PLC Supporting Member Spotlight
Wallingford’s was recently highlighted in the Summer 2019 edition of The Logger’s Voice, a quarterly publication produced by the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, with a PLC Supporting Member Spotlight.
OAKLAND – Wallingford’s Inc. is a company with operations and facilities on two continents, thousands of dealers, and a thick catalog of products marketed to customers across the United States, Canada, and Europe. Yet this leading international wholesaler of tire chain, logging, and industrial supplies started out small, with its roots in logging and snowmobiling in West Forks, Maine.
John “Jay” Wallingford, President and CEO of the company, remembers growing up working for his late father, Richard Wallingford, who had a large logging operation using horses before cable skidders came along to replace them. His father never lost his love of horses after the days of logging with them were done, and many recall him as one of the best draft horsemen in the United States – he and his horses still hold the world record for the largest load ever pulled by a two-horse team.
“He was a lifelong logger up in West Forks so I was born and raised in logging. I always liked it because I always had a job,” Jay said, recalling starting out as a young boy cleaning horse stalls and progressing over the years to hooking tongs from a cable crane loading logs, and eventually building logging roads with heavy equipment, always appreciating the ability to earn some money for clothes. “I was the best dressed person in my class.”
Being in West Forks, the Wallingfords were also into snowmobiles, and by high school, Jay was heavily into racing them. He graduated from high school in 1970, then graduated from Unity College with a degree in criminal justice in 1972 and returned to West Forks with no clear idea of what he wanted to do. His father happened to be planning on building a new garage for his logging business and Jay and a friend took on the job and built it. Jay at that time was racing for a company out of Quebec and needed to keep a lot of parts on hand, and so they got the idea of putting in a showroom in the garage and selling snowmobiles and parts for them. This led to the founding of R.L. Wallingford and Son.
The showroom had not been in existence for long when one day a station wagon pulled up to the garage in West Forks and a man named Dave Tilton got out. Tilton and his brother Steve were the founders of Tilton Equipment Co., which was the U.S. importer of Jonsered chain saws. He was looking for dealers to sell them. The Wallingfords recognized an opportunity.
“So suddenly we became the third Jonsered dealer in the entire country,” Jay said. “So with the advent of the chainsaws that ultimately led us to logging supplies, and as I learned more on the logging supply side I just saw a wholesale opportunity. There was some risk involved and I approached my father and said look, I’d like to go in this direction. I’d like to buy your interest out and liquidate the retail assets and raise the money to build the company that is now today Wallingford’s Incorporated.”
His father agreed. That was in 1975, and that is how the company began. But to fully understand Wallingford’s growth and influence since those early days, you have to consider the company’s innovation in identifying or developing products to meet needs in the logging industry, not just here in Maine, but worldwide.
The list of innovations introduced by Wallingford’s over the years is a long one, but it starts with the J1 choker system, a real game changer developed by the company that launched Wallingford’s on its way to larger success.
Introduced in the early 1970s, the J1 provided an easy and affordable fix for converting the chain choker systems used on cable skidders to cable chokers that were more suited to the needs of Maine loggers skidding loads of small diameter softwood. It sold then, and it’s still a big seller today in regions like the Appalachians where cable skidders remain in common use.
More innovations followed, and more success with them.
The influence of Wallingford’s is evident when you look at the list of products developed by or adopted by Wallingford’s and then at other products on the market today produced by competitors, Jay said.
“You’d be hard pressed to find one that hasn’t been copied,” Jay said.
As the company grew, Jay hired a business manager, Bob Hirschfield, to administer it and went on the road full-time handling sales. Bob today is a partner in Wallingford’s, owning 49 percent of the company while Jay retains 51 percent.
Wallingford’s remained in West Forks for several years until changes in federal trucking regulations led to a loss of daily freight service to the area, forcing the company to move south in the early 1980s.
Wallingford’s relocated its main base of operations to Pembrook, New Hampshire. Later it moved to Tilton, and still later to New Hampton where it remains today. Jay chose to stay in Maine, focused on regional sales, and in 1986 he founded BABAC® Traction Products – a pioneering U.S. tire chain manufacturer notable for its development of the U-Form® stud.
“With the advent of the grapple skidder as opposed to the cable skidder, the imported case hardened chains just weren’t working, they were breaking, so we thought we needed to come up with something new and different, which is what we did,” Jay said of BABAC® .
