How Fallsway Equipment Company has evolved to exceed expectations for more than a half century.
To be successful for nearly 60 years requires the foresight to identify shifting market demands, the skill to be able to adapt to those shifts and the commitment from the staff to go above and beyond. For more than half a century, Fallsway Equipment Company (Akron, Ohio) has demonstrated all three characteristics.
Founded in 1959, by W.G. Smith in a small shop in Munroe Falls, OH, the company began as a sales and service distributor for unloader cranes mounted to truck chassis. Fallsway was founded with a simple mission, one that survives through to today. “We are dedicated to exceeding our customers’ expectations.” Though the mission is simple enough for every person in the company to remember, actually implementing the mission takes work. From humble beginnings to today, with four locations and nearly 150 employees, Fallsway has never lost sight of that mission.
For two years, Smith worked in Munroe Falls. In 1961, the company moved to its current headquarters location in Akron and Earl Pancoast joined Smith as a partner in the company. In 1962, Fallsway obtained the franchise rights to represent Towmotor forklift trucks in a portion of Northeast Ohio. In 1963, Harry Fairhurst, current Chairman of the Board, joined the company in a parts manager capacity. In 1965, Caterpillar Tractor Company purchased Towmotor Corporation and Fallsway became one of the first Caterpillar forklift distributors.
During the 1970s, Fallsway continued to grow, expanding their physical presence with four major building additions for the unloader and forklift service departments. The company had divided into the Lift Truck Division and Truck Equipment Divisions that survive through to this day. By 1979, Fallsway had grown to 32 employees.
“Fallsway has traditionally grown our sales organically,” says Fallsway VP of Marketing & Sales and 2018 MHEDA Chairman of the Board Doug Carson. “We haven’t participated in any acquisitions through the years. We’ve grown primarily through developing new skill sets internally and then applying them to new markets. We have targeted specific markets and recruited new employees to rapidly expand.”
The 1980s saw some of that rapid expansion, as Fallsway obtained additional territory in western Ohio and eastern Pennsylvania from Caterpillar and opened a branch in Youngstown, OH. In 1983, Fairhurst became an equal partner with Smith and Pancoast in the company, with Fairhust taking on a leadership position to grow the lift truck division. When Pancoast and Smith tragically passed away in 1985 and 1987 respectively, Fairhurst became the sole owner of Fallsway Equipment Company in 1988. Today, the company is going through a generational transition with ownership shared between Harry, son Greg Fairhurst and daughter Lori Fairhurst.
It was during this time that Carson got his start in the material handling industry.
“I started in the industry with Caterpillar Industrial in 1989 as a Design Engineer,” Carson says. “I held further positions in marketing, parts sales and regional machine sales management. In those roles, I worked with more than 40 Caterpillar dealers nationwide, including Fallsway. I joined Fallsway Equipment Company as Director of Marketing & Sales for the forklift division in 2001 and then VP Marketing & Sales for the company in 2008.”
During the 1990s, Fallsway experienced unprecedented growth, tripling their revenue and growing the employee base to 115. The Truck Equipment Division added product offerings while the Lift Truck Division’s service department doubled in size and began a large push in expanding the short and longterm rental fleets with customers.
In 2007, the company underwent several management changes. Greg Fairhust was named President while two long-term Forklift Division employees were also elevated to key management positions. Jeff Zimmer was named Executive VP/GM of the company, while Carson was named VP Marketing & Sales.
Both divisions of the company realized significant growth through 2008 from key customers in steel, construction supply, manufacturing and distribution-based customers.
“The recession in 2009 caused Fallsway to diversity even further,” says Greg Fairhurst. The Truck Equipment Division entered the fire truck restoration market, which has been a growth engine through today. The company also started a forklift wholesale company named Greyson Equipment out of Canton, OH.
