WASP, Inc president and CEO Dane Anderson briefs Airside on the many changes taking place at this US-based GSE manufacturer
Q. CAN YOU BRIEF US ON ANY DEVELOPMENTS AT WASP OVER THE LAST 12 MONTHS OR SO?
A. We have a lot of big news at WASP, and it keeps getting bigger. In May, we acquired FAST Manufacturing, a producer of high-quality sprayers and liquid fertiliser equipment for the agricultural industry. Including this acquisition, we’ve invested more than US$15 million in new facilities and equipment over the past six months to provide greatly increased capacity and faster order turnaround times.
With agriculture being slow currently, and expected to remain slow for a number of years, most of this increased capacity is available for GSE and other customers; this was a big factor for us in making the FAST purchase, since we see demand for GSE equipment increasing significantly over the next several years.
By the end of this year, we’ll have about 700 WASP employee-owners working around-the-clock at five Midwestern US facilities – a 50% increase in our workforce compared to the end of 2014. We expect to continue this growth next year and beyond.
On the product development end of things, we recently designed a versatile dolly that handles any standard-sized container or pallet. Thanks to this adaptability, the New Standard Dolly can replace multiple dollies on the ramp, which is one of the reasons for it being named the 2015 Ground Support Product Leader of the Year at the GSE Worldwide Expo in March.
Q. HAVE YOU WON ANY SIGNIFICANT NEW CUSTOMERS OR ORDERS IN RECENT TIMES?
A. We’re fortunate to have a very large number of long-term customers who continue to buy our GSE equipment and who depend on it for the long haul – including almost all of the major passenger airlines in North America. Thanks to our recent jump in capacity, we are also quickly filling our orders – in some cases orders for more than 1,000 pieces – for our long-standing air cargo customers, including all three of the largest air parcel (delivery) companies in the world.
With our equipment already in use in more than 65 countries, we are well positioned to continue to expand amongst international passenger airlines; many of those we know are under-served by their local GSE vendors. In addition to the spare parts depot that we already have in Western Europe (located next to Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport), we are in the process of adding an Eastern European production facility that will make our premier non-powered GSE equipment even more affordable for airlines throughout Europe. Many already own our equipment, but would like to be able to buy more, and others are prototyping our equipment for the first time.
For other international markets, we’ve also engineered new units that make shipping overseas more convenient and less expensive, such as our Knockdown Bag Cart unit, which can be reduced to less than half of its size and stacked five units high; as a result, 20 units can be shipped in a 40-foot-high cube shipping container.
Q. HOW ARE YOU SEEING THE MARKET FOR UNPOWERED GSE CHANGE RIGHT NOW? WHAT ARE CURRENT BUYERS’ BIGGEST PRIORITIES?
A. Demand for non-powered GSE continues to grow as the aviation industry recovers from both post-9/11 bankruptcies and various recessions since then, allowing more companies to finally be able to replace worn-out, non-powered GSE. Some airline GSE fleets have an average age of 20 years or more, and a significant amount of equipment much older than that remains in use.
Through conversations with our customers, and time spent forecasting business needs with them, we know their key buying priorities are long-term value and quality. They’re looking for GSE reliable enough to withstand harsh use for many years, while requiring minimal maintenance for decreased downtime and repair cost. That’s why we thoroughly test all of our products, use high-quality components, and employ only certified welders to ensure a well-built product. Also, thanks to our recent 50% capacity increase, we can do all of that a lot faster now. Plus, there will be further significant capacity increases coming in 2016 and beyond.
Q. ARE YOU SEEING INCREASING COMPETITION COMING FROM LOW-COST SUPPLIERS BASED IN LOCATIONS SUCH AS THE FAR EAST?
A. For quite some time there have been companies in the Far East, and even North America and Europe, using the allure of cheap prices to sell GSE equipment to passenger airlines and air freight companies. It’s difficult to call these companies long-term competitors though, as most customers who try these cheap products come back to WASP in a few years because those other products don’t last, are unreliable for fast turnaround air operations and have very high maintenance costs.
Given that, we are going to continue to do what we do well: build only durable equipment that endures decades of rigorous use on the tarmac for maximum ROI (return on investment). We know that we are giving our customers the best value in the long run by doing so.
Q. WHAT PLANS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE NEXT YEAR AND BEYOND?
A. As the world’s largest non-powered GSE manufacturer, you might think we’d be content to stay where we are. As noted above though, we plan to continue to grow rapidly this year – and for the next several years in North America, Europe and around the world – in order to continue meeting the growing demand for our products.
We are launching a new European cargo dolly during the inter airport Europe show this October at the Munich Trade Fair Centre. We have a patent pending on its design, which we believe will make ground-handling operations safer and more efficient.
Customised designs will continue to be a specialty for us, as we work to meet the long-term GSE needs of our customers, each of which is unique. We utilise our engineering team of more than 20 people to work with them to develop products that fit their specific operations.
Q. WHAT LONG-TERM TRENDS ARE YOU SEEING IN TERMS OF GSE PRODUCTION?
A. While many companies look to make the cheapest product available for a quick sell, others, like WASP, consider the overall quality and customer value. Our manufacturing process focuses on developing robust, reliable units for the best value. The units might cost a bit more up front but they last a lot longer, and customers experience less downtime, resulting in a low total cost of ownership for them. And that process is used in the R&D of our newest dollies and other products to meet customers’ unique operational and geographical needs.
Q. WHAT GIVES WASP ITS STING?
A. WASP is in a unique position thanks to its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), because every worker owns part of the company. The pride and dedication of our nearly 700 employee-owners comes through as they design, manufacture and sell equipment to meet the needs of customers around the globe.
As we continue growing our company, we’re grateful for our valued customers, whose partnership has brought us to where we are today. They’ve come to rely on WASP for our high-quality, long-lasting GSE and customer-focused suppor