3000 Kirkwood Street
Burlington, Iowa 52601
Telephone: (319) 754-0600
Fax: (319) 754-0787
Web site: http://www.winegard.com
Sales: $95.6 million (2001)
NAIC: 334220 Radio and Television Broadcasting and Wireless Communications Equipment Manufacturing; 334290 Other Communication Equipment Manufacturing; 334310 Audio and Video Equipment Manufacturing; 334419 Other Electronic Component Manufacturing; 335312 Motor and Generator Manufacturing
Based in Burlington, Iowa, Winegard Company manufactures a wide variety of reception equipment for home, commercial, and mobile markets. The company’s more than 1,000 different products fall into one of four main lines: outdoor/rooftop TV and FM Antennas, electronics, and accessories; satellite antennas and mounts; mobile off-air and satellite TV antennas and mounts; and medical telemetry antenna and accessories. In addition to serving customers throughout the United States, Winegard markets its products internationally.
Origins in Radio
The inspiration for the Winegard Company came from John Winegard, a Burlington, Iowa, native who became interested in radios at a young age. As a student in the seventh grade Winegard constructed a one-tube radio. As his accomplishment flowered into a hobby, Winegard furthered his knowledge by reading large numbers of technical articles and building radios for others.
John Winegard graduated from high school in 1939 and found employment as a radio repair apprentice. Moving to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he was hired by the Collins Radio Co., an equipment manufacturer. After receiving additional communications training from the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Winegard established a radio shop in Omaha, Nebraska, but eventually returned to Burlington.
When John Winegard arrived back in Burlington, television was an emerging medium that interested him greatly. Because of his training, it also was a medium he understood technically. In 1948, Winegard began making TV antennas, one of which was used to receive Burlington’s very first TV picture. In fact, he constructed an antenna that enabled large numbers of Burlington residents to watch the 1949 inauguration of President Harry Truman.
Winegard eventually began making antennas with Dr. Eugene Gulick, another Burlington resident who was interested in television. Although aluminum was in short supply because of the Korean War, the two men made antennas in Gulick’s basement, and sold them as they could, using much of the proceeds to treat their wives to Saturday night dinners. They soon made their first “commercial” sale, manufacturing three antennas for Block & Kuhl Co., a local appliance shop. The antennas made it possible for Block & Kuhl to receive broadcasts from Chicago station WBKB.
As demand for antennas increased, the enterprise moved to the two-car garage of John Winegard’s parents in Burlington. Dr. Gulick eventually exited the picture, and Winegard found a new business partner named John Wells. Together, they formed the Wells Winegard Co. Antenna orders quickly started to pour in, and the company was forced to find a larger facility at Eighth and Maple Streets. In the winter of 1951, expansion necessitated a move to an even larger facility on Mt. Pleasant Street.
In 1952, John Winegard developed the first antenna capable of receiving more than one channel; the earliest models were designed to only receive channels 4 and 5. Ultimately branded as the Clipper, the new product hit the market in 1953. Demand for TV antennas continued to skyrocket, and before long Winegard’s production was lagging more than a month behind schedule. These conditions prompted another move, this time to a 7,000-square-foot facility on Scotten Boulevard.
Starting Out Strong: 1954–59
In 1954, an important milestone took place when John Winegard bought out his partner and renamed the enterprise Winegard Co. At this point in time, the firm was worth an estimated $500,000 and had a payroll of about $231,000. It employed 22 salespeople and as many as 70 production workers who manufactured approximately 1,200 antennas per day. Among Winegard Co.’s earliest products was a $17.95 antenna called the Interceptor. According to the company, Winegard was the first in its industry to market antennas nationally, which was accomplished through magazine advertisements. In addition, it offered anodized antennas that were more resistant to the effects of weather than untreated aluminum antennas. By mid-1955 Winegard was one of four companies leading the industry. In addition to 48 states, the company had established a foothold in several international markets including Belgium, Canada, and Sweden.
During the mid-1950s, Iowa Governor Leo Hoegh presented John Winegard with a merit citation for his rapid success. However, things were not all positive. A setback occurred in October 1956 when fire from a welder’s torch caused an estimated $100,000 in damage to the firm’s manufacturing facility. Unfortunately, the fire happened during Winegard’s busiest time of the year. Still, no employees were seriously injured and some inventory was spared and relocated to the company’s new 25,000-square-foot facility that was nearing completion. After the fire, Winegard continued to prosper. By the end of the 1950s its product base had grown to include 156 different models of antennas, up from 30 three years earlier.
Reaching New Markets: 1960–89
Progress continued at Winegard Co. throughout the 1960s, with several noteworthy developments occurring late in the decade. In 1968 the company introduced a new closed circuit TV outlet intended for use in commercial buildings. It also nearly doubled the size of its delivery fleet, increasing the total number of semi trucks to five. Early the following year, Winegard introduced its new Color Wedge line of outdoor antennas.
