Hunter Industries - Built on innovation

Dan Hughesin Industry News

Supply and demand is a core concept in business. With rainfall occurring on an average of just forty-four days a year, and situated close to the Pacific Highway - the main route between the Californian cities of San Diego and Los Angeles - Edwin J Hunter and his son Paul chose a perfect location for a startup company consisting of just thirteen employees; San Marcos. Dan Hughes, Maxwell Amenity's Sales and Marketing Director, dropped by to find out more.

Hunter Industries Headquarters, San Marcos, California

Fast forward thirty-eight years from the conception of Hunter Industries, and their vision to build a global irrigation company, based on innovation and service excellence, is very much being realised by newer generations of the Hunter family and the 1900 employees which serve the business.

Walking into the reception, a warm Californian welcome and beaming smile greet us. In front of us is a large open plan office with bespoke designed colourful landscape patterned employee booths. In bold writing; 'Customer Service is an Attitude, Not a Department' displays from the ceiling. It is already apparent that this is a company with strong values.

Steve Hoveln, our host, arrives. A Product Manager for twenty-nine years at Hunter Industries, he immediately begins to impart his advanced company knowledge, satisfying our intrigue by explaining how Hunter's marketing team were tasked with creating inspiring employee work stations featuring imagery integral to conservation, technology and the environment.

This is America, it's different, but to me already this is very different to any of the many factories and business headquarters I have visited in my role at Maxwell Amenity. Already I could tell this wasn't just going to be just another visit; genuinely, I was learning and captivated by this experience.

Core to Hunter Industries' ethos is what they term the three P's; People, Planet and Profit.

Hunter's San Marcos base employs 700 of the 1900 people that work for Hunter, with 1200 based over the Mexican border in Tijuana where labour resource and production costs are favourable. Steve explains that the Tijuana premises is strikingly similar to the impressive modern site we are visiting.

Steve Hoveln, Product Manager

By UK standards, a site facilitating employment for over 700 people is regarded as a large employment site. Despite the scale of this business, the family ethos and origins are very visible in the culture of the staff and teams we encountered. It's very evident when you meet a happy and vibrant workforce; staff smiles, polite welcomes, friendly exchanges, combined with professionalism and productivity that almost smacks you in the face. Such environments aren't created by chance, they are the product of investment in people, success, fairness and excellent leaders.

Steve explains the importance Hunter place on staff happiness and creating a positive family atmosphere and working environment, where it feels like you are working alongside friends. The company provide an onsite gym, with three dedicated fitness trainers, where a contribution of only three dollars a week is required. The detail, creative thought and investment that Hunter place in staff is no more evident than in the warehouse we are passing through.

Large HD digital screens display core business information, such as where the performance of the business is against targets and goals. Steve explains this helps to keep all employees 'driving in the same direction'. The screen content changes and two names are displayed next to party balloons, communicating staff who are celebrating birthdays that week. Friday is 'sports jersey day', where individuals proudly sport their favourite baseball, American football, soccer, ice hockey or basketball attire. There is a 'bring your sons and daughters to work day' and free charging points for environmentally conscious staff who drive electric vehicles to work.

Hunter's LEED warehouse, covered by solar panels / Digital screens are used to communicate department and corporate information, as well as employee news

It is perhaps no surprise that everything is spotlessly clean, from the warehouse packing areas to the office booths; my colleague and I both comment on the exceptional standards and facilities.

Steve proudly talks about the main warehouse, which holds over 10,000 pallet spaces and currently holds around $45 million of stock, including raw materials and finished products. Built in 2008 as a 'LEED Building'; accredited as Leadership Energy, Excellence and Design, the roof is entirely covered in solar panels which serve to power the whole site and provide surplus energy which is sold back to the grid.

Moving through the corridors we meet Bryce Carnehl, Hunter's Corporate Social Responsibility Manager. Bryce, previously a Landscape Architect Project Designer before he joined Hunter as Product Specification Manager, proudly explains that Hunter are one of only two core landscape sector companies that employ a dedicated CSR professional and produce an annual CSR report.

Bryce emphasises two words important to Hunter which resonate with me; 'community' and 'sustainability'. Hunter have a commitment to charitable causes, giving a percentage of corporate profits to non-profit organisations, with a core focus on those that support education, help the communities where employees live (both in California and Tijuana ) and improve the environment. Hunter actively encourage staff members to engage in projects as diverse as water provision to African villages, local litter picks and education projects.

Hunter's team of gardeners, creating a sustainable landscape area / Hunter Helping Others volunteer group engaging in a community clean up in La Jolla, San Diego

As we tour through the site, Hunter's permanent team of six gardeners are working on improvements to the grounds. Steve explains the team are removing lawned areas on the site, which require significant water provision and replacing the turf with more sustainable, minimal input Californian tailored landscape planting schemes.

