There are growing synergies between towing equipment supplier firms Reese Products Inc. and Draw-Tite Inc. at a level to which no one would have imagined 15 or 20 years ago, according to executives at the two companies.

Reese, based in Elkhart, Ind., and Draw-Tite, Canton, Mich., are now being co-managed and co-marketed by their shared parent company – Heartland Industrial Partners LLC, a venture capital firm headed by former Reagan administration budget director David Stockman.

Reese, a 425-employee company known for its strength in fifth-wheel and weight-distribution hitches, and Draw-Tite, a 400-employee firm best known for its one-piece custom-welded hitches, have had the same parent company since 1990. But they had remained distinct from each other in operations – and rather competitive with each other in many ways – in promoting their national aftermarket brands.

Lately, though, they’ve been working more closely together.
Especially since 1998, there has been an effort to synergize the two operations. The sales teams were combined in 2000, and now the effort to capitalize on the strengths of both brands has shifted into high gear, according to Tom Benson, president of the recently formed Towing Products Group, which oversees operations for both Reese and Draw-Tite.

Behind it all are a series of corporate reorganizations, the latest of which involved the acquisition a year ago by Heartland of MascoTech Inc., the parent of Draw-Tite and Reese. Heartland, which has parlayed various acquisitions to become a significant auto industry supplier with $2.3 billion in annual sales, also has consolidated under its towing products group Fulton-brand towing products, primarily for marine markets, and Wesbar lighting products for marine and RV.

Draw-Tite and Reese are now units of Heartland’s Plymouth, Mich.-based Metaldyne Diversified Industrial Group, which has $750 million in annual sales.

Beginning this past summer, Benson said, the senior management teams of Draw-Tite and Reese were centralized to “promote both brands in the marketplace without competing against each other and to grow our business in each of the channels that we participate in.”

In the process, engineering for both brands was combined under one individual, Rick McCoy, vice president of engineering and product development.

Those separate marketing channels include the independent installer market, on which Draw-Tite focuses, and the more RV-related wholesale distributors, to whom Reese generally markets.

The independent installer channel, explained Larry Fisher, vice president of sales and marketing for both Reese and Draw-Tite, is a broad category that includes everything from gas stations to RV service facilities, muffler shops and truck rental franchises – from Midas Muffler shops to U-Haul installers.

“Over the 55 years we (Draw-Tite) have been in business,” said Fisher, “that’s the area we have gained an incredible market share in.”

Some sales representatives are dedicated to the separate brands, while some are combined. In the RV marketplace, however, Reese is clearly dominant. “Reese is the leading supplier to the RV trade,” Benson said. “Draw-Tite is more a supplier to the independent installer – not that Draw-Tite doesn’t supply some product in the RV trade. But Reese is the name that the Stag-Parkways and the Arrows and RV WDs (warehouse distributors) recognize as their RV product. It’s obvious why. They have the best fifth-wheel hitches, and they have the best weight-distribution hitches. Reese has targeted their product line toward that channel.”