd.-capacity, 29-hp self- contained unit. Little Wonder is one of the oldest brands in the power equipment industry with a worldwide distribution network. Little Wonder already had a strong debris blower and truck loader presence in the industry with a line of smaller horsepower engine truck loader models that we wanted to grow into a larger line for the brand. We met with Sound and discussed ways in which we could help each other and entered into an exclusive agreement to sell and market the Little Wonder Monster TruckLoader line. The agreement is truly a win-win for both companies. Sound Manufacturing gets to do what they do best — manufacture quality products — and we take care of the sales and marketing through our worldwide distribution network to grow market share and sales. Today, the Little Wonder TruckLoader line features a compact 14-hp model with various mount options, Monster 18-, 35- and 36-hp skid mount and tow-behind units as well as three models of self-contained truck loaders, 5-yd. 29-hp gravity dump and 10-yd.-capacity hydraulic lift units with a choice of 35- or 36-hp engines. We’ve also seen truck loader sales growing in rental. The ease of hitch-and-go makes the tow-behinds and our new self-contained units the most desirable for rental use.

RM: What do you consider to be the company’s main achievement or innovation over the last three years? 

Cappucci: New product development always is at the forefront at Schiller. Schiller brands are among the most innovative in the industry. This work is both challenging and rewarding. We’re always working on something new or making something that is already great even better for our customers. A sampling of product development over the past three years looks something like this: Little Wonder introduced a line of self-propelled blowers, entered into the residential blower market with the C5 blower, introduced the new Pro Vac SP self-propelled debris vacuums and brought a whole new TruckLoader line to the market. Classen launched several new turf care products that include the all-new self-propelled hydro turf overseeder and a reciprocating aerator. So far this year, Classen has introduced the new PRO sod cutter, which is now the industry’s most compact sod cutter, and we are preparing to introduce an all-new version of our popular compact aerator this fall. Mantis launched the XP, a mini tiller with a 16-in.-wide tilling swath. This unit has gone on to replace large mid-tine and rear-tine tillers in many rental dealerships across the country because it’s a lightweight big garden tiller you can fit in the trunk of your car. Bob- Cat introduced two lines of residential/ entry level commercial mowers, the CRZ and XRZ, as well as a new stand-on commercial mower line, the QuickCat. Ryan introduced the new Lawnaire 4 and 5 aerators with Easy Steer technology and a new Ren-O-Thin dethatcher/ seeder. Steiner introduced the new 440 tractor and numerous new attachments and accessories. There is truly no lack of innovative spirit at Schiller.

RM: Who do you consider to be your main competition? 

Cappucci: Because of our breadth of product offerings, there is never a shortage of competitors to our brands. The mower industry remains the most competitive market with approximately 20 brands of commercial zero-turn mowers at any given time. Garden tillers remain another very competitive market as are most tools that make up the handheld equipment category like trimmers and edgers. While turf care hasn’t seen much of a rise in competitors, the competition to bring innovation to market is tight. Our brands have a steep history. Each one has its own unique success story. Many are innovator brands. By that I mean that the brand is known for being the first to bring a specific product to the industry or changed the way a certain product performed beyond what was currently available at the time. Ryan introduced the world’s first walk- behind sod cutter, the Ryan Sod Buster. Steiner introduced the first compact articulating and oscillating tractor. Little Wonder introduced the world’s first hedge trimmer in 1922 (hand cranked), an electric-powered hedge trimmer in 1940 and the first gasoline-powered unit in 1955, then went on to redesign the wheeled blower in 1997, changing the way many wheeled blowers are built today. Mantis is the world’s most popular mini-tiller and Classen was the first to introduce both a powered steering walk-behind aerator and a stand-on riding aerator. Schiller brands have made some pretty substantial contributions to the power equipment industry and we continue to bring that innovator spirit to product development today, which is what continues to separate Schiller brand products from the competition.

Schiller Grounds Care is a product of several brands and more than 100 years of lawn and garden product experience. The company encompasses the Mantis, Little Wonder, Classen, Bob-Cat, Ryan and Steiner brands under one umbrella. Schiller has two manufacturing facilities; the corporate office facility is located in Southampton, Pa., where Classen, Little Wonder and Mantis equipment is manufactured, with a second manufacturing facility located in Johnson Creek, Wis., where Bob-Cat, Ryan and Steiner brand equipment is manufactured. About 80 employees work at the Southampton facility year-round and an additional 125 at the Johnson Creek, Wis., facility.

