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The Holland Group, Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History

company firm hitch fifth

467 Ottawa Avenue
Holland
Michigan
49423
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives

The mission of the Holland Group is to strengthen its leadership position in the development and delivery of innovative, quality engineered components, systems and services, assisting worldwide customers in the safe and cost-effective transportation of goods and materials.

History of The Holland Group, Inc.

The Holland Group, Inc., is the world's leading manufacturer of truck-to trailer couplers called fifth wheels, and also makes related products like kingpins and pintle hooks; truck landing gear; truck, bus, and RV suspensions; lift gates; and roll-formed metal parts. The firm's brands include the 3500 Series, FleetMaster, and Holland Simplex fifth wheels; Holland Neway suspensions; and Holland Binkley rolled metal parts. The Holland Group has operations in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and the Far East, with most manufacturing done in the United States.

Beginnings

The Holland Group traces its roots to 1910, when a company called the Safety Release Clevis Co. was founded in Corsica, South Dakota to make plow hitches. Dutch immigrants Gerrit Den Besten, Albert Hulsebos, and Henry Ketel had invented a new hitch that featured a pressure release which broke when the plow hit a hard object, preventing injuries to the animal pulling it and damage to the equipment. Over the next decade the firm grew to about ten employees.

Safety Release Clevis soon expanded its offerings to include coupling devices for trucks and trailers, and in September of 1920 the firm moved to the largely Dutch-immigrant community of Holland, Michigan, to be closer to the auto industry. Six employees moved north to help run the company's new factory at the closed Holland City Brewery on West 10th Street. In April of 1921 the firm's name was changed to the Holland Hitch Company.

Sales fell off during the Great Depression, however, and in the early 1930s the firm went bankrupt. It was revived in 1935 by co-founder Henry Ketel and Holland businessman Henry A. Geerds, who bought out the other founders. They were able to turn the company's fortunes around, and by 1940 annual revenues had grown to $1 million and employment to 86. Holland Hitch's product line included plow hitches, heavy truck fifth wheels, and pintle hooks for attaching trailers.

Shift to Truck Products During World War II

The next decade saw many changes at Holland Hitch. In 1940 general manager Ketel developed a new heavy-duty pintle hook, and the U.S. government ordered 1,600 of them for military use. After the country entered World War II late the following year, the firm ramped up production. In 1942 Holland Hitch began construction of a new factory and its workforce became unionized. By the war's end in August of 1945 the company had produced more than one million pintle hooks, as well as large numbers of truck landing gear and fifth wheels. Wartime production shifted the firm's focus away from plow hitches, and afterwards it would concentrate primarily on fifth wheels, pintle hooks, landing gear, and related equipment for the heavy trucking industry.

In the spring of 1946 Henry Geerds took over the job of general manager from Ketel. Three years later a new type of pintle hook was introduced, with the firm so busy that it needed two shifts to keep up with orders. In 1950 sales doubled again, with new 34- and 36-inch fifth wheels and plow hitches both selling strongly. The Korean War brought more military work, and in 1956 the company added a warehouse in Milpitas, California. Two years later tools and machinery were shipped from Holland and the site was converted into a manufacturing operation.

Growth continued during the early 1960s, with a Canadian subsidiary formed in 1963 to manufacture hitches in Woodstock, Ontario. The firm also added a new plant in Denmark, South Carolina, which was designated the Holland Atlantic Hitch Company.

The company expanded and modernized its facilities during the latter half of the 1960s, and in 1969 added another new plant at a nine-acre site in Holland. The firm also formed a subsidiary called the Holland Hitch Forwarding Company and opened a sales office in Germany during the year.

Holland Hitch continued to expand during the 1970s, in 1973 forming new subsidiaries Holland Hitch of New Jersey and Holland R.V.E. Ltd., which later became known as Holland Equipment, Ltd. Three years later Henry Geerds' son-in-law William F. Beebe was named president of the company. The University of Michigan graduate and decorated Navy veteran had joined the firm as head of production after World War II. In 1979 the company added a new Canadian subsidiary called Holland Hitch Western, as well as a manufacturing plant in Texas.

Acquisition of Holland Metalcraft in 1981

In 1981 a joint venture with Holland businessman Louis Padnos was formed to acquire a local manufacturer of screw machine products called Holland Metalcraft, which had been one of the firm's suppliers. In 1985 the company's headquarters moved from 10th street to Ottawa Avenue in Holland, and the firm began working with Unisys to upgrade its computer operations and integrate them onto a central server.

In 1989 Holland Hitch formed a joint venture with AFE in France to produce steel castings, and the following year Holland Transtrade was founded to make and distribute products in Malaysia, while a new manufacturing plant was opened in Germany. By this time one of the world's leading makers of fifth wheels and other coupling devices for the heavy truck industry, the firm had 1,100 employees and estimated annual sales of $100 million.

In 1991 The Binkley Company of Warrenton, Missouri, was acquired. Binkley was a leading manufacturer of landing gear products for trailers as well as tandem sliders, steel racking systems, and other rolled metal products. T.E DeBlase would remain president of the firm, which employed 450 at two plants in Missouri and a third in Arkansas. Binkley became the fourth division of what was known as the Holland Group, the others being Holland Hitch USA, Holland Hitch Canada, and Holland Hitch International. The company was headed by William Beebe's son-in-law Richard Muzzy, Jr.