The central building is home to the accolades and awards that Hunter has achieved. There are many presented for the community and charitable work, but the room is dominated by innovation and manufacturing excellence mementos, a number of them reflecting the genius of founder Edwin J Hunter credited, amongst many things, for inventing the single stream gear driven sprinkler that replaced the impact sprinklers of the day and revolutionised the irrigation industry.

A large plaque displays the total of 88 US patents of founder Edwin J Hunter, the company has gone on to be successfully awarded over 250 patents, an outstanding reflection of its engineering excellence.

We chat over lunch with Todd Polderman, Hunter's Vice President of Marketing, Landscape Irrigation and Outdoor Lighting. Todd tells us how the company has excellent market share in the commercial and domestic irrigation sectors, and are now focusing more on developing their sports market share with new innovations, plus investment in more marketing and resource. The week prior, they had exhibited at the Golf Industry Show (GIS) and tripled the contacts and leads from the previous year's show.

With invention and product development cemented in its core, Hunter has incredibly stringent and advanced product testing. We visit two areas, both employing dedicated full time teams, where sprinklers are tested through advanced computer linked spray pattern dispersion measurements using two different catch can methodologies. The team also conduct other quality experiments, including assessing UV light degradation on products over a number of years, ensuring the highest testing standards are met on all products in the portfolio.

The latest addition to Hunter's sports portfolio is the new I-80 rotor. Designed for sports turf and large park applications, the I-80 is built with a dirt-tolerant gear drive that offers a high torque output and a radius range up to 29.6 metres.

Mark Ganning is Hunter's North Europe Area Manager and is extremely positive about the impact the new addition will have. "The UK sports turf market has and always will be an important market for Hunter and our products. The recently introduced I-80 rotor fitted with the ProTech Turf Cup System, an industry first no-dig totally top serviceable solution for rotors located in the area of play, is a prime example."

The I-80 continues Hunter's legacy of developing products at the forefront of irrigation technology. The company believe there is nothing else like it available.

Rigorous sprinkler testing room, precisely measuring spray patterns

Considerable thought and engineering creativity has gone into the features of the I-80. The no-dig device features efficient dual-trajectory, wind-fighting nozzles and provides total top serviceability via its integrated, surface-mounted snap ring.

For optimum display integration, the I-80 also offers an advanced ProTech Turf Cup system. With ProTech TC, living or synthetic turf is retained in a cup mounted to the top of the rotor and installed flush to the surrounding turf. The retaining rings in the turf cup add surface area for increased root adhesion, which helps keep turf securely in place. The no-dig ProTech TC is also top serviceable and features no-tool, quick-release removal of the turf cup, arc adjustments without riser removal and a fully contained riser assembly that stays together when removed from the sprinkler's body. An impressive c.v of advanced detail for a sprinkler.

We enter Hunter's production facility and are met with a plethora of robots and automated lines, precision engineering and assembling everything from the tiny plastic components, through to assembled sprinklers. Immediately, you are mesmerised by the complex network of expertly constructed precision manufacturing lines overseen by the site's forty electronic engineers. In keeping with the rest of the site, it is immaculately clean, almost to the extent it doesn't feel like a factory. We watch a sprinkler seamlessly travel along a production line, whilst components are added along the process, there are a limited amount of people and teams sparsely scattered around the factory floor. Steve points to the final assembly test and a reject pile, where between 1-4% of sprinklers fail the final stringent automated quality check.

The I-80 sprinkler launched recently by Hunter

You can't help think how the process must have evolved from the people intensive manufacturing processes of the 1980s when Ed Hunter founded the company. It is testament to Hunter that automation hasn't replaced people; the Gym Trainers, the Gardeners, the Corporate Social Responsibility man, Hunter has clearly used manufacturing efficiencies to advance the company in other areas, for the benefits of staff, customers, communities and the environment. Indeed, Greg Hunter, current CEO, has no shame in stating they are not a business that simply cares about the bottom line.

Whilst innovation and manufacturing are core to the identity of this company, they are steadfast in ensuring absolute customer satisfaction, a family work-like atmosphere where employee respect is integral and a commitment to enhance and improve the communities they work live and play in.

The privilege of being a global supplier of systems to disperse water, one of our planet's most valuable natural resources, isn't lost on Hunter; it's embraced in a way that they integrate stewardship of natural resources into the company culture.

You can't help but leave impressed, inspired and, to some extent, in awe of what a genuinely brilliant business Hunter Industries is. The infectious enthusiasm and belief for doing what's right is undoubtedly a shining beacon for the amenity industry.