Gamber-Johnson, the manufacturer of mounting components and systems for technology used by fire and law enforcement as well as emergency medical services, warehouses and manufacturing, utility companies, trucking, construction, and other businesses is seeing significant growth worldwide, according to Brian Wagner, president and CEO.
The company’s world headquarters is at 3001 Borham Ave. in Stevens Point. They also opened offices in Madison in March.
What is significant to Gamber-Johnson's growth has been its commitment to keeping the business itself local. Products that go out the door leave with the “Made in Wisconsin” certified seal because of the company’s relationship with area vendors, something they refer to as “community stewardship.”
Some of the biggest names in technology such as Dell, Getac, Panasonic, Samsung and Zebra partner with Gamber-Johnson to help make their technology more usable and accessible to customers. Take a look inside a utility truck or a police car and in the front laptop. That mounting system that holds it securely in place may very well be an example of one of the material handling solutions that Gamber-Johnson makes.
“We say we mount technology primarily in fleet vehicles,” Wagner said, emphasizing every- one at Gamber-Johnson understands the importance of what they do. If it’s technology that’s been mounted into a police car, for example, “it could be somebody’s life at stake,” he said.
This year, Gamber-Johnson marks its 65th anniversary.
Back in 1954 the company was formed for an entirely different reason: it was a manufacturer of household and office furniture. Through the decades Gamber-Johnson has seen a variety of evolutions in what was manufactured and who owned the company.
The most significant recent change came three years ago when the company became privately held. Strategic growth has been the result, said Wagner. “Last year alone we grew by 30 percent.” Seventy percent of its market share is in North America, “but it's changing quickly,” he said, with overseas markets expanding “dramatically.”
“I don't think we ship to Antarctica, but every- where else,” Wagner said.
The business has more than 25 patents issued.
There has also been a 50 percent increase in employees. Gamber-Johnson has grown in the United States from 70 to 110 employees, and with the acquisition of the company Precision Mounting Technologies in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, employees now total about 150. The company has two offices in Europe and plans to add one in Asia. They also have a sales team in Canada. “You don't expand internationally with- out that customer relations,” Wagner said.
Development also is “a huge part of our business,” he said. Gamber-Johnson has 12 engineers, which includes three new engineers already added so far this year. The goal is to continue growing the engineering team.
“We’re networking with some of our industry associations,” Wagner said of their search for additional engineers, as well as attending college job fairs and advertising in “traditional ways.”
“It’s the single biggest factor I think for any business in Wisconsin is employees,” Wagner said. “There just aren’t enough people ... Wisconsin’s population is not growing.”
The recession of 2009 forced Gamber- Johnson, like other companies, to take a hard look at their business. “That gave us a chance to recon- figure the functional areas and really take a good
hard look at how the business runs and what areas were bringing us the best returns on investment,” Wagner said.
What has dramatically changed are the types of businesses using the technology that Gamber- Johnson supports with its mounting systems — it’s not just fire and police departments or utilities anymore.
Wagner used the example of Amazon ware- houses. Forklifts inside those buildings are cover- ing wide spaces and operators need to efficiently find product and then transport it. The technology mounted on those forklifts provide real-time information to operators.
Only a “small” amount of their product is made overseas. Wagner said that the Stevens Point plant assembles its mounting systems, but since it’s not vertically integrated, they rely on Central Wisconsin business partners for components.
“We believe in that business model to partner with people from a responsiveness standpoint,” he said. “We’re committed to that approach, and it works well for us.”
That approach means Gamber-Johnson can quickly shift from one material to another for different projects.
“We'll design a system that may be hundreds of components or a couple dozen,” Wagner said. Local partners have developed “their manufacture processes to adjust with us,” he said. “Our value proposition for our business is rugged, reliable and responsive.”
The company culture “is a very collaborative environment. We’re very team-oriented,” he said, which makes Gamber-Johnson “a very dynamic, fun, empowered environment where people can really go out and chart their own destiny and make out of their career whatever they want to make.”
In February, Gamber-Johnson was recipient of the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Award in the category of Exceptional Customer Relations. The awards are sponsored by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP and the accounting and advisory firm of Baker Tilly.
It also received the 2018 Manufacturing Excellence Award in the Small to Medium Manufacturer Category from the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce. In May 2018, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross presented Gamber-Johnson with the President's “E” Star Award for Exports.
“We knew we were one of the finalists,” Wagner said of the 2019 Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Award, but, he said, “We were genuinely surprised.”
“I think the main meaning for us is that they recognized number one what a great workforce we have and what a great job our crew has done in developing our business,” Wagner said, “and really, the commitment to customers and their success.”