BABAC® still manufactures its products at a plant right in Winslow, Maine. A tour of the facility shows several innovations and procedures that can’t be shared in this article due to the competitive nature of the industry, but which increase efficiency, quality, and customer service. Efforts to improve conditions for workers are an important part of the company’s approach, as are testing and tracking of products and components used in them and a system flexible enough to produce specialized orders for customers with specific requests, Justin Wener, Plant Manager, said.
“We have testing requirements so that we know the component is good before it gets into production. We have traceability, we have quality control, and we can design anything that you want.” Justin said.
Manufacturing for Wallingford’s is concentrated at the plant in New Hampton, New Hampshire, where workers efficiently turn out chain and cable products. The factory is a beehive of activity, with production rolling, freight moving in and out, and the offices upstairs coordinating everything. Worker pride in the products is evident when you talk to employees there, as it is throughout the company.
The headquarters for Wallingford’s is still in Maine, at a modern, attractive office located in Oakland. There, a team of a dozen sales, marketing, and information technology specialists coordinate the massive job of getting the quality products Wallingford’s manufactures or is the distributor for – like Clark Tracks, GB Bars, and Nordchain – to a network of more than 3,000 dealers, distributors and OEMs(original equipment manufacturers) across North America and Europe while constantly seeking new dealers and opportunities.
The current office is a far cry from the days when Jay was effectively the entire sales staff for Wallingford’s, working out of a home office. He later moved to a house on Oak Street in Oakland as sales staff grew, then to the current Kennedy Memorial Drive location in the early 2000s.
While Wallingford’s maintains a presence in the field and will do whatever is necessary to serve its dealers and customers, one key to success and expansion has been the move to inside sales Jay said.
That decision is one he made after traveling across the country to meet with a dealer in Ohio. He flew to Pittsburgh, rented a car, drove out to the meeting, and sat down and began talking with the dealer, but every time the phone rang the dealer stopped and picked it up. He realized then the phone was a far more effective way to reach dealers than the expensive and time consuming practice of face to face meetings, Jay said.
Since then, the progression of communications and marketing online has been dramatic, and today Wallingford’s sales team still travels to see dealers and talk to customers, but not on a daily or weekly basis.
The move to inside sales also allowed the company to expand beyond the Northeast, Ohio, and Pennsylvania across the rest of the U.S., Canada, and eventually Europe. The company added distribution facilities in the Netherlands in 2009, Edmonton, Alberta in 2012, and Montreal, Quebec in 2016.
Today Wallingford’s continues to build on its success by staying on top of industry needs. When the company identifies a need, it searches the globe for a product to meet it and if successful becomes the wholesaler for that product. If no product exists, Wallingford’s development team goes to work to design and manufacture one. The company retains a strong focus on forestry related products.
Over the last five years, Wallingford’s has taken on new products including Clark Tracks, GB Harvester bars, Carlton saw chains, Ballantine hot saw teeth, and has just launched a whole new line of harvester chains called Orbit™.
The logging industry is hard on equipment, and things that break frequently or wear out sooner than they should don’t last long in the market. Wallingford’s knows this and devotes a lot of time and resources to making sure the products it distributes are tough, reliable, and work the way they are supposed to. That includes testing materials used in products even before they go onto the factory floors, strong quality control procedures and tracking of components, and extensive field testing of finished products – often right here in Maine with Members of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine (PLC).
A strong relationship with Maine loggers over many years first led Wallingford’s to join the PLC in 2015, as well as a desire to do more to support them after seeing the challenges that were hitting the industry. Since then Wallingford’s, a Preferred Supporting Member, has been a strong partner with the PLC and stepped up in support of PLC efforts from Log A Load for Maine Kids to the Mechanized Logging Operations Program. It has also offered PLC Member-only discounts on products.
“Our biggest thing with PLC Members is, we want to support them, we want them to obviously use our products, we want to try and save them some money, and we want to give them good service,” Jay said. “If they want to buy our products they can buy from us or they can go to the dealers but in either case it’s going to be at a savings for them and hopefully at a level of service that they like.”
Meanwhile, Wallingford’s will continue to build on its strong foundation in Maine logging and ingenuity to remain a leader in logging supplies not just here, but across the world.