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December 2017
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Thombert moves into 7th decade of operation
Eileen Schmidt
Eileen Schmidt

Global labor markets may be alluring to some American businesses, but one Midwestern manufacturer has found that nothing compares with its local work force. “Our people in Newton and Brooklyn Iowa can (produce) as cost-effectively as anywhere in the world,” said Reggie Collette, sales and marketing manager for Iowa-based Thombert, Inc.

He said the company has considered opening overseas locations in the past but ultimately determined the quality and productivity of its workers cannot be matched. Collette said the productivity numbers back this up - as a result, the business continues to invest in its plant and equipment, systems and people at both of its manufacturing facilities. The Brooklyn plant is poised for major expansion as early as next month. Due to demand the plant will increase its manufacturing footprint by two-thirds.

The company, which makes polyurethane wheels and tires for narrow electric lift trucks, has been operating out of the central Iowa town of Newton for 70 years. About 116 people work for the business.

Thombert began in 1946 as a custom wood furniture manufacturer, featuring the combined names of founders and brothers Thomas R. and Robert L. Smith, according to the company's online history.

In 1952, the company moved into the growing market of plastics manufacturing and set to work designing high-quality industrial plastics. In 1958 it became the first company in North America licensed to cast polyurethane elastomers, according to the business website.

The resulting Dyalon® - a combination of plastic and rubber characteristics – quickly became a preferred material for electric lift truck and wheels and tires, according to the company history.

In 1987, Thombert became the first U.S. licensed manufacturer of the German polyurethane elastomer Vulkollan® and in 1995 launched Dyalon® 'A' Ghp, the business history said.

Today, Thombert's focus is not on making the least expensive products, but in manufacturing wheels and tires that will outlast any competitors', therefore offering the “longest ride and lowest cost per hour,” Collette said. “People come to us because they are looking for longer wheel and tire life and lower operating costs,” he said, adding that Thombert is the key supplier to most major original equipment manufacturers in North America. Thombert is the most requested brand by original equipment manufacturers, dealers and end-users in the material handling industry, according to Collette.

He said the common theme is that they can depend on Thombert to help improve warehouse productivity and lower costs.

The business offers engineering and application experience to its original equipment manufacturers and aftermarket customers. Wrap-around services to customers has become an important issue and helps drive their success.

“Our goal is to help our customers develop a great brand,” Collette said. Thombert also has an aftermarket program with select dealers, which has high rates of dealer satisfaction and retention, according to Collette. Some have been with the company for as many as 30 years.

Thombert is active in its community and has received a host of awards in recent years, including an award from Des Moines Area Community College as small business of the year. In addition, Thombert has recently received aftermarket supplier of the year in 2015 from Unicarriers Americas in Marengo IL.

Thombert believes in promoting science, technology, engineering and math programming - STEM - and as a result has been working closely with the local high school to help students better understand the opportunity that awaits a career in advanced manufacturing.

As Thombert moves into its seventh decade of operation, its leaders are focused on its customers and employees. The sustainability of the business can only be achieved if all the stakeholders are successful, including our employees, customers and owners, Collette said.

Thombert leaders expect the use of electric lift trucks will increase in the industry because of the growth in warehouse space and the growing use of electric lift trucks in those operations, and with that will come higher expectations for load and speed capabilities.

“We want our customers to know we're not only committed to quality, but committed to the environment,” Collette said. Thombert has received ISO 14001 certification for its environmental systems as well as ISO 9001 designation for quality systems.

System improvements also will be key in coming years, according to Collette. Original equipment lift truck manufacturers will work more closely with their key national accounts and control more and more of their aftermarket business now and in the future. “Those types of customers are dominating more of the market,” Collette said.

As Thombert is poised for an increased footprint in the coming expansion, belief in the company brand is strong, according to Collette. “We will continue to be a leader in the polyurethane wheel and tire business for years to come,” he said.

Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 12 years. Email or visit to contact Eileen.