Skip to main content

Nine decades of excellence – Ariens Company still thriving today

Chairman/CEO Dan Ariens also celebrating 40 years - 25 as CEO - with company

share arrow printer bookmark flag

March 5, 2024

BRILLION — Located in the City of Brillion, Ariens Company (AriensCo) has long been known as a leader in the snow removal business — and for good reason.

Last year, the company re-entered the walk-behind mower sector after several years of being away with the introduction of the RAZOR.

It’s the focus on pivoting when needed and making the best equipment possible, Chairman/CEO Dan Ariens said, that has allowed the company to thrive for 90 years.

“Ninety years is a milestone for us,” he said. “Looking back at how the business was formed in 1933, having come this far, it’s an accomplishment and an honor to be a part of this family business. The family has stayed together for multiple generations, and that says a lot for us.”

Dan said multiple things have to work for a company to be around for as long as Ariens has.

“It takes leadership — they have to have a purpose and vision,” he said. “The next generation also has to be accepting of that as an opportunity and a responsibility. One generation may want to pass it on, but if the next generation doesn’t want to be a part of it, then it won’t work.”

Investing in the long-term plans of the company, Dan said, is also important.

Dan Ariens

“We’re a manufacturing company, and we’re not afraid to invest in automation and things that make us a productive, world-class company,” he said. “We have to invest in our products to make them run longer, be safer, etc. to keep our customers coming back. You have to invest money into the business rather than taking money out of the business.”

To prove this point, Dan said one of his favorite stories in his 40 years with the company — 25 of them as CEO — is about a gentleman who has owned the same snowblower for decades.

“I recently received a letter from a customer, who when he was 14, shoveled snow to make money,” he said. “The customer told his father, ‘dad, if I had a snowblower, I could do more.’ His dad said, ‘keep saving your money from shoveling, and then you can buy one.'”

Dan said the customer bought the Ariens snowblower in 1967 and is now 68 years old.

“He’s still using that Ariens snowblower,” he said. “That snowblower is more than 50 years old. That’s what makes me proud — we’ve been around for 90 years, and we have customers using our products for 50 years. Some people will say, ‘you can’t sell new (products) because they don’t die.’ I’d rather have a customer tell someone to buy an Ariens because they last so long. I’ll put our products up against anybody — that’s what has kept us alive for 90 years.”

From marketing to sales to CEO
Though Dan has been the chairman/CEO for two and a half decades, he said he has had many roles before that during his first 15 years with the company.

“In my first role, I was in the marketing department,” he said. “We had just bought Gravely, which was based in North Carolina but now is in Wisconsin. Back then, I moved to North Carolina and was a part of its marketing group.”

Dan said from there, he quickly moved into sales.

“I was selling the Gravely product before we moved (the products) together,” he said. “I was selling Gravely on the West Coast before moving back to Wisconsin in different roles with the company. I got my start in Clemmons, North Carolina, in 1983.”

Dan, who also spent time living in Indiana, said his dad was “good at moving me to different roles.”

“My training was on-the-job learning different parts of the job — the finance group, manufacturing and then the engineering group,” he said. “It gave me lots of experience in different areas of the company.”

A look back
With roots dating to 1933, Founder Henry Ariens began the company with four employees — himself and his three sons: Steve, Leon and Francis.

Today, Ariens employs more than 1,500 across the United States, United Kingdom and Norway.

Henry and his sons developed the first American-made rotary tiller.

“For the first 35 years of the company, we were involved in agriculture and small-agriculture products — tillage and then mowers after World War II,” Dan said. “That’s when neighborhoods started forming with big lawns.”

Today, Dan said Ariens offers both lawn and garden and snow removal equipment.

According to the company’s website (, on the snow side of the business, the Ariens Sno-Thro is the best-selling brand of two-stage snow throwers in the world.

“Our snowblower didn’t come around until the winter of 1959-60 — 27 years after we started,” Dan said. “Though we are known for our quality snowblowers, those sales now account for less than 20% of our business. When I took over (in 1998), snowblowers accounted for 40% of our business. (Because of the unusually warm winter this year), our snowblower business has not been good — but that’s the nature of that business.”