In late 2014, due to the continuing trend of distributor rationalization by the industry’s OEMs, Fallsway had to make a difficult decision to choose between two important suppliers, MCFA and Crown. Fallsway’s relationship with MCFA dated back more than 50 years, to their time as Towmotor.
“Although it was a very difficult decision, Fallsway chose to continue with MCFA and their three brands, Caterpillar, Mitsubishi and Jungheinrich,” says Carson. “We believe they position us well for the future of material handling.”
In 2015, Greg Fairhurst was elevated to CEO and Zimmer was named President.
“Both of our divisions have grown over the years with our breadth of services,” says Carson. “We’ve added capabilities as the market allowed and it’s really provided us great diversification as a company for dealing with economic cycles.”
That diversification comes from an axiom within the company that states, “The drive for market share with ever-decreasing machine margins, coupled with all other profit streams’ margin compression forces distributors to add new services and products to remain relevant with customers and profitable.”
Says Carson, “I think, when you look back in time, we’ve always said a distributor’s service capabilities separate them from the competition. It has gradually become more important.”
Culture and Staff
With service so paramount to a distributor’s success, Fallsway has had to deal with the same challenges the rest of the industry has faced in regards to a shortage of technicians.
“We are blessed with unusual longevity, more than 60 lift truck technicians with an average tenure of 14 years, including many with less than five years of tenure,” says Carson. “We are constantly recruiting and training our technician workforce. A great technical college degree program our Service Director Mike Manus put together with Stark State College, in conjunction with MCFA, has yielded 6-8 recruits per year with up to 12 enrolling in the course annually.”
Of course, finding qualified technicians is only half the battle. They have to be successfully recruited and then retained. And it is here that Fallsway’s culture and vision really shine.
“I believe that our company’s Core Values and our people are what makes us unique and the key component in building the type of culture that makes people want to come here and work for a long time,” says Zimmer. “We spend a lot of time talking about our core values when we are interviewing potential candidates and coaching our people. These values that we insist on are really what differentiates us from other employers in our community.”
The Fallsway Equipment Core values are as follows:
- We treat people the way we want to be treated, with respect
- We support personal accountability, a balanced lifestyle and the concept of teamwork
- We are goal-oriented, positive and optimistic
- We are committed to continuous improvement and a lifetime of learning
- We are committed to enhancing quality of life, both personally and in our community.
Loyalty and The Next Step
A company built on those tenets naturally requires loyalty and trust, and at every level of the organization, from the internal staff, to its suppliers and its customers, Fallsway has that in spades.
Part of that trust comes from the customers, who trust that Fallsway will be able to not only solve their current problems but will be able to adapt and evolve to solve their future ones, whatever they may be.
Says Carson, “Our lift truck customers have evolved into requiring turnkey equipment and services that continually improve their operational efficiencies while forcing their total cost of operation lower. We’ve made Fleet Management education, measurements and practices the center-point of our consultative approach in our relationships with customers.”
To address those evolving needs, Fallsway has to have a supportive manufacturing base, that they trust can meet those needs as well. And with more than 50 years working with MCFA, Fallsway knows that it can count on its partnership to continually meet and exceed customer needs.
“The manufacturer-distributor relationship is a key component to our mutual success,” Carson says. “We have made it a priority at Fallsway to participate in regional dealer organization meetings with the manufacturer and equally important is getting involved in creating change through volunteering to be on dealer advisory boards and councils. There is no question that having personal relationships with manufacturer personnel is mutually beneficial when we are faced with product or service issues that directly affect our customers.”
“We’re excited about the rapid transformation we’re seeing unfold in regards to the push towards automation in our customer base,” says Carson. “We plan to leverage the relationships we have with our large installed base of warehouse equipment customers to take them to the next generation of material handling equipment, utilizing MCFA’s expansion into this market.”
With a solid staff in place, a culture that attracts top talent, outstanding supplier relationships and a willingness to adapt to the latest trends of the industry, Fallsway is perfectly situated to remain a market leader for the next 60 years.