Vermeer: “We have everything we need to rebuild”

In tornado’s wake, company commits to coming back ‘stronger than before’

Tornado Damage

The remnants of Vermeer’s Plant Five, post tornado.

The July 19th tornado that destroyed two of Vermeer’s seven manufacturing plants and took a heavy swipe at a third is now giving the company a unique opportunity to reset.

This opportunity would have had an entirely different tone if there had been any loss of life or significant injuries that day. Adding to the complexity: the roughly 280 customers and dealers who were still on site after celebrating the company’s 70th anniversary earlier in the day.

“The performance of our safety team during the tornado was phenomenal,” says Jason Andringa, Vermeer president and CEO, speaking at a press briefing last week. “The fact that we had no fatalities or significant injuries is without a doubt the greatest blessing that came out of the tornado. As long as we’ve got our people, we have everything we need to rebuild.”

Vermeer President and CEO at Press Briefing

Doug Hundt (left) and Jason Andringa during the press briefing.

“Not only are we in recovery mode but we’re already making decisions on how we’re going to come back better and stronger than before,” adds Doug Hundt, president, industrial solutions for Vermeer.

And a month after the storm, the two say the company even exceeded last year’s August sales volume.

Immediate cleanup

Cleanup began immediately. Red zones – which required PPE, safety training and approved access – were established around the affected areas. Cars, some pancaked on top of each other, were sorted for insurance purposes. Central receiving operations moved immediately to the company’s Global Pavilion demonstration area, space usually reserved for customer events.

Vermeer Warehouse

Vermeer’s Global Pavilion demonstration space, used for customer events, was quickly converted into the manufacturing plant’s central receiving area.

The immediate goals were clear cut: get everyone back to work as soon as possible and recover manufacturing production during a time of high equipment demand. Meeting throughout the initial post-storm weekend, Vermeer leadership determined work could start the following Monday in the plants that were basically intact after the storm. And it was imperative that the parts center became operational.

“That was a huge win just to begin with,” Andringa says.

Within two weeks, plant seven, which had heavy damage in the front of the building and required a new roof, was operational, albeit with several additional production lines. Production on the company’s small Navigator horizontal directional drill line started first, followed by the larger HDD models. The company’s horizontal and tub grinder lines, which were in order backlog before the storm, were repositioned in other plants along the “Vermeer Mile,” as the company’s Pella, Iowa, location is called.

Bill Blackorby, Vermeer’s vice president of operations, estimates the company was able to extract 90 percent of plants five and seven’s assembly machines, a key to getting production lines humming again.

“On August 20th, we had 100 percent of our team back to work, something I couldn’t have imagined on July 19th,” Andringa says. Even with plants five and six declared total losses, Vermeer says full production was achieved within 45 days after the storm.

Andringa says demolishing plants five and six will give the company a blank slate in this area, and there are plenty of opinions within the company about what to put in the space.  He adds that Vermeer will start executing a plan for the area next year.

Shop 48

But one building will likely be started before ground is broken in the demolished plant space.

Dubbed “Shop 48,” the facility will house Vermeer’s industrial engineering team. Referring to Vermeer’s founder, Gary Vermeer, Andringa says, “My grandfather worked in his shop on the farm, and we like the hands-on culture of our engineers building in a shop, and coming up with the next innovation and the next level of technology.” The “48” in the name refers to the year Vermeer was founded, 1948.

The facility will be built in the north part of the Vermeer campus.

More on this story tomorrow: Meeting customer’s needs when your parts operation takes a direct hit from a tornado