Innovative Industries, Inc. has built a very successful company around an ingenious concept — customized telescoping slides that allow people to store, move and reach a variety of items without taking up a lot of precious real estate. And while the SlideMaster telescoping cargo handlers are found in a variety of utility and recreational vehicles across the U.S., they’re now being used in entirely new ways in homes and businesses across the nation.
The business, started in 1988, was originally located in Madison, Wisconsin. That all changed in 1993 when the Antigo city mayor Miles Stanke and city administrator Gary Rogers visited Brian Pease, owner of Innovative Industries. Stanke and Rogers outlined the benefits of running a business in Langlade County and offered business development incentives and assistance that would help Innovative Industries diversify and grow their potential. Innovative Industries relocated to Antigo, Wisconsin and with the assistance of the city finished construction of a 7,900 square foot building. Since then, Innovative Industries has grown from four employees to thirty-three, and the business now has a 30,000 square footprint.
Originally, Brian solely manufactured standardized slides for pick up trucks. Complete customization of the aluminum or steel slides — which differentiates Innovative Industries from its competitors —began after Marion Bodyworks, located in Marion, Wisconsin, requested a resizing of the slides. Since then, Innovative Industries has made customization into a superior art form — creating sliding drawers, bins, trays and shelves to fit virtually any vehicle or interior space. As Andrew Hessedal, Vice President of Operations, notes, “People can come to us with wild ideas and — in most cases — we can make it. We have about 40 base models and a wide range of options that customers can choose from, so the options are almost limitless.” He continues, “We offer 70%, 100% and 120% extension of our drawers, but if a customer says they need it to come out 60% or 110%, we alter the designs.”
Hessedal notes that one of the advantages of being a smaller company is that they are not constrained by a long development process. “If we find a better lock system, for example, then we just change that system. We can react pretty quickly and we have very quick turnaround. We’ve made cargo handling systems that can hold 300 pounds and 16-foot long slides that hold 3,500 pounds.”
SlideMaster telescoping cargo handlers are featured in fire trucks, FBI bomb squad vehicles, SUVs, pickup trucks, utility vehicles, and RVs to store everything from cribbing, Jaws of Life emergency equipment and generators to tools, weapons, and cargo. And while Innovative Industries has not yet saturated the vehicle market, according to Hessedal, “Our new markets are growing and expanding all the time. Everyone is looking to save space so we’re now drafting and building more sliders for buildings. We’ve built customized units for hospital closets in patient rooms that allow staff to slide the closet into the hallway in order to restock it without disturbing the patient. We build high-density storage filing cabinets, display trailers for tradeshows, shelving sliders for pharmacies. The possibilities are endless.” So endless that they’ve even built a customized walkway for the Wylie Theater in Dallas, Texas that functions like a modern-day drawbridge; a customized drawer for the Budweiser® Clydesdale Wagon; and a recording stage that pulls out from the back of a semi truck.
Innovative Industries’ customization, superior quality and reasonable pricing have created a group of loyal brand ambassadors who help generate business for this Langlade County manufacturer. “Having the business here, as compared to Madison, offers us a competitive advantage. The cost of living and expenses are much lower,” notes Hessedal. “And there’s a great manufacturing and transportation infrastructure here. There are no hurdles to servicing customers across the nation. Our website helps us generate business too, but we always make sure that when people contact us they speak to a person. And when we process an order, we always reach out with a phone call first.”
Another advantage is Northcentral Technical College (NTC). “NTC provides training for Innovative’s employees. When we get a new machine, we have NTC as a resource for advanced training that employees can complete in a week or two. They also send prospective employee referrals to us — people with the exact skills we need.”
Hessedal also applauds the efforts of Brenda Zimmermann Thorpe one of NTC’s business development managers for providing them with resources and classes designed specifically around their needs. When Hessedal indicated they needed a forklift certification class, notes Zimmermann Thorpe, “We built a train-the-trainer course for them. We purchased a certification kit that we used to train them and they were able to keep the kit in order to keep training their employees as needed.”
Zimmerman Thorpe has met with Hessedal several times over the last several years in an effort to “assess how their business is doing and how we can help.” Under her guidance, NTC held a Strategic Planning Workshop for Innovative Industries to help them determine “where they are and where the want to be” — and then set the goals to make that happen. Innovative Industries’ employees have also attended NTC’s Time Management workshop, designed to help people better manage the life/work balance and thus “enjoy more peace in life and perform better at work,” explains Zimmerman Thorpe. They have also attended a team building course, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and a Good-to-Great workshop that compels all employees to become invested in the company’s goals and create a professional culture that benefits both the business and the people who are the core of that business.
Of one of the most recent workshops Hessedal notes, “The class wasn’t mandatory, it was held after business hours two nights a week for nearly a month — and we had a fantastic turnout with someone from nearly every one of our departments attending. That says a lot about our employees and NTC. I think NTC is a bigger asset with a lot more resources than most people are aware of.”
To get a feel for the unique capabilities of Innovative Industries, visit their website (http://www.slide-master.com/) and try out the Build Your SlideMaster custom tool (http://www.slide-master.com/order/).