Glance around Dave Tilton’s office and you’ll learn all you need to know about Tilton Equipment Company. The framed photos on the wall and the artifacts on the shelves all have stories behind them, and Dave smiles proudly as he recalls the memories attached to each of these treasures.
When you’ve found a way to make it work for 40 years in the outdoor power equipment business, you have every reason to smile. Tilton risked everything when he started the business in 1969 in New Brighton, Minn., and the fact that Tilton Equipment has not only survived, it thrived for four decades, is a testament to Tilton’s work ethic.
“I had seen the distribution business and the way companies did things, and I thought if done a little bit better I knew that it could fly,” Tilton said. “I laid everything on the line. I cashed in stock from my previous job, and used the equity in my home to start a business. Today, it would take a hell of a lot more than that.”
Knowing what it takes to compete in an industry where the players and their products are constantly changing is something Tilton has been quite adept in doing over the past four decades. Today, Tilton Equipment is the exclusive importer of Jonsered products for the Eastern United States and the Caribbean, as well as the nationwide importer and distributor of Tecomec, Yard Shark, Aqua Stripper and many other product lines.
“The product line has improved, but the integrity is the key,” Tilton said. “We aren’t going to try to [mislead] anybody. My phone line is open, except to telemarketers.”
Tilton Equipment operates on a basic set of principles: quality service, consistency, and as Tilton said, integrity.
“We’ve gotten to where we are by providing outstanding service to our dealers,” Tilton said. “That’s made possible because we have loyal, hard-working employees, and of course, we offer quality products.”
Tilton Equipment has certainly come a long way since the day in 1969 when Dave Tilton and his brother, Steve Tilton, first convinced former Jonsered export manager Olaf Bergeroed to let them sell his products. Bergeroed wasn’t an easy sell – the Tilton brothers didn’t even have an office at the time – but Dave and Steve kept proving themselves.
“It was kind of explosive,” Dave Tilton said. “We kept saying to Jonsered, ‘we can take Wisconsin, we can take Michigan, and so on. They just kept saying ‘OK.’”
Dave and Steve, along with their wives, Carol and Bobbie, are the foundation upon which the company was built. Dave and Carol started the business in 1969, and one month after opening their doors, Steve and Bobbie joined the company.
Fast-forward 40 years, and the “original Tiltons” are still heavily involved with the company. Steve, who is the vice-president and mastermind for new ideas, modernization and efficiency, oversees the Tilton distribution center near Louisville, Ky. At one time Tilton had six full-service distribution facilities, but they consolidated to one state-of-the-art facility, where Bobbie still works every day. Dave remains the company’s president, working out of the company headquarters in Rye, N.H., an area the Tiltons moved to in 1971. Carol is still putting in 60-hour weeks as the company’s corporate secretary. The New Hampshire location also houses the eastern region sales office, and there are also sales offices in Minnesota and Georgia.
All told, Tilton has a team of 60 people between in-house employees and sales representatives.
“We are fortunate to have many knowledgeable, long-term employees who are dedicated to our success,” Dave Tilton said.
That success continues through uncertain economic times, as Tilton has managed to not only retain a high percentage of its dealers, but also attract new ones.
“A lot of the dealers relate to us,” Dave Tilton said. “They like to do business with us.”
That, Steve Tilton said, has been a key to the company’s longevity. He expected success based on the idea of fair treatment.
“I imagined Tilton Equipment Company would still be in business because of the foundation it was started on,” he said. “Treating dealers, employees and suppliers fairly, honestly and with respect. I did not imagine the changes in transportation would allow us to serve such a large area from one distribution center very effectively, or technology allowing us to have such a scattered employee base working together harmoniously.”
Tilton has never rested on its laurels. They’ve stayed ahead of the curve by ramping up services to their dealers, including a dealer-exclusive Web site that offers a variety of tools and information with easy access.
“We will continue to utilize innovation and technology, being increasingly successful in further building the Jonsered brand, as well as the brands of Tilton Equipment Company, Yard Shark, Aqua Stripper, Total and RedLine, as well as our other product lines,” Steve Tilton said. “We set the bar high when implementing solutions that increase our efficiency. We always strive to innovate solutions that help the bottom line of our dealers and suppliers, as well as ourselves. We never stop working to reach that goal.”
That attitude of helping business partners on both sides of the equation is one that is engrained in Tilton Equipment’s history. Dave Tilton recalls attending an international distributor meeting hosted by Oleo-Mac, the precursor to Efco (previously Olympyk), whose products Tilton Equipment imported for many years. At the meeting, the Tiltons were presented with a special award by Oleo-Mac’s president, Arielo Bartoli, who cited Tilton Equipment as the distributor who had contributed more to their success than anyone. Dave Tilton was surprised considering his company was not, by any stretch, Oleo-Mac’s largest in sales or market share. But Bartoli said that Tilton Equipment, by demanding better products and demanding solutions to problems, compelled them to improve their product line from top to bottom, helping Oleo-Mac to become more successful in the world market.
Dave Tilton explained that the industry has evolved because it’s more corporate controlled, but because Tilton Equipment remains a privately held independent company; it hasn’t had to cave to any of the pressures that can result from such control. Simply put, Tilton Equipment has stayed true to the very principles it was founded upon.
The future is full of challenges, especially since most distribution in the industry is now either factory or corporate-owned. And with a variety of competitors selling rival products, there’s plenty of competition. Tilton Equipment has always found a way to meet that competition head on, and Dave Tilton maintains that the company will continue to do so.
“Competition is fierce,” Dave Tilton said. “But we still like the way we do business, and we do enjoy a challenge.”
The Tiltons are proud to have been in business for 40 years, and even more proud that the company isn’t slowing down. Dave Tilton may need to add some shelves to his office walls.
For more information on Tilton Equipment Company, visit www.tiltonequipment.com