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Things keep heating up for heating-system-maker Lanair
JANESVILLE—When he bought a local company and arrived in Janesville a little more than five years ago, Barry Brandt didn't have the National Farm Machinery Show anywhere on his radar.
But that's where Brandt found himself a few weeks ago, hoping to generate 150 or so leads that might result in orders for 15 or 20 of the waste oil heaters his company builds in Janesville.
Much has changed since Brandt bought Lenan Corp. in 2009.
The company has added a product line, added employees and added to its bottom line.
"I'm very pleased with how everything has gone," said Brandt, who came to Janesville looking for a small manufacturing company to buy when he and his wife wanted to relocate closer to family.
The company now known as Lanair Products holds about 65 percent of the nation's market for waste oil heating systems.
It primarily sells heaters to customers who have waste oil streams and want to lower their heating bills.
The company sells units under two labels: Lanair and Clean Burn.
The Lanair brand is primarily targeted to smaller businesses, do-it-yourself owners who buy the product direct from the factory at 4109 Capitol Circle on Janesville's east side.
Clean Burn had been a niche manufacturer of waste oil heaters and related equipment in Lancaster, Pa.
Brandt bought Clean Burn because it offered Lanair the opportunity to reach a larger segment of the market through a network of U.S. and international distributors.
"The Clean Burn models come with far more bells and whistles," Brandt said.
One of the Brandt's first challenges was marketing of the Lanair units, which traditionally had been done through direct mail in a hit-or-miss approach that made results difficult to track.
The company started pushing the "factory-direct" nature of the Lanair units to do-it-yourselfers and increased its Internet and social media presence.
"We are in the age of the Internet and social media," Brandt said. "Five years ago, we thought our customers didn't use computers or social media, and they've proven us wrong."
A year into his ownership, Brandt bought Clean Burn.
He moved the entire operation to Janesville and almost doubled his workforce to its current level of 60.
"That was a huge but rewarding challenge for us," Brandt said. "We moved 40 truckloads of stuff to Janesville.
"I thought they'd never stop coming."
Through improved marketing and the acquisition of Clean Burn, the company has enjoyed growth each of the last three years, including double-digit gains last year.
"The recession period was challenging, but our business is slowly coming back," Brandt said. "I'm sure last year's cold winter had something to do with that."
Brandt said the company's acquisition of Clean Burn undoubtedly helped it become the market share leader for waste oil heaters and posted revenue and employee growth.
"There are still competitors out there, and we're always looking at what we're doing, how we're making investments and the products and processes to drive margins," he said.
"When you just sit on your laurels, you get what you get, and that's usually eaten by others."
With the changes in marketing and the acquisition behind him, Brandt finds himself in a good place, even when he's working the farm show floor of a sprawling convention center in Louisville.
He's become more active in the local community, serving on the boards of directors for both Forward Janesville and the Janesville Innovation Center.
"Finally being able to be more involved in the community has been the most rewarding thing for me," Brandt said. "It's important to be a part of the community where you're doing business and play a role in leading the community forward."