What Recession? Gillison’s is booming – in its Benzie County backyard and around the world.
BENZONIA – From machines for cutting coffee in Hawaii to lifts for harvesting pinecones for reforestation in British Columbia, to huge trimmers for walnut trees in South Africa, Gillison's Variety and Fabrication's specialized agricultural equipment is shipped to 70 different countries worldwide.
The business, whose production shop is based in Benzonia, has maintained a full time staff of 24 people for the last 10 years. Credit the company's diversity and ability to tap into international markets, said co-founder Ron Gillison-not to mention a little love for the locals.
"I didn't imagine when we started 30 years ago that I'd be sitting here today, and we'd be sending our equipment around the world," said Ron. "We continue to have a very beneficial and loyal customer base. We do a lot of repair for the local farmers and growers and always have."
In 1977, with an agriculture degree from MSU, Ron Gillison, with his wife, Dianne, and brother Rodney Gillison, started the family business. Two years later, engineers from MSU asked Ron to build a hedger they had designed for safer pruning of fruit trees. MSU and Gillison's developed a flywheel drive system for the hedger that was an adaptation of a Singer Sewing Machine. That hedger launched the business and helped propel them into producing the various orchard equipment in which they now specialize.
The patented machine separates root samples from soil samples, allowing researchers to take accurate readings. It's used in 36 countries and in many universities in the U.S.
Today, 80 percent of the equipment the Gillisons build leaves the state. Among its giant clients: Paramount Farming, the largest agriculture producer in California, with more than 90,000 acres, and Dole, with growers worldwide.
Although the local economy is worrisome to them-as it is to all business owners-their growth has been consistent, and their volume is up. Being in the business for over 20 years and having a specialized "niche market" has all helped. "We are the largest hedger and trimmer manufacturer in the world. We build 50 to 70 units yearly. And we're the second largest in producing orbit lifts-we just shipped eight to British Columbia," explained Gillison.
He spends about 1/3 of the year on the road, trekking across the United States and Canada to attend agriculture shows, meet with growers and producers and determine their specific needs. Gillison's currently represents 16 product lines, including brands such as Massey Fergusson, Hesston, Sunflower, and Bush Hog. Gillison's has also been a dealer since 1982 of OMC Shockwave Shakers out of Yuba City, California and is the largest dealer in the country. BN