Point of Beginning

A Precise Movement

July 1, 2007


For legendary Allen Precision Equipment owner Warner Allen, it is indeed a new day, as his recent marketing message reads. After 32 years serving the surveying and construction markets, Allen turned over his empire to Hexagon AB, the parent company of Leica Geosystems, in early May. A shocking move, many say, but Allen asserts that he will continue to “operate as a stand-alone company” and as a “full-service, multi-brand company.”

“We’re owned by a new company, but other than that, we’re totally independent,” he says. “It really is all about our customers. With Allen Precision’s acquisition by Hexagon, our total offerings in surveying and construction have been expanded to include the world’s most reliable and advanced products. This, coupled with additional service and training capabilities and the same dedicated staff, positions Allen Precision to offer the most complete package in the industry. Our number one priority is customer satisfaction. As in the past, that will continue to be our primary goal.”

This strong and stable distribution network approach to the measurement business fit with Hexagon’s long-term goal to provide more solutions to more customers in the North American market.

In an industry letter to Leica customers, Bob Williams, president, Americas Region, stated, “Allen Precision Equipment (APE) is an industry leader and provides an extraordinary level of customer service to some of the finest customers in the United States. This is part of the reason APE was such an attractive prospect to Hexagon. After meeting with Warner Allen and his management team, it quickly became apparent that a closer relationship fit very well with Hexagon’s overall strategy. The Allen Precision Equipment team, under Warner’s continued leadership, has the long-term strong backing of Hexagon.”

Ola Rollén, CEO and president of Hexagon Measurement Technologies, says, “We think the service aspect of this industry has been neglected. We also think you shouldn’t have an instrument view as a manufacturer but rather a process view. We look at the surveyor. What is he doing in his day-to-day job and how can we improve his performance? It’s all about giving our customers better service with better products.”

Rollén and his team saw better service with better products in Duluth, Ga.-based APE, one of the few nationally recognized dealers for the surveying profession. The company’s coverage, management and successful business model runs parallel with Hexagon’s overall business strategy, which sets out to be No. 1 or No. 2 in each market segment it serves. One way the organization strives toward that position is through acquisitions. Since 2001, it has acquired numerous companies under the measurement technologies umbrella, the most familiar to the surveying profession being Leica Geosystems in 2005.

“We’re a measurement technology company,” Rollén explains. “We started this business in 2001 by acquiring Brown and Sharpe Manufacturing Company in Rhode Island. Since then we’ve invested by acquiring several other companies active in the metrology field--local American companies that have been active in parallel to Brown and Sharpe. We started looking at surveying and other applications within the measurement technology field, and we realized we could apply our competence in the metrology field and other areas such as surveying and construction. We started with the acquisition of Leica Geosystems. Now we’re looking at complementary distribution but also technology routes to the construction and surveying markets to build a really strong group.”

To Hexagon, an acquisition candidate should have its own production and sales; its own research and development; a focus on the end user and/or OEM; global potential; growth potential; synergies; and strong brands. Of course, APE made the mark.

But under this new umbrella, APE remains much the same. The most notable of changes is that APE now carries Leica Geosystems products along with its extensive line of offerings from CST/berger, Crain, Dutch Hill, Magellan, TDS/Nikon, Schonstedt, Sokkia, Spectra Precision and others.

“Warner Allen and Allen Precision have built up a reputation representing several brands,” Rollén says. “That doesn’t necessarily say that we will not buy complementary technologies to Leica Geosystems under the Hexagon umbrella and distribute it via Allen Precision. Allen Precision will act as a distributor among other distributors in the North American market that are distributing Leica Geosystems products.”

“In most technological-driven markets such as the computer industry,” Allen says, “a consumer is able to purchase several brands at the same store. It would benefit surveyors to have the same choice of multiple product lines available under one roof. It is ridiculous to not offer customers a choice.”

Rollén says there isn’t much overlap in the distribution grid of Leica dealers and APE distribution paths, and that “they [Leica dealers] are used to facing competition from Allen Precision. They will continue to do so. It’s semantics. Our plan is not to integrate Allen Precision into the Leica distribution network. [Allen Precision] can represent a much broader range of products than just the Leica products.”

That broader range currently includes Sokkia products, offerings that may be acquired by Topcon, pending approval by the Japan Fair Trade Commission. Will APE continue to sell them? No one is saying, as legal restrictions don’t allow them to discuss such possibilities. The same confidentiality exists with the topic of ARTNet, APE’s independently owned and operated RTK network solution in the Atlanta area based on a Virtual Private Network and supported by Topcon antennae and receivers. For now, it’s business as usual for APE.

That means that Allen will continue to oversee his career-long dedication of providing to the surveying and construction industry. The company moved over to Hexagon as a lump entity, and Rollén doesn’t plan to change that by substituting European managers or a different role call overall. “I think all of us want Warner to stay on. So if we could clone him, that would be great.”

He continues, “We have a philosophy that managers should be local,” Rollén says. And that helps with the old but smart business philosophy that Rollén points out: “If you want to be successful in America, you have to do it the American way. If you want to be successful in Europe, you have to do it the European way. That’s just the way local business is. The [local] businesses are the strength. It’s what you do with these businesses that have these long-standing traditions of quality and reputation. Our interest in this industry just shows that there are a lot of things happening and it’s an exciting industry to be in.”

Allen concurs. In his thick southern, gentlemanly accent, he says with a smile, “I’m having too much fun.”