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E.D. Etnyre: The road to success

Edward D. Etnyre was an unusually inventive, industrious man with a consuming interest in the welfare of his fellow man.  He designed and made products for the use of others as he would for his own use.  This took a deep, personal involvement, which has been passed from man to man, and product to product until today, it is the proudest tradition of our company.

E.D.’s first product was an automatic hog waterer for his own farm in 1895.  It worked well.  Neighbors asked him to make some for them, and he did, which started a new business.  Then came another, different idea…steel and wood tanks on wheels to supply water and fuel to steam-driven threshing machines.  From thresher tanks to water sprinkler wagons to lay the dust on roads of the day seemed a natural next step.  

Through steady product improvement, the thresher tank and water sprinkler wagon business flourished.  E. D. Etnyre & Co. was formally established in 1898.  Manufacturing was housed in a former battery factory on the bank of the Rock River in Oregon, Illinois.  

Though still based in Oregon, E.D. Etnyre International’s roots have grown through acquisitions and innovations, and the family-owned company now employs 650 people across its three sites. In addition to the headquarters and its 460 workers, the company’s BearCat site is in Wickenburg, Arizona, and its newest acquisition in Sacramento, California, Rayner Equipment Systems.

The company manufactures a wide range of equipment that serves the asphalt road-building industry, from asphalt distributors to chip spreaders, from storage tanks to asphalt and lowboy trailers.
Despite such a variety of equipment, naming the company’s bread-and-butter product is an easy task for Rich Wilsie, senior director of sales and marketing, who has been with the company for 24 years.

“Our most popular product, across the board, is the Etnyre Asphalt Distributor,” he said.

The asphalt distributor tops the list because it’s used in most road building, whether it’s new construction or maintenance processes. “Almost everybody who’s in the business owns one; it’s just a necessary tool. The machine sprays liquid asphalt, and they use that as a binder to hold different products together.  It’s basically the glue to bind the products to the ground.”

Nearly 50 dealers across the United States have come to put their names behind the E.D. Etnyre brand, and 20 more abroad. Wilsie explained their loyalty:

“I believe the reasons our dealers choose our company are that we are well-known in the industry, we have an excellent support system for our dealer network, and we have a very capable service force that will help maintain the equipment and perform troubleshooting and repairs. And, of course, our machinery’s ease of operation.”

Geographically, those dealers are more frequently found east of the Rockies, with a fair distribution beyond the mountains. Etnyre’s strongest territory includes its home base, the Midwest, and the Southeast. “It makes sense,” Wilsie said. “The construction season down there is so much longer that we can do business all year long.”

Inquiries come in all year long as well, and the dealership process begins with conversations, Wilsie said. “We ask for their credentials, and we talk with them about how can they help us as well as how we can help them. We want to know about them, about why they think they’re better than the competition.”

When a dealership has officially signed on, the E.D. Etnyre experience begins. New dealers can expect
plenty of training, both hands-on at the dealerships as well as extensive training at the factory.

“We support dealers right from the beginning, and continue to support them. We’re very focused on keeping them up to date on the product line,” Wilsie said.

And the focus continues into the service department, which is available online or by phone 24 hours a day.

But there’s something they’re doing differently, and Wilsie likes the result.  

The Etnyre support system includes 10 service technicians who travel from the factory, as well as two additional parts, service and sales representatives. It’s a new initiative in both the Midwest and the Southeast, designed to take the load off the sales staffs, who also troubleshoot and deal with technical issues. “We just started doing this,” Wilsie said. “That’s the extra bit of service, the additional link: Most of our sales staff people are good at troubleshooting. They can do repairs. They’re an extension of our service department. Here, we have a hybrid approach. We’re growing rapidly, and the need for support was growing as well and we needed to expand.” Now, these parts-service-sales reps can respond within their region directly to the customer’s machinery and resolve the issue, saving everybody time and money.

Change is a familiar thing to Etnyre employees. In May 2018, after 17 years with Caterpillar, Ganesh Iyer was hired as president and CEO. It was a bold move for the company, which, Wilsie said, had fostered a small-business mentality but had grown into a big business. Iyer brought along his CAT culture, known for its standards, and it seems that’s just what was needed.

“CAT is kind of the benchmark for manufacturing in terms of culture – they created these systems,” Wilsie said. “We’re smaller, but we’re trying to replicate their culture and processes to allow us to be a better employer and to grow.”

In just two years, Iyer has shaped a cultural transformation that’s put the focus on the worker and empowered individuals to show the company how the job is best done.

“Who better to tell you how to do the job than the person who’s doing it?” Wilsie said.

“Typically, before, the managers were in charge, and now, with our culture change, there’s a more level playing field, where people feel comfortable making suggestions. We’re very nurturing, and we’ve learned to be more inclusive.  We can really see the improvement,” he said. “Job satisfaction is up, so we’re moving in the right direction. And you know what? It shows. Employees’ attitudes are more upbeat, so we’re seeing it work.”

Change has been hard, of course, and Wilsie knows there were plenty of changes for employees to embrace. But it’s paid off, he said. “People can be resistant, of course, but we’re starting to see the rewards from the changes we’re making: Employees are really buying into it, and that’s good to see because there was a time they felt under-appreciated. Now, everybody feels like they have a key role. They weren’t empowered that way before.”

