SOUTH HAVEN — HTS Direct LLC, the North American division of a family-owned hydraulic equipment supplier, has relocated its operations to South Haven from the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.
The company just finished up a renovation project on a 19,000-square-foot building at 1310 Kalamazoo St. in South Haven to include six separate spaces, one of which is now occupied by HTS.
“We’ve just moved in and it is gorgeous here,” Will Rogers, director of HTS Direct USA, told MiBiz.
HTS manufactures load moving systems, hydraulic jacks, machine moving skates and toe jacks for the heavy-load-moving industry.
The company’s technology started in Germany in 1970 when Karl Koch invented and built a heavy-duty, steel-wheeled skate system with a 30-ton capacity for his own machine moving business. At the time, the skate was groundbreaking because it used a hydraulic jack as an independent load moving system, according to Rogers.
Nearly three decades later, under the leadership of Koch’s sons, Stefan and Michael, HTS started manufacturing a toe jack that could hold a capacity of 50 tons — the same weight as 25 average U.S. cars piled on top of one another.
Since then, the company has continued developments in the application of hydraulic jack technology, expanded its toe jack series and added hoist rings for when lifting is required. The company now offers “inventively designed” machine moving skates with capacities of up to 220 tons.
In 2016, HTS opened its North American division in Grand Rapids. Rogers, who is a native of the area, joined the company.
“We started with pretty much a warehouse and a telephone and did all the prospecting the old fashioned way by cold calling and letting machine movers and industry know we were here,” Rogers said.
HTS now sells to manufacturers and machine movers across the Midwest and North America.
“Generally, we make what would be a basic, bread-and-butter tool that machine movers would use every day,” Rogers said. “Our skates facilitate movement from the loading dock to the spot where a new piece of machinery is going to go in the factory.”
The company sells about $350,000 in machine moving equipment in the U.S. each year, according to Rogers.
The outlook for customers of HTS in the industrial manufacturing sector remains mixed, as a host of trade and economic factors could slow growth in 2019. For example, U.S. auto sales dipped for the fifth consecutive month in May and estimates for the full year have sales below 17 million units “for the first time since 2014,” according to a report in Automotive News.
As well, concerns have emerged as the U.S. economic expansion nears the 10-year mark.
“On one hand, manufacturing is firing on all cylinders: output is humming, capacity utilization is up, and many manufacturers are delivering solid performance results and shareholder returns. On the other hand, trade tensions lurk in the background and supply chains are straining to keep up with demand, while skilled talent is in short supply and threatening to derail the current industry momentum,” Deloitte LLP reported in its annual manufacturing sector outlook.
Still, Rogers remains bullish on the prospects for HTS.
“In the past three years, it’s all grown,” he said. “It’s been steady enough where we were compelled to buy a building and make that commitment.”
Rogers said originally, HTS Direct’s German parent company was “lured” to the Grand Rapids area by The Right Place Inc., a regional economic development agency.
“They just liked everything that they saw and decided to go with Grand Rapids,” he said of the company’s ownership. “The Right Place had really put together a whole package for them.”
In addition to Germany and the U.S., HTS also has locations in the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Italy.
When the company’s lease ended in Grand Rapids, Rogers and Michael Koch searched West Michigan for a new location.
“We were looking at warehouse office spaces in West Michigan and he came across this building,” Rogers said. “The price was really good and we took a look at it, but at first, I thought it was just too much space.”
However, Michael Koch envisioned advantages to the extra square footage, and the company got to work.
“We bought it and gutted it,” Rogers said. “There were a lot of cinder block walls and rooms throughout the building and we knocked all that down, completely turned it into just the shell itself.”
HTS worked with Grand Rapids-based Viersen Construction Management LLC to add a new roof, six new overhead doors and six new front entrances.
After a $1.3 million investment, the facility now includes six warehouse and office spaces, including 3,000 square feet that will be used by HTS and its two current employees. The company expects to invest more in the 2.5-acre property and also is adding a new driveway, parking lot and concrete loading dock to the site.
HTS plans to work with a broker to find tenants for the extra spaces, Rogers said.
Additionally, he said the city of South Haven has been welcoming to the company and its employees.
“They gave us some easement to make a wider driveway between our property and the city property,” said Rogers, who relocated to South Haven with his wife. “The mayor even took us out to lunch.”
Although the products HTS makes “rarely receive attention” and the company’s growth in the U.S. over the past three years came in spite of “almost zero marketing,” Rogers is content that the company has found a niche in West Michigan.
“We’re really thrilled to be here, in the United States, first of all,” he said. “The U.S. market has really, really welcomed us and really accepted our product.”