Ponsse Demo in Wisconsin Scores a Hit with Customers: Cut-to-Length Logging Machinery Maker Fosters a Customer-Centered Culture

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CRANDON, Wisconsin — Getting to know customers outside of the work environment is an important part of doing business for Ponsse, the Finland manufacturer of cut-to-length logging machines. Its employees make an investment in personal relationships with the loggers who buy and operate Ponsse equipment.

That approach to doing business was clearly on display again in June, when Ponsse hosted customers and other invited guests to an annual equipment demo, a weekend event that also included a lunch, dinner party, and passes to a weekend of off-road racing at Crandon International Raceway.

Of course, Ponsse uses the event to showcase new equipment and invites other logging contractors, too — potential customers. But the emphasis is on rubbing shoulders with the loggers who are the company’s customers, and getting to know them better, and building personal relationships with them.

“We get to know our customers, their business, and their family,” said Pekka Ruuskanen, president and CEO of Ponsse North America. “We are growing at a rapid pace, but we still want it to be the small company feeling where everyone knows everyone.”

All Ponsse machines are manufactured at the company’s factory in Finland. Forwarders are shipped in two pieces to the U.S. and assembled at the port of entry.

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Ponsse began North American operations in the U.S. in 1995. The headquarters is located in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where it has administrative offices, sales, parts and service and support. The company’s North American operations employ about 70 people, including 40 in Rhinelander.

Ponsse also has facilities in Gladstone and Gaylord, Michigan, Grand Rapids, Minn., and Coburg, Oregon, as well as service and parts dealers in Michigan and Wisconsin. It has a full line dealer, Chadwick-BaRoss, that serves the New England states.

In Canada, Ponsse is represented by three full line dealers, ALPA Equipment (locations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), Hydromec (Quebec), and Readyquip Sales & Service (Ontario).

“We are actively pursuing full-line and service dealers around the country,” said Stacy Wagler, business development manager. “Customer support is our utmost priority, and we are looking for quality and dedicated dealers to support our customers in their area.”

“Recently we added Tim Eastman Equipment Repair in Castle Rock, Washington, which is supporting our customers in that state,” Stacy continued. “And Steve Self Repair in Central Point, Oregon, will be ready by the end of the year to support our customers in southern Oregon and northern California.”

Ponsse expanded in the Pacific Northwest with the construction of a new facility in Coburg in 2015. “This has been a growing market for us, especially with our Synchrowinch system mounted to our machines,” said Diana Olkowski, marketing coordinator. The traction-assisting winch helps achieve high production while working in steep terrain. The winch system reduces stress in drive transmission components, saves fuel, and protects soil from rutting and erosion.

The demo in June was held on undeveloped land that is part of the raceway. In recent years the timber harvested at the demo has enabled the raceway to begin clearing land in order to expand camping facilities. “We’re happy to get this great location,” said Diana. “It’s worked out really well.”

The guests included loggers and their wives and families, young and old. They milled around to watch machines and occasionally – camped out – with folding chairs to relax. Ponsse staff were on hand to brief guests about the machines and to mingle with them.

The event benefitted from pleasant weather. Although the day began somewhat cloudy, the skies gave way to mostly sunny and later partly sunny conditions and a pleasant, breezy 71 degrees by afternoon. Guests were treated to a lunch of hamburgers and bratwursts under a tent.

A contest for forwarder operators was organized by Ponsse operator trainer Phil Kiefer. Nine customers competed in the event. First place went to Brian Krier, second place, Michael Henning Jr., and third place, Gina Kegley. (Ponsse customized a new machine for Brian, who does not have the use of one arm, so that he can stay comfortable and continue to do what he loves to do. The new Wisent forwarder was brought to the demo so that he could participate in the competition.) Other participants were Austin Babich, Dakota Conley, Chelsea Kangas, Jaden Streu, Clayton Baldrige, and Tom Hines. Phil was helped by Jeremy Flannery, whose father, Cliff, is president of Crandon International Raceway.

Ponsse is a sponsor of four off-road racing teams, each one competing in a different vehicle class. Three teams are affiliated with customers: Chad Hord of Hord Off-Road Logging in Felch, Mich., Kyle and Cody Kleiman of Kleiman Forest Products in Wilson, Mich., and Michael Meister of Mike Meister Logging in Hatley, Wis. (Hord and Kleiman are located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.) The fourth team is that of Paul Hayward, a Ponsse service mechanic at the company’s service center in Gladstone.

Ponsse arranged for the team drivers to enter the demo site in off road vehicles, which were driven slowly around the area and parked at one end so guests could look at them up close. They posed for group photos later.

The main focus of the demo was a Ponsse Scorpion King harvester and a Ponsse Ergo 8-wheel harvester. The company also displayed and demonstrated a new Ponsse Buffalo King forwarder that was used in the forwarder competition.

Ponsse also demonstrated several used machines at the event. It currently has a large number of used machines available for sale because it has been experiencing strong demand for new equipment.

The company displayed and demonstrated several models of forwarder and harvesters — three harvesters and four forwarders in all. Besides the new Scorpion King and Ergo harvesters and Buffalo King forwarder, other Ponsse machines demonstrated at the event included another Ergo harvester and Elk and Wisent model forwarders (the Wisent was the one customized for Brian Krier).