At the Southampton facility, the warehouse and production lines are located on the first floor with the Mantis company store, call center, IT and purchasing departments. The second floor of the facility houses the accounting, marketing and executive management teams. The Mantis company store is bustling in spring with customers looking to purchase Mantis gardening tools or tiller parts directly from the factory to keep their tillers in tip-top shape throughout the spring and fall gardening seasons. The store also accepts repairs via UPS from customers across the country. “We have thousands of Mantis sales and service dealerships across brands. “You also have to consider the volume of Mantis tillers in the community. When you have sold over two million units, your dealers appreciate all the help they can get with seasonal tune-up and general repair work during the busy spring selling season. Then there is the long life of the units. We often get units in for tune-ups that are over 20 years old. We can’t expect our dealers to have parts for units produced over 20 years ago readily available, so offering factory service and tune-up work helps both our dealers and customers,” Beattie says. The company was established in 1938 in Philadelphia, with the acquisition of the Little Wonder brand from Detra Manufacturing in United Kingdom, a brand that cut its teeth with the invention of the world’s first hedge trimmer in 1922. Little Wonder hedge trimmers were produced in Philadelphia until the early 1950s when the product line expanded and production moved to a larger facility in Southampton. The original Southampton building has had two additions since the 1950s, but the lower warehouse and machine shop are original. Today, the facility is 78,000-sq.-ft., and, while Little Wonder hedge trimmers still are produced there today, the facility also produces blowers, edgers, bed shapers and truckloaders along with Classen aerators, dethatchers, seeders and Mantis tillers as well as various attachments and accessories.

The Johnson Creek facility is much larger and also handles fabrication and painting as well as production. The Southampton facility is more focused on high volume and primarily serves as an assembly facility. Many parts are fabricated in the company’s sister shop, Germantown Tool and Manufacturing, located about two miles away. This allows the Southampton facility to produce machines much more quickly. The facility also handles details, such as handle coating and labels as well as the transmission and tines for Mantis tillers. For high-volume products like Mantis tillers, which are produced just about every business day, assembly is done with the main housing already contained in the cardboard shipping cradle. The finished product is able to be boxed up right away and then go through the automatic palletizer. One Mantis tiller line can complete upwards of 500 tillers a day. The company’s Little Wonder leaf blowers also are manufactured on site. “The Little Wonder Optimax leaf blower is one of the most popular products we manufacture in our Southampton facility, second only to the Mantis tiller in unit volume. Leaf blowers are produced in batches throughout the year to level production because we could never keep up with demand in-season even if we ran production 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Beattie says. 

According to the company, there are more than a dozen custom tooled parts in the build that separate Little Wonder Optimax blowers from other wheeled blowers, some of which are patented, like the unit’s scrolled air intake housing faceplate and the signature split-stream air deflector. For example, the discharge chute design is square, which provides a more broad air discharge than a round chute. There are two discharge chute vents that the operator can use —side and front — diverted from side to front with the tip of a toe. At the end of the discharge chute is a red metal plate that is adjustable up and down at any variety of angles. This plate can split and deflect the air stream so that the strongest and fastest moving air can be directed where the operator needs it most depending on the conditions they are facing. You can straight stream the airflow so that it acts like every other blower with an open mouth discharge chute by simply setting the deflector in the straight midline position, but, the benefit to splitting the airstream is that you can make the very best possible use of the airflow to get the job done as quickly and effectively as possible, Beattie says. Each Schiller brand has its own success story and most are credited for either producing the first product of its kind or redesigning an existing product so that it changes an existing product category. Little Wonder, for example, is the brand that invented the hedge trimmer — first a hand-cranked unit, then electric-powered in 1940, then gasoline- powered in 1955.

Today the brand is most recognized for its wheeled blower design for which it received a patent in 1997 that went on to change the way many wheeled leaf blowers are made today. Mantis is known for the mini tiller, Ryan for the walk-behind sod cutter and Steiner for the articulating and oscillating tractor. Schiller encompasses a number of brands and each is sold through different channels, from distributors to Amazon. “Classen is more rental direct, but also two-step distribution and rental co-ops like True Value. Little Wonder is two-step distribution, as well as rental direct and co-ops. For the most part, Bob-Cat and Ryan are strictly two-step distribution through retail and rental dealerships, while Steiner is direct to dealer. Mantis is through two-step distribution, direct to rental, direct to retail and rental co-ops, and large online retailers like Amazon,” Beattie says. In their production area, the company has a plan to flip lines this year to create a more lean manufacturing flow. An entire factory flow team has been working on this initiative for months and the plan includes moving and adding racks, to create a more streamlined flow from the manufacturing line to the truck bays, in essence reversing the warehouse and production lines.

May 2015, RentalManagementMag.com