Its July announcement that it is was adding about 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space in Chicago marks the third expansion over the past five years – and a fourth production location – for HSI, which exclusively sells the enclosed track workstation cranes, jib and gantry cranes, bridge cranes and material handling cranes and hoists that it produces through distributors.

Originally, when it was founded in 1957 in Forest Park, IL, by a former engineer for a large auto parts manufacturer, HSI exclusively built custom cranes for neighbouring Midwest factories. But as the company grew, and due to the influence of its dealers also developed a standardised product line, HSI moved into an 18,000 square foot building in La Grange, IL, which served as its headquarters until in 2018 it relocated into its current 60,000 square foot headquarters facility in McCook.

We had expected that building to be big enough to last us for many years,” Bret Lussow, HSI’s director of business development, said. “But as our dealer network grew and our systems got bigger and more complex, we realised that we needed more space.”

In response, HSI also leased a 20,000 square foot facility virtually next door to its McCook facility in Summit, IL, which over the past 18 months had met its needs, at least until recently. “But then the same thing happened,” Lussow declared, noting that with some new opportunities coming from its expanding dealer network HSI continued to expand its presence in the overhead crane market at the same time as its systems got even bigger and more complex, creating a need for the company to double its production space, which it has done through the addition of its Chicago facility, which has given the company just under 120,000 square feet of manufacturing space under two roofs.

This came at the same time as it has strategically grown and reconfigured its distributor network. Lussow said that not only has HSI’s distributor network essentially doubled over the past 10 years, but it been expanded geographically from being largely comprised of Midwest dealers to also include companies located in Texas, the Southeast, the West Coast and even in Mexico. “These dealers in markets that we don’t currently have a big presence in could bring us opportunities that we hadn’t had before,” Lussow noted.

At the same time, HSI has changed its marketing strategy to a more face-to-face approach. This, Lussow said, includes providing dealers with Crane Sales Training for the first time as well as having more “feet on the street” visiting both dealers and end users more. He said that the company’s new Quotinator online quoting tool, which gives dealers faster access to its products, CAD drawing and pricing, has contributed to its growth.

Also, Lussow said that such products as its NikoRail enclosed workstation cranes and its I-beam cranes and runway structures have proven to be nice new options for dealers in an old industry that hasn’t seen many new technological innovations.

He said that demand for NikoRail, a less than 2t generally push-pull crane which provides an ergonomic and cost-effective solution for lighter capacity applications, especially when there are height and space restrictions, has really exploded since it was introduced in 2018, doubling every year. It has allowed HSI to both reconnect with dealers that were going to competitors for similar products and to find a whole new group of dealers that focus on ergonomic, smaller lifting solutions that it hadn’t been able to attract before. “Given its versatility – its ability to be used to lift 100lbs or 4,000lbs – I believe that the sky is the limit for the growth in NikoRail sales,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lussow said that perhaps an even bigger driver for HSI’s need to expand its square footage is the demand for its I-beam cranes and I-beam runway structures, which are larger systems with 2t to 30t capacities and tend to be used for heavy manufacturing applications.

He said that demand for those systems is currently very hot and, at least in the short term, will continue to be so. “Manufacturing is strong. The US economy is strong,” he said. “I’ve never seen a period of time when there has been so much growth and opportunity.”

Given these dynamics, Lussow said it might be possible that HSI could look for yet another building in another year or two. “Our business is growing and, at least over the short term, we aren’t anticipating any contraction in our business levels.”

By Myra Pinkham