During the late 1960s, nearly 450 employees worked at the company’s two locations in Burlington: a part fabrication plant at 2840 Mount Pleasant Street and two plants at 3000 Kirkwood Street. At the latter site, Plant No. 1 was used as a base for administration, engineering, antenna production, and shipping. Plant No. 2 was devoted to the production of electronic equipment used for TV and FM radio reception. In July 1969, Winegard expanded its production facilities for the fifth time when construction commenced on a 30,000-square-foot addition to Plant No. 1. Complete with a new parking lot for 80 vehicles, the new structure would serve mainly as a warehouse so that existing storage space could be used for additional production.
John Winegard’s engineering skills continued to attract national attention during the 1960s. As the company explained on its web site: “In addition to innovative and progressive TV antenna designs, [Winegard] was recognized in the 1960s for designing tracking antennas for Dr. James Van Allen to track early satellites.” Winegard Co. also received an award for contributing to the Apollo 11 space mission in 1969, which took astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin to the moon. The company provided the Houston Space Center with amplifier systems that were used in its television-viewing amphitheater.
During the 1970s, the scope of Winegard Co.’s offerings expanded to include satellite TV reception equipment. Among its products were master TV systems for consumers and organizations like hospitals, motels, and schools. The company also developed an electronic antenna called the Sensar, a version of which was still being sold in the early 2000s. (In a total departure from the antenna business, John Winegard also founded the Pzazz! Restaurant Complex in Burlington during this time.)
After seven years of development work, Winegard’s first satellite receiver hit the market in 1983. At the time, leading pay television services like HBO did not scramble their signals, allowing those with receivers to view a wide variety of satellite programming for free. This led to an explosion in satellite equipment sales in 1984–85. By 1985, half of Winegard’s revenues were attributable to satellite receivers. However, broadcasters quickly began to scramble their signals, which had a negative effect on the equipment market. At Winegard, receiver sales fell by 50 percent in 1986.
Although scrambled signals represented a small setback for equipment manufacturers, Winegard could foresee the satellite sector’s emergence as a strong competitor to cable television. It continued to devote research and development resources to this market, focusing on the development of a two-foot diameter dish. Winegard also developed a remote controlled receiver, similar to the units that eventually became standard when services like DirecTV and DISH Network exploded in popularity during the early 2000s. As described in the July 12, 1987 issue of the Hawk Eye: “About the size of a videocassette recorder, the receiver permits viewers to select, from a hand-held control, any of hundreds of channels without adjusting the satellite dish. It will not require the viewer to determine on which satellite a particular channel is located, or the direction the satellite must face to receive the signal.”
Winegard Company is committed to innovation and continuous improvement in the quality, cost and delivery of our products, services and processes to effectively meet all customer needs—both internal and external—in order to increase productivity, strengthen our competitive position in the marketplace and provide a reasonable profit to assure our existence and ensure stable employment.
During the 1980s John Winegard moved to Colorado, then home to his company’s design facility, and eventually retired. His son, Randy Winegard, succeeded him as president. On the company’s web site, a retired executive commented on John Winegard and his importance to the company’s success, explaining: “People say John Winegard was a brilliant engineer, and that’s true. One of his greatest strengths was engineering. Today, people talk about ‘manufacturability’ and that is exactly how John Winegard designed his products back in the 50’s. I would ask him why he designed a part a certain way and he would answer by showing me why it would be easier to put together that way. He had a keen understanding of the process. What people don’t realize is that he was an effective marketer too. He had an overall grasp of business.”
John Winegard’s knack for developing effective manufacturing processes had been of considerable benefit to his company throughout the years. Under his son’s leadership, the company focused on ways to make operations even better. In 1985 Winegard installed a resource planning software application developed by Cincom Systems, Inc. According to Computerworld, the addition of the MRPS (Manufacturing Resource Planning System) successfully coordinated production and inventory data for Winegard’s distribution warehouse, as well as its fabrication and assembly facilities. In addition to cutting material costs, the company was able to lower freight charges by nearly 15 percent, reduce inventory by almost 30 percent, and improve its inventory turn rate by 25 percent. As the publication explained, the MRPS software “enabled the company to eliminate obsolete and excessive inventory and to order the right amounts of parts at the right times.”
By 1989 Winegard’s pursuit of quality and efficiency continued as the company focused on simplifying the way its products were made. Randy Winegard and his management team instituted a plan to review manufacturing processes, seeking valuable input from the company’s 500 workers. The ultimate goal of the initiative—which uncovered a number of unnecessary production steps—was to enable Winegard to make the best equipment as cost effectively as possible. In the February 26, 1989 issue of the Hawk Eye, Randy Winegard said: “It’s a myth in American manufacturing that you have to pay more for quality…. Management has to lead by example. You can’t just say you’re committed. You’ve got to get involved.”
