life begins at 60

10 October 2017


Illinois-based Handling Systems International is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. But with new ownership and major expansion planned, the company is just getting started. Daniel Searle reports.

Mark Rehor, who had overseen HSI since 1996, took ownership of the company with his two sons, Mike and Jake, five years ago. Since then, they’ve been working to build on its history.

Mike Rehor says, “Since [we took over] there’s been a lot of growth—although we’re still a small-to-mid-size company, compared to our competitors.”

Jake says, “The company was founded in 1957, and for a long time remained relatively stagnant. Then in 1996 Mark took over, and the company started to grow. I n the last five years with my brother and I taking the wheel, the company has begun to flourish and we are eager and ready to continue to ramp up the growth.

“We’ve taken over with creative leadership, and we like to see it as a new company with a fresh outlook. We’re aiming to be more adventurous in our processes and how we go to market, and to continue to do so in future.

“Manufacturing is strong right now, so we’re reaching out, seeking new opportunities and establishing more strong dealers around the country.”

Bret Lussow, formerly an executive at Harrington Hoists, joined earlier this year as director of business development. “I was attracted by the company’s vision, and the drive and work ethic of Jake and Mike,” says Lussow. “It’s not set in its processes—the future is wide open. The company will be completely different in five years—it just depends where we want to get to.”

The first stage in that journey includes a new premises. “We’re currently looking at a new facility, which is three to four times larger than our current factory,” says Jake. “That will enable us to add a few more products and processes. The transition into the new premises will take some time, but our goal is to be in there by the end of this year.

“We’ve also hired a new designer, around six months ago, to redevelop existing products, and to add new products once we have sufficient space and personnel.”

The key goals of the product redevelopment are to increase efficiency and productivity, says Mike. That’s because the company doesn’t want to compromise on product quality, but needs to keep costs in check.

“Our flagship product is our heavy-duty freestanding jib crane, which offers a more robust assembly when compared to our competitors’ products,” says Jake. “We produce heavy, stable, sturdy cranes—and as we don’t want to compromise on that standard; we need new designs, and more efficient manufacturing processes, to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.”

HSI manufactures a range of crane types with various options, reflecting the geographical diversity of where the company sells its products.

“All our cranes are sold through distribution,” says Bret. “We’re represented in every state, as well as Canada and Mexico. The markets we serve are very diverse, and so our products are too. In the South, buildings are often simple frames, so installing a heavy-duty crane can be an issue. In the North, the climate is colder so buildings tend to be stronger, and can accommodate heavier cranes. We therefore have designed products to suit both sets of requirements, such as foundation-less or free-standing cranes for buildings that cannot have cranes braced to them. This gives us an advantage because our competitors’ cranes may require foundations or bracing.”

As well as a broad geographical spread, HSI also supplies a wide range of industries.

“We’re serving a mix of sectors, including steel mills and food processing plants,” says Mike. “As a result, we supply a range of crane types, including outdoor cranes, explosionproof cranes, marine duty cranes, and cranes that meet food-grade stability requirements.”

The company reaches customers through its network of dealers across the States, says Jake: “We are an appealing company for dealers to work with, as we can help them out because our team knows what they’re talking about. We have a team with a lot of engineering and product knowledge. We can provide site visits, drawings, and engineering; a turnkey offering that is attractive to our customers. We are also planning to establish a crane school at our new facility, where we can educate and train our dealers.

“When we speak to our customers, we always strive to provide a comprehensive solution, working through the application to meet the needs of every customer, albeit standard or unique. We want our customers to get it right the first time and know that we are always here to help them through the entire process.”

And those dealers are receiving plenty of work for HSI at the moment, says Lussow: “The market is very busy right now—we’re working six, sometimes seven days a week. HSI has a good loyal distribution base, and some pockets are very strong, especially in the Rust Belt. The automotive and steel fabrication sectors are particularly busy at the moment.

“Our 60th anniversary flew right by us this year and we look forward to celebrating year 61 in our new facility; the company will be holding an open house event to celebrate the milestone and re-location.”

A motorised telescopic boom jib crane at a waste water treatment plant.
Mike Rehor and Jake Rehor at Promat 2017