Because Mother Nature is the ultimate decider in how much snow falls, Dan said he has spent much of his 25 years as CEO converting the business to more lawn equipment and its Gravely brand.

In 2023, Ariens Company introduced the RAZOR, which features a Briggs & StrattonÆ Engine, can quickly convert between mulching, bagging or rear discharge and has a 5 1/2-inch-deep steel deck. Photo Courtesy of Ariens Company

“The Gravely brand is almost 50% of our business,” he said. “It’s a professional commercial lawnmower — it’s a heavy-duty machine made for people who cut lawns professionally. Our Ariens brand is taken from the same design mindset as the Gravely brand. I think our residential mowers are the best in the business, and I stand behind that.”

Over the years, as times have changed, Dan said so have the products Ariens manufactures, but two things have remained the same — the company being based in Brillion and the CEO’s last name.

Henry, who served as president from 1933-56, passed the business down to his son, Steve (1956-69).

Next up, Michael, the grandson of Henry, served from 1969-92.

Today, Dan, the great-grandson of Henry, has served as chairman/CEO since 1998.

When it comes to being based in Brillion, Dan said the history goes back even further than 1933.

“If you look back on our history, Henry started Brillion Iron Works in 1893,” he said. “He was in Brillion 40 years before Ariens Company got its start. He lost Brillion Iron Works in 1933 and literally went to his garage and started making a tiller. He made one at a time. He and his sons started Ariens Company with a loan from my grandfather’s wife’s sister — an aunt — who had some money. They sold her some stock, and she was the first investor whom they bought out several years later. That’s the story of Brillion — he didn’t quit. Thank goodness for his determination.”

More than a company
With the Ariens family calling Brillion home for as long as any family — Dan said it’s something he’s very proud of.

“We’re a big part of the community in terms of how many people we employ and the economic importance we provide,” he said. “We’re doing hospitality (too), we purchased the Brillion Iron Works property and are now developing that. We put up a new daycare and a Bellin clinic recently opened.”

Dan said Ariens also purchased some buildings in the city to refurbish.

“One of them is a new coffee shop and bakery (called Batch Baker Company),” he said. “A young couple in Brillion wanted to get into the baking business, and now we have them going. We also have Round Lake Farms and the Nordic center — those are world-class event spaces.”

Dan said the Nordic center, which opened last winter, can operate despite the lack of natural snow.

“Because we have snow-making equipment, the Nordic center has been busy this winter,” he said. “When people go out there, they say, ‘this is way bigger than I imagined.’ The pictures don’t do it justice. You’re on 300 acres with five kilometers of trails for cross-country skiing and fat biking. It’s a real outdoor recreation area destination now.”

Dan said the company is also looking at apartment buildings and other things to help support the community.

The future
As previously mentioned, Dan said future generations have to be willing to take over a family business, so what does that mean for the future of Ariens?

“I’m 65 this year, and my father worked into his 80s,” he said. “My grandfather died too young, in his late 60s, and my great-grandfather worked his whole life and died at 92. I told my father I wouldn’t do what he’s doing — I couldn’t do that.”

It’s important for any company, Dan said, to infuse fresh, young talent and minds.

The Ariens Nordic Center, which sits on 300 acres, has five kilometers of trails for cross-country skiing and fat biking. Photo Courtesy of Ariens Nordic Center

“You need people with a lot of energy to possibly work 60-80 hours per week running a big business,” he said. “When you run out of some of that energy, the company is waiting for you to make the next decision. My short answer to a long answer is, ‘I’d like to continue and take less responsibility and stay as our chairman of the board — maybe until I’m about 70.'”

Dan said a succession plan is in the works, but it’s not quick and easy — nor have any specific details about it been released to the public.

“We have a lot of strategic decisions to make (as a) family and where I go in my after-years,” he said. “Ariens has always been planful about the business, including the succession plan.”

But for now, Dan said Ariens will continue to do what it’s done for the past 90 years — “make the best lawn and garden and snow removal equipment in the business.”

share arrow printer bookmark flag

Trending View All Trending