This year marks the 30th anniversary of Grizzly Industrial — a name that many woodworkers see every time they turn on a woodworking machine, thumb through the company’s massive catalog or visit its website. To mark three decades, Shiraz Balolia, company founder, recently shared how Grizzly has changed and grown over three decades of service to woodworkers.
Please tell us a bit about your woodworking background and special interests/projects as a woodworker.
I have a complete woodworking shop at home including a 20-in. planer, 12-in. jointer, large edge sander, several shapers, a wide-belt sander, 12-in. table saw, drill press, large dust collection system and a CNC router with eight-position tool changer. Except for the CNC machine, everything is Grizzly. I like to build complex projects and find building guitars, both acoustic and electric, to be very challenging and satisfying. The guitars I have built can be seen at grizzly.com. I have currently put woodworking on hold while I train with the United States Rifle Team for the upcoming World Championship. I am the captain of the team.
How did you enter into the industry of woodworking machinery manufacturing?
I started out in the metalworking machinery business and during those days (more than 30 years ago), the selection of woodworking machines was very limited. You basically had Rockwell (Delta) and Powermatic, both of which were made in the United States during those days and were very expensive. This left the door open for lower priced imported machines to enter the market. I started Grizzly Industrial’s operations in Bellingham, Washington, in 1983 with one employee, who ran the computer. I did everything from unloading containers, accounting, marketing, answering phones, packing boxes, mailing catalogs, servicing machines to janitorial work. With hard work, and many 16-hour days and nights, we grew steadily every year, adding more staff along the way. Today, we employ over 300 people in the United States and another 15 or so at our overseas offices.
Why did you choose the name Grizzly?
It is the most powerful animal in North America. It is also very easy to remember!
What are some your company’s highlights over 30 years of doing business?
Four years after we opened our doors, we expanded to an East Coast warehouse in Muncy, Pennsylvania. In 1989, we moved into a larger facility in Bellingham and bought Cascade Tools — a router bit and shaper cutter manufacturer. Ten years later, 1999 marked a really big year for Grizzly: we opened offices in Taiwan and China and hired five quality control engineers. That staff has almost doubled now. We also opened our Springfield, Missouri, branch on 15 acres of land, plus a 30,000 square foot warehouse dedicated for parts to improve service to our customers. A year later we bought 40 more acres in Springfield across the street from our facility and built another 300,000 square foot warehouse. In 2001, we built a 220,000 square foot showroom and warehouse in Muncy, and just five years ago we added another 200,000 square foot warehouse in Muncy. We have continuously been adding new products, building warehouses and growing. We currently have over 1.2 million square feet of space and have another 60 acres of land next to our facilities for future expansion.
Certainly there have been some challenges along the way, growing your product lines and expanding the company.
This is not an easy business to be in and certainly there are challenges of all kinds. We also try not to increase prices on our machines and the biggest hurdle for us has been the last six years where prices, at source, have constantly gone up due to a weak U.S. dollar, increased material costs and increased labor costs overseas. We have absorbed a lot of these increases, which cuts down on profits, so it has been interesting. Add to that, the poor economic situation in the United States the last few years has forced us to stay alert! We are very strong financially with a large war chest, so we have been able to withstand the storm. However, it has caused major problems for some of our competitors.
What really put Grizzly “on the map” as a leading machinery supplier?
About 14 years ago, we decided that it was time to improve the quality of our products and to control the improvements. We opened our Taiwan and China offices and spent some serious money on QC efforts so that the quality was improved and consistent. Prior to that we did what most importers do: depend on the factories for internal QC, which is a hit-and-miss situation.
We also have been constantly adding a huge selection of machines. Not only do we have the largest selection in types of machines, but within each machine type, we have a large breadth of choices in sizes. For example, we have 25 different models of band saws — more than any company in the world under one brand! You take any machine, whether it is a planer or jointer or wide-belt sander or dust collector, we have a huge choice. And, we stock all of them at all three locations. In order to satisfy our “want it now” society, we ship from the closest warehouse so the in-transit time is faster to the customer.
What do you consider to be Grizzly’s hallmark products?
Actually, we have a lot of significant “hallmark” products. Band saws, dust collectors, jointers, planers, etc. We excel in all of them because of our selection and pricing strategy. To that extent, it’s important to point out that the owners of major manufacturers and suppliers overseas are personal friends of mine, and we’re together in business. Good relationships have advantages in business.
Do you have a personal favorite Grizzly tool in your shop?
I am both a woodworker and metalworker and have extensive workshops of both in my home. Each tool has its own use that you cannot substitute anything else for. Having said that, the wide-belt sander and jointer for woodworking and the lathe and mill for metalworking. However, I use and like everything. I am a tool junkie!
How has the woodworking machinery industry changed over 30 years? What are a few of its challenges now?
The machinery business has completely changed in 30 years. Due to the Internet, there is constant pricing pressure as it is easy for consumers to shop prices. Our instant gratification society needs answers right now. As a business you have a choice: moan and groan about it, or deal with it! We chose to deal with it. Consequently, our IT and graphics departments are busy staying on the cutting edge of electronic information. We also embarked on producing a series of professional videos dealing with machine comparisons as well as how-to issues and currently have about 45 videos produced and online. This takes a lot of time and money, but we are committed to being and staying number one in our industry.
Are there some special events planned for employees or customers this year?
We are experiencing a double-digit growth and are very busy, but we may do some internal celebrating with our employees this year. From time to time, we will also have certain customer specials going on, and right now we are offering two special-edition band saws with our 30-year logo and black paint scheme.
Learn more about Grizzly Industrial’s woodworking and metalworking machinery by visiting grizzly.com.