During the early 1990s sales continued to grow, with the firm's customers including all of the major heavy-duty truck and trailer manufacturers like Freuhauf, Mack, Freightliner, and Volvo-White, as well as the U.S. government. By 1993 the company, which had 14 manufacturing sites in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Malaysia, and Australia, had begun to export products to China.

In early 1997 the Holland Group bought the Delphos Axle division of bankrupt Fruehauf Trailer Corp. for $14.4 million plus the cost of leftover inventory. The company would subsequently market its line of axles under the Holland ProPar brand name.

Neway Anchorlock Purchased in 1999

In 1999 the firm bought Neway Anchorlock International, Inc., of Muskegon, Michigan, a 50-year old manufacturer of air suspensions for trucks, trailers, and motorhomes. Neway, which employed 510 in Muskegon, also made brakes and valves.

Pressure on truck fleet operators to cut costs inspired a number of improvements to Holland Group products during this era, including the first "low-lube" fifth wheel, introduced in 1999, which utilized a polyurethane coating that rendered it 90 to 95 percent lubrication free. In 2000 the firm's new Holland In-Cab Air Release System allowed drivers to uncouple trailers directly from the cab, and the company also debuted an electronic lock indicator that could verify that a trailer had been correctly attached. The firm was looking toward further improvements as well, including integrating the fifth wheel and a truck's suspension into a single unit to save weight and improve performance.

Trailer and hitch sales were slowing, and in 2001 the Holland Group began a major restructuring to cut costs. The firm's Binkley and Neway subsidiaries were merged with Holland USA, which was headquartered in Muskegon. About 50 employees were relocated there, with ten others shifted to Holland. The engineering departments of these units also began working together, which led to the development of new products like the CB4000 Air-Ride Suspension System, which was easier to adjust, lighter, and more durable than previous designs.

Restructuring continued in early 2002 with the sale of the Anchorlok brake and Neway suspension control valve product lines to Haldex of Sweden. The $21.5 million deal gave Haldex plants in Mexico and Grand Haven, Michigan, that employed 235 and accounted for $50 million in annual revenues. In November the Holland Group also closed its Denmark, South Carolina, fifth wheel manufacturing plant. The facility's operations were moved to other sites and some of its staff of 44 were offered jobs elsewhere.

In 2003 the company introduced the FW-17 fifth wheel, the lightest and most durable model it had produced to date, which featured a new locking and release mechanism. A new suspension for buses and motorhomes was introduced as well, as were pintle hooks and draw bars for lighter-duty vehicles.

In 2004 Holland Group CEO Richard Muzzy took on the added title of board chairman, while 30-year company veteran Samuel A. Martin was named president and chief administrative officer. As executive vice president, Martin had overseen the firm's restructuring efforts. That September, the company also purchased the Simplex fifth wheel line from Consolidated Metco, Inc.

In early 2005 the Holland Group revamped its aftermarket parts service and delivery procedures. All U.S. parts would ship from either Holland or Wylie, Texas, with no minimum order required, and a new Web page for aftermarket sales was later added. In the fall the firm also introduced a new series of pintle hooks that were lighter and more durable than previous models.

Nearly a century after it first began marketing an agricultural plow hitch, the Holland Group had become the leading maker of fifth wheels and related hitching products for the heavy trucking industry. Through strategic acquisitions the firm was also a manufacturer of suspension systems for trucks, buses, and motorcoaches, as well as a producer of a variety of rolled metal products.

Principal Subsidiaries

Eurohitch GmbH (Germany); FWF France (50%); Holland Eurohitch Ltd. (United Kingdom); Holland Europe GmBH (Germany); The Holland Group, Inc. (Mexico); Holland Hitch of Australia Ltd.; Holland Hitch of Canada Ltd.; Holland International; Holland Transtrade Far East (Malaysia); Holland Transtrade Thailand Co. Ltd.; Holland USA, Inc.; Nippon Holland, Ltd. (Japan).

Principal Competitors

ArvinMeritor, Inc.; Fontaine International; The Jost Group.

Chronology

  • Key Dates
  • 1910 Safety Release Clevis Company is formed in South Dakota to make plow hitches.
  • 1920 The company relocates to Holland, Michigan, and becomes known as Holland Hitch.
  • 1935 Henry Ketel and Henry Geerds revive the firm after bankruptcy.
  • 1956 The company opens a warehouse in California.
  • 1963 New plants built in South Carolina and Ontario, Canada.
  • 1969 Holland Hitch Forwarding Co. is founded and a German sales office is added.
  • 1981 Holland Metalcraft is purchased.
  • 1991 The Binkley Company of Missouri is acquired.
  • 1999 Neway Anchorlok International of Muskegon, Michigan, is purchased.
  • 2002 The company is restructured; the South Carolina plant and the Anchorlok brake line are sold.
  • 2004 Simplex brand of fifth wheels is acquired from Consolidated Metco.
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