Providing climate solutions
Business View Magazine interviews Kevin Gagermeier, CEO of L.B. White, as part of our focus on best practices in the climate and heating controls industry.
According to Kevin Gagermeier, CEO of L.B. White, a manufacturer and supplier of specialized climate solutions for multiple commercial markets, the company has become a leader in the markets it serves by creating and adjusting products for specific applications and needs. Some of the products L.B. White offers include forced-air box heaters, radiant heat brooders, radiant tube heaters, portable direct and indirect heaters, tunnel doors, and evaporative cooling systems. “For example, when you’re raising pigs and you can keep them more comfortable at a constant temperature, they’re happier, they grow quicker, and they’ll reach market weight in a more timely manner, which make them more profitable for the farmer,: Gagermeier shares.” And so, L.B. White’s products are designed specifically for the job at hand. When raising pigs, L.B. White heaters are used for every phase of development, including breeding-gestation, farrowing, nursery, farrow-to-finish, wean-to-finish, and grow-finish.
The L.B. White Company was founded by Lyle B. White, an engineer who started developing metal propane torches in his garage and basement after returning home to Wisconsin after World War II. Over time, White discovered that people were using his products for purposes other than what he had intended, and so in the 1960s, he began to adapt them to what his customers were trying to do. Keeping pigs warm was an example, so White designed a heater specifically to do just that, and his company quickly became the market leader in that industry. From there, L.B. White went into the poultry industry, as well as the temporary, portable heat market.
“That was another example of adaptation,” says Chris Smith, Vice President of Marketing. “We took one of our box heaters and modified it – put some wheels on it and did some other things to it – and we started using a product that we had on the agriculture side to heat backyard tents, and then bigger corporate tents, and things like that.”
Today, L.B. White has about 160 employees and two main U.S. locations. “We have the Onalaska, Wisconsin location, which is our main headquarters and main manufacturing plant, and then we have a manufacturing plant in Franklin, Georgia,” reports John Funke, VP of Operations. “We also have an office in Tianjin, China, and we’ve got some warehouses around the U.S. and internationally.”
“We have many legs to our stool – the swine segment, the poultry segment, the portable temporary heat segment, the horticulture segment for greenhouses, and the events segments. And we make many heat products for all those markets,” Smith explains. “One main product is the Guardian Forced Air heater that we sell in the poultry and swine markets, but other than that, the rest is spread throughout everything else. We ship a lot to China, Southeast Asia, Thailand; we’re very popular over there with our agricultural products. On the construction, portable heat side, we ship all through North America; we sell quite a few of our Premier Portable heaters up in Canada and the States on the construction side, and around the world with our agricultural products.”
“We sell through distribution,” Smith continues. “We’ve got sales managers that cover specific regions of the country and the world. Those sale managers call on distributors, dealers, integrators; they’re also selling to the end-users on the ag side, making sure they have what they need and that the products work. On the construction portable heat side, we have sales managers and sales reps throughout the country, and they call on equipment dealers or heat specialists and they call on the end-users – construction workers, laborers, etc.”
Regarding the company’s competition, Smith believes that what sets L.B. White apart in the agricultural marketplace is that while it focuses exclusively on heating and cooling, its competitors have a wider range of product offerings. “They might sell a heater, but they also might sell a feed bin, or a drinker, or something else,” he states. “We concentrate on heat and because we do that, we have, probably, the largest engineering department of all of our competitors. “And because of that, we tend to be the leaders in product development and our competitors often choose to copy us,” says Gagermeier. Funke, adds, “We have many configurable parts numbers going into these different markets that can satisfy customers’ specific needs. We also make very high-quality, long-lasting, robust heaters in a very short manufacturing and shipping lead time. That also differentiates us from our competitors.”
Just as the firm’s founder continued to innovate in the company’s early days, Smith says that L.B. White is constantly coming out with new products, or new innovations, or changes to its current product line that make what it produces easier to use, or easier to work on, or just more robust. “We’ve recently entered what we call ‘the big heat’ realm in the portable heat category, which are highly-engineered products with higher BTUs,” he explains. “We weren’t in that market four years ago and now we’ve got three indirect products that fit that market and also two other direct-fire products that are in that market. So, just in the last three or four years, we’ve come out with all kinds of new products on the portable heat side. And then, we always try to innovate and do different things on the agriculture side to make sure we’re on the front end of things.”
Thinking long-term, Gagermeier notes: “China has one fifth of the world’s population but they eat about half of the world’s pork production. So, they eat more pork, per capita, than any other country in the world – that is why we have an office over there. We continue to make product in the U.S., but we plan to ship more product over to China from here, and we think that’s a tremendous opportunity because they’re moving from family farm production to more larger-scale production. We have three employees there, currently, and we expect to hire more people in China. On the temporary portable heat side, we’re going to continue to develop bigger, more complex, larger BTU products. Domestically, for poultry and swine, we plan to continue to innovate. Our main goal is to put out a quality product and have it work right every single time.”
Describing the essence of the L.B. White Company, Smith says in conclusion, “We are a Wisconsin-based company with people that want to build the best product they can; the customer service team wants to take care of the customer; and our whole philosophy here at L.B. White is to do the right thing for our customers. We were a company that started in the late ‘40s; we continued to grow, and now we’re a global company and we plan to continue to grow and we’re proud of our success. We’ve taken care of the customer and they’ve taken care of us.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: L.B. White
WHAT: A manufacturer and supplier of specialized climate solutions
WHERE: Headquarters in Onalaska, Wisconsin