The harvesters cut and processed trees in a stand of tall hardwoods. The stand was mostly basswood trees and some poplar and birch. It consisted of about 5-8 acres. Forwarders followed, retrieving the wood. The company also had a course set up for forwarders to demonstrate their operations; it simulated a logging trail with the machine alternately picking up and loading logs alongside the trail.

The company’s connection with and support of customers is evident in other ways. It has notably supported the efforts of Shamco, a logging company based in Iron River and a Ponsse customer for the last 20 years. The family-operated company, whose lives have been touched by relatives lost to cancer, participates annually in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraising event and helps to raise a substantial amount of money for the cause. Ponsse has supported those fundraising efforts. A few years ago Ponsse helped the company color two new Ponsse machines pink, the color associated with the fight against breast cancer.

Ponsse Ladies – a Ponsse organized group of Ponsse employees, customer wives and Ponsse machine operator wives – helped raise money to benefit the Relay for Life event with which Shamco is affiliated. Ponsse Ladies raised $5,000 for the Relay for Life cancer fundraising benefit, which helped Shamco reach its goal of raising $55,000 for the American Cancer Society. The Shamions had no idea that the Ponsse Ladies raised money or planned to walk in the Relay for Life. Since the walk had to be called off due to weather, they gathered at the American Legion in Iron River to reveal the Big Surprise, and to present the large wooden check.

As important as a personal connection with customers is, Ponsse also makes a strong commitment to service customers in order to keep them operating in the woods.

“We try to help (customers) as much as we can,” said Paul, the service mechanic who also competes as a driver in one of the off-road racing teams sponsored by Ponsse. Service includes over-the-phone troubleshooting and technical support so loggers do not have to bring in a machine. “We want to keep these guys going as much as possible,” he added.

Paul, who works at Ponsse’s Gladstone facility, was one of a number of Ponsse employees who attended the demo. He and other service personnel are dedicated to “keeping the customers happy and doing their job,” he added. “We do everything we can to make sure they’re making money.” Loggers don’t want down time, he agreed. They want to be in the forest, producing wood.

Paul normally works in the shop. The Gladstone facility employs two other technicians, plus another one who travels and services customers in the field. One of the other technicians normally handles most phone calls for technical assistance. Paul interacts with customers who stop by the shop for assistance or to pick up a part, and sometimes he assists customers in the field. A lot of work the technicians do is related to service contracts.

“We only manufacture cut-to-length logging equipment,” noted Pekka, who attended the demo and the other weekend activities and interacted with customers throughout the time. “Nothing else. This is our main and only focus. And we continue to improve every day as a company. Our service is top notch, and parts availability is extremely dependable.”

The first Ponsse Ergo ActiveFrame was delivered to the U.S. this summer. ActiveFrame is an active suspension system for machines with eight wheels. It minimizes sideways movement of the cabin while moving on uneven terrain and keeps the cabin horizontal. The system stabilizes driving, enabling fast speeds, and improves operator comfort.

(For more information about Ponsse cut-to-length logging machine, visit www.ponsse.com.)

Ponsse is known to have a -flat – organizational structure, and Pekka discussed what that means for employees and customers. “It doesn’t matter if you are on the management team, a parts guy, or a mechanic, we are all important to make the company run smoothly, and that is part of our success, and that mentality comes from the top,” he explained.

“When the owner of our company comes from Finland and remembers the first names of our employees and customers, and shakes their hands, talks with them, has a beer with them, it really means something to all of us. This helps build our team atmosphere, and our enjoyment at work in turn benefits our customers.”

Key employees communicate with Ponsse officials in Finland on a daily basis, according to Pekka. “In today’s world it is very easy to keep the communication open around the world,” he noted. In addition, Finland Ponsse officials in research and development, training, and management visit the North American Operations several times a year.

Even customers are in contact with Ponsse officials in Finland. “Some of our customers have communication with Finland from long-term friendships,” said Pekka. “Our R&D team works closely with our customers around the world.”

Ponsse is involved in events throughout the year to enable personnel to interact with customers. In addition to the June demo, the company hosts a customer appreciation party at the Great Lakes Logging & Heavy Equipment Expo and the Oregon Logging Congress.

Friday evening, after the demo, Ponsse hosted its guests to a dinner party in an event facility on the grounds of the raceway. It included a catered dinner and beverages. On a balcony, guests could watch some of the drivers taking practice laps for the weekend races. After dinner, a band provided live music for the rest of the evening.

At last year’s party, Pekka drove a motorcycle into the building and did a burn-out on the concrete floor. This year, during a break by the band, he drove into the building on a modified lawn tractor, and judging by the noise it made, it had no muffler. He circled the dance floor, then butted the front of the tractor up against the stage while he kept the throttle open, the rear wheels churning on the concrete floor as he attempted a lawn tractor burn-out. Guests held up their cell phones to shoot pictures and video.

“We want to get to know our customers at the logging site and away from the logging site,” said Diana. “We are a big, happy, Ponsse family.”