State of the Industry 2011: An Interview with Dominic Grote, President and COO, Grote Industries, Inc.

Grote speaks on the present and future technologies of the off-road lighting industry

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What is your primary industry of focus for 2012, and why?

Grote is a leading designer and manufacturer of visibility systems for the transportation industry. Historically our lighting and wire harness products have primarily been targeted towards the heavy-duty truck and trailer industry, servicing both the OEM and aftermarket sides of the business. In addition to the heavy-duty markets, we have always supported many of the off-road industries with our general lighting, but as our expertise in LED lighting systems has evolved, we have begun to develop specific products for the construction, agriculture and emergency response categories. The focus here has been driven by a growing need for higher quality and more effective lighting solutions to improve the work environment for those people working on or around their equipment.

Which would you consider to be your strongest market? Is that also your largest for supply?

As mentioned above, Grote’s strongest presence has been in the commercial vehicle industry. Despite the current economic climate, the heavy duty industry is seeing strong demand in new equipment. Much of this is due to the aging of fleets and needs for productivity upgrades. The outlook for 2012 continues to be positive, but as with most every other industry, there continues to be a lot of uncertainty. With that in mind, we are continuing our push into new markets.

Where have you expanded internationally? Future plans?

Up to recently, Grote has primarily been a North American company, however, over the past few years, we have been pushing hard into new geographic markets for our products. One of our biggest initiatives has been to establish a presence in Europe. We have focused on quality, innovation and service and found a strong demand for our newest LED products. We are finding wide acceptance and our customer base continues to grow along with a product portfolio designed to meet their needs for many new LED applications. Progress in this market was reflected earlier this summer when we opened up our first European production facility in Niederwinkling, Germany. Customers, suppliers, and employees came together to celebrate this milestone and help us kick off a new level of commitment to service our growth in the European market. It was a great event regaled in the full traditions of Bavaria.

We are definitely keeping our eye on some of the emerging markets. China in particular is unavoidable when considering how and where to grow a global company, however there is a lot to learn before you become a successful enterprise in that market. We are in the process of learning and understanding this market and how we can best serve our future customers.

Are you prepared for an upswing?

We have seen a tremendous “upswing” in our core markets over the past 18 months. It came at us quickly and while we felt prepared for the significant demand, we were playing catch up for a short period. We are in a much better position today for an uptick in demand, however we are aggressively balancing our “just in case” capacity and need to support the market fluctuations with a drive towards lean manufacturing systems that will get our capability in alignment with our demand. This has been a critical operational initiative for our company and one which continues to transform our competitiveness as a manufacturing company competing globally.

Have you had any dramatic changes in design or technology demands from the customer?

Grote introduced the very first LED lamp into the commercial vehicle industry back in 1989. It was a red marker light targeted primarily towards the trailer industry. Today, applications for LED designs are finally starting to dominate our customer’s thinking. The technology is being widely embraced for its benefits in cost per mile performance, robustness, efficiency- both for the end-user and the vehicle manufacturer. The transition to LED lighting will continue to grow, especially in the LED WhiteLight category which has become a key factor for operator productivity and performance improvements.

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