As part of its simplification efforts, the company said it would consolidate operations in several different ways. For example, Winegard announced that operations at its 100,000-square-foot facility in Chariton, Iowa, and the Evergreen, Colorado, research and development office would relocate to Burlington. In addition to a goal of reducing its then 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space by roughly 50 percent, traditional forms of incentives were eliminated in order to shift production workers’ focus from quantity to quality.
Positioned for Success: 1990 and Beyond
During the 1990s, Winegard expanded the scope of its product offerings again by manufacturing satellite TV reception equipment for the recreational vehicle (RV) market. Its first offering was an expensive six-foot dish used primarily by owners of large motorcoaches. According to RV Business, the company’s expansion effort became more aggressive midway through the 1990s, at which time DirecTV made it possible for customers to use a more affordable 18-inch dish to receive programming.
Growth also began to heat up in the home satellite market, and by June of 1995 Winegard had a long-term agreement with Sony Corp. to manufacture accessories and home installation kits. The company also announced that it would supply as many as one million 18-inch satellite dishes to AlphaStar Digital, a subsidiary of Canada-based Tee-Comm that planned to provide satellite TV service in the United States. The deal with AlphaStar meant a potential production increase of 500 dishes per day.
In addition to supplying its DirectSat satellite dish antenna, Winegard’s arrangement with AlphaStar involved various accessories and installation kits. Best of all, it meant that 40 to 50 new jobs could be added to the company’s workforce, which by this time consisted of approximately 200 employees. Related expansion plans—involving a new assembly line and more parking spaces—were announced, and Winegard sought approval to rezone residential land adjacent to one of its light industrial facilities in order to accommodate a 50- by 200-foot addition.
By 1996, Winegard had much to celebrate. By this time it had been recognized many times with different awards, including seven consecutive Dealer’s Choice Awards. The company employed some 300 people in a plant that occupied 110,000 square feet. To produce the latest generation of satellite antennas, Winegard added an 800-ton press to its manufacturing operations, as well as new computer-operated equipment. With 34 patents to its name, the company marketed four different lines of products: rooftop TV and FM antennas and accessories; medical telemetry antennas; marine and recreational vehicle TV antennas; and satellite antennas and mounts.
- John Winegard begins making homemade TV antennas, one of which is used to receive Burlington, Iowa’s first TV picture.
- With business partner John Wells, Winegard forms the Wells Winegard Co.
- Winegard develops the first antenna capable of receiving more than one channel.
- Winegard Co. is formed when John Winegard buys out Wells and renames the enterprise.
- Winegard receives an award for contributing to the Apollo 11 space mission that put American astronauts on the moon.
- Winegard markets its first satellite receiver.
- John Winegard retires and is succeeded by his son, Randy Winegard.
- Winegard begins manufacturing TV reception equipment for the RV market.
- Winegard’s products number more than 1,000.
The RV market had become a very important component of Winegard’s business by 1998, accounting for some 40 percent of sales. Although the RV aftermarket initially constituted the lion’s share of the company’s RV sales, by the late 1990s nearly 70 percent of its RV business came from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Winegard continued to serve the RV and mobile markets with innovative products into the twenty-first century. For example, in 2003 the company added three new devices to its line of Entertainment Select Video Distribution Switches. These units allowed RV owners to switch between a variety of sources including DVD players, VCRs, satellite TV, cable TV, and standard TV antennas.
By the early 2000s, Winegard Co. had truly evolved from its origin during broadcast television’s earliest days. Over the span of nearly 50 years the company’s product offerings had grown to more than 1,000. This remarkable growth had occurred in tandem with the emergence of new markets like direct-to-home satellite broadcasting, the use of medical telemetry devices, and the demand for home-style entertainment in recreational vehicles. The fact that communications technology—especially in the realm of entertainment—continues to become more pervasive should bode well for Winegard into the 21st century.
Hughes Electronics Corporation; Motorola, Inc.; Thomson S.A.
Delaney, Steve, “Good News Keeps Flowing,” Burlington Hawk Eye, July 23, 1995.
——, “TV Satellites Signal Winegard,” Burlington Hawk Eye, July 12, 1987.
——, “Winegard Touts Its Simple Manufacturing Process,” Burlington Hawk Eye, February 26, 1989.
“Firm Cuts Inventory with Resource Planning Package,” Computerworld, March 11, 1985.
Marshall, Grant, “Burlington Linked To Apollo Voyage,” Burlington Hawk Eye, July 16, 1969.
Martin, Mitch, “Winegard Eyes Plant Expansion,” Burlington Hawk Eye, June 13, 1995.
Olson, Lee, “Winegard Company Expands Operations,” Burlington Hawk Eye, June 5, 1955.
Sogard, Bob, “Winegard Co. Swept By Fire,” Burlington Hawk Eye, October 16, 1956.
“Winegard Co. Adds Plant Facilities,” Burlington Hawk Eye, July 6, 1969.
“Winegard Thrives in RV Satellite Niche,” RV Business, June 1998.
“Winegard Video Switches,” RV Business, April 2003.
—Paul R. Greenland