Empowerment begins right at the hire for new employees, as the onboarding process has undergone an overhaul in the past few years.

Wilsie calls it a legitimate onboarding process. A new employee will spend a half day with an iPad in a training program. Then there’s more training, tool procurement, and part of a day is spent with a supervisor, learning what he or she does and why. There’s time to get familiar with the workplace, learn where everything is, and each new employee has face-to-face time with staff-level members. What’s talked about there is at the heart of the Etnyre experience: the company’s mission, vision and values.

That’s where staff tell the Etnyre story and explain why everyone at Etnyre is passionate about what they do.  

“We make a real effort to make people feel more welcome, versus handing the person a welding helmet and saying, here, go weld,” Wilsie said. “At one point we had turnover. But everyone wants to feel welcome and appreciated. We didn’t value that before, and our satisfaction numbers are up in the last two years. It took a lot of energy and time, but so far, it’s working very well.”

Things are working so well that the Etnyre family makes it a point to share the wealth. The Etnyre Foundation was only formally created in 2018, but the family has been active in philanthropy there in Oregon, Illinois, supporting 501(c)3 organizations and programs in education, environmental preservation, health and welfare.

Most recently, The Etnyre Foundation made a significant donation to salvage a local statue of Chief Black Hawk, or “The Eternal Indian.” The statue was created by sculptor Lorado Taft, beginning in 1908, and it stands above the Rock River in Lowden State Park.

Wilsie said donations have been made to local schools, senior centers and a foundation that provides jobs for handicapped people. The company has also worked with the park district and sponsored academic scholarships over the years, long before the actual foundation was formed.

“We’re in a small community, so anything we do has a big impact,” Wilsie said. “We want to see the area flourish, so we continue to seek out worthwhile projects to donate to.”

 At the heart of E.D. Etnyre is one goal: to be The One.

“We want to be known as the premier road maintenance company in the country,” Wilsie said.

“I think we’re gaining on it. We’re trying to stay a step ahead of our competition at all times, supporting our customers and dealers. We’re not just trying to sell more. We’re trying to sell more the right way.”

Here’s a rundown of what E.D. Etnyre offers:

Chip spreaders:
Etnyre ChipSpreaders are designed to accurately and efficiently apply a controlled amount of aggregate to the road in the chip seal process. Etnyre ChipSpreaders achieve these results using a hydrostatic drive system and a variable width spread hopper to apply multiple aggregate sizes and application rates through a full range of travel speeds and spreading widths.

Asphalt distributors: E.D. Etnyre set the bar high with asphalt application accuracy and quality with their Black-Topper® Centennial asphalt distributors. The units’ streamlined design minimizes maintenance while enhancing performance and productivity. Like all Etnyre equipment, every unit is built to order so you get the features and output you need to be successful.
Lowboy trailers: Haul a wide range of construction equipment with Etnyre’s Blackhawk® trailers. From removable goosenecks to spread axles, each unit is customized to suit your specific requirements for safe and effective transportation.

Cargo tanks: Trust your asphalt, crude oil and lubricating oil transportation needs to Etnyre and their more than 70 years of experience in over-the-road cargo tank engineering. From high-quality construction to dependable operation, you’ll have the efficiency you need to deliver product quickly.

Live bottoms: Etnyre’s Falcon® live bottom trailers are some of the fastest and lightest units in the industry. The reliable conveyor system discharges material at the rear of the trailer without lifting the body to dump, avoiding the risk of overhead hazards. Whether you’re hauling hot mix asphalt, gravel, recycled materials or sand, you’ll have the optimal payload and unload speeds – all with one trailer.

Flushers and sprinklers:
Control dust and clean roadways quickly with Etnyre’s powerful street flushers and sprinklers. From optimal payload to easy, on-the-go adjustments, you’ll have an efficient and dependable unit for nearly any location, including airports, factory sites, highway construction sites and racetracks.

Maintenance asphalt distributors:
Optimize the speed and accuracy of single-application and resealing liquid asphalt applications with Etnyre’s Maintenance Distributors. The units feature Etnyre’s exclusive circulation control system for fast and reliable application on any project. Etnyre builds each unit to exact specifications to ensure productivity and ROI.

Asphalt storage tanks: Ensure the quality of hot asphalt and emulsions with Etnyre storage tanks. The electric heat and agitation systems keep material stable and suspended for extended periods.

They also sell parts and used Etnyre equipment.

Etnyre is a company in every meaning of the word.  Our road has been well peopled.  Some leaders, some followers, some innovators, some implementers.  All doers.  All involved.  All conscientious.  We select our people carefully.  They select us carefully.  The chaff separates out.  Ours is a good crop, year after year.

That “people make products” is not news to us, nor to our customers, we sincerely believe.  It takes good people to make good products.  It takes more good people to sell and service them properly, as well as support all of our operation.  We have been fortunate on all three counts.  Our associations have been lasting and fruitful.  All of them ‘make’ our products…one as much as the other…around the world.

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