By Bill Tremblay
Steve Frey still vividly recalls the first attachment his company made for the construction industry.
After Frey started the agriculture-focused Agway Manufacturing Inc. in 2001, based in Floradale, Ontario, he was soon asked to build a bucket for a Case 580 backhoe.
“It went to a farmer from north of Elmira,” Frey said. “I saw him not too long ago; he’s still a customer.”
From there, Frey was recruited again by the construction industry, this time by Elverne Martin Excavating to create a bucket for an excavator. By 2004, Agway Manufacturing Inc. was producing attachments for excavators under the name AMI Attachments.
“As our company grew, my passion and focus gravitated towards heavy equipment attachments,” Frey said. “You follow your passion. I found the industry exciting.”
By building attachments for Elverne Martin, AMI was able to dig deeper into the needs of the construction industry.
“We learned a lot from him. (His order) would have been the first 20-ton bucket we made. Ever since, he’s run all of our attachments,” Frey said.
Much like the farmer that received the first bucket for the 580 backhoe, Elverne Martin is still an AMI customer to this day.
“Whenever he orders a new machine, he tells the dealer he wants AMI attachments on the machine,” added Bernie Howorth, vice president of sales and marketing for AMI.
Although Agway began with a focus on attachments for agriculture, Frey, a millwright by trade, wasn’t a stranger to the construction industry.
“I grew up in the manufacturing industry,” he said.
Since building those first attachments for construction, the business has rapidly grown. The Agway product line was sold, and now the company operates solely as AMI Attachments Inc. AMI has since relocated to Hawkesville, Ontario, and now manufactures more than 100 heavy equipment attachments.
Team building at AMI
With continued growth, Frey decided to create an ownership team to manage the company.
“We needed to get to the next level,” Frey said.
Darren Bauman, vice president of operations, Dwight Myer, vice president of design and engineering and Ian Martin, inside sales manager, were recruited from their existing roles with AMI to join the ownership team.
From outside of the company, Frey recruited Howorth, who at the time was working for Nortrax.
“We were buying a lot of attachments from Steve for our John Deere machines. That’s where the relationship grew and we got to know each other quite well,” Howorth said, noting he was impressed by AMI’s product quality and service support. “When we had an issue or concern, I could always call Steve and get looked after.”
Now, each member of the ownership team is responsible for their own area of expertise, encompassing each division of the company.
“It’s been really positive to bring that group of owners into the company, in each department,” Frey said.
With continued growth and the ownership team in place, AMI began expanding outside of Canada to the United States.
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AMI hired its first sales rep for the United States about four years ago. The American team has now grown to five reps, each covering their own territory in the United States.
“Our growth has been significant in the last three years in the United States. And, of course, we continue to grow in Canada,” Howorth said.
“There’s a lot of growth potential in the US market for sure,” Frey added.
AMI’s Graptor bucket became the flagship attachment for the company’s expansion into the United States.
“It allows an end user to have a bucket with a thumb integrated into it. They don’t need to have a plate or installation on the machine. That’s been a real door opener for us in the United States,” Howorth said.
The Graptor bucket from AMI
The Graptor bucket (patent pending) is powered by a helac actuator that’s fitted into the crossbar. It’s capable of delivering up to 54,000 foot-pounds or torque at 3,000 psi. As well, its design eliminates the need for hydraulic cylinders.
“It’s pretty gratifying when we get hits off our website and end users are saying they want more information on the Graptor bucket.
“When you get people asking for the brand, it shows we’re doing something right.”
Alongside the United States, AMI has also delivered its attachments as far as Australia, Africa and Peru.
“We started building a bit of a sales strategy for South America, but our primary focus in North America,” Frey said.
A manufacturing first
Adding to AMI’s name recognition, the manufacturer recently became the world’s first company to achieve dual certification from SSAB for Hardox In My Body and My Inner Strenx.
As a certified member of the Hardox In My Body program, AMI Attachments achieves the distinction of providing customers with attachment products manufactured from genuine wear-resistant steel.
Products made with Hardox steel weigh less, withstand abrasion, perform better and last longer. The My Inner Strenx program identifies the superior steel and quality-controlled production techniques used during the manufacturing process.
“We’re the first company in the world to have the dual branding,” Frey said. “It was quite difficult. They audit our welders, weld procedures processes and production.”
With its expanding market, AMI is once again expanding its headquarters and manufacturing capabilities.
While AMI started with two employees and about 1,400 square metres of space in Floradale, the company has grown to about 150 employees, and will soon open a 4,200 square metre expansion, bringing its facility to more than 9,300 square metres.
“Sales have grown significantly since we moved in here.” Howorth said.
The expansion will afford AMI more capabilities alongside more capacity. With higher ceilings, the factory will be able to house bigger cranes to lift bigger attachments.
However, the company has now filled the footprint of its property.
“We didn’t expect to expand this fast when we moved here three years ago,” Howorth said. “We figured we’d be here for a while before we did any expansion.”