By Grace Silipigni
In recent years, Virginia Beach has attracted the attention of many international businesses for its affordability, diversity and proximity to ports. These hot market qualities are not new to the region, however, STIHL, Inc. capitalized on the potential of Virginia Beach’s global business market over 45 years ago. The German power tool company claimed the 757 as its United States headquarters in 1974 and in October 2019 unveiled a renovated campus that is making waves in the manufacturing industry.
The $30 million remodel resulted in a state-of-the-art manufacturing, training and administrative facility that has placed STIHL at the forefront of the power tool market. The Virginia Beach site not only crafts full-scale tools, but sub-assemblies, too, including guide bars, trimmer lines and pistons.
“There is a tremendous amount of capability here that goes well beyond the assembly of product, but producing a lot of the components and sub-assemblies that go into our [tools],” says STIHL President Bjoern Fischer. “This also helps us control quality.”
The Lynnhaven campus boasts 1 million square feet under its roof and advanced robotics that have made production more efficient and precise than ever before.
“We now produce in a single day as much as we did in the first year we started here,” says Fischer. “Over all the years that we have introduced technology, [however], we have not let people go. On the contrary to that, [robots] have enabled us to take the workforce, train them and give them higher skills and higher level positions.”
Such advanced instruction occurs right here at the Virginia Beach training center. The technical skills lab is accessible to all STIHL auxiliaries nationwide, including the company’s 11 branches and distributors and 10,000 independent dealers. “We have several stages of training that we provide them,” says Fischer. Once employees earn their bronze certification online and silver at regional branches, they graduate to the training center where they can earn the status of a gold- and platinum-certified STIHL technician.
STIHL’s dedication to workforce advancement has yielded significant innovation in the company’s product. STIHL revealed several new inventions at last year’s GIE+EXPO in Kentucky, the largest tradeshow for outdoor power equipment, including the first electronic fuel-injected chainsaw dubbed the MS 500i, a battery-powered handheld garden pruner and STIHL Connected technologies.
“[The STIHL Connected] units are placed on the products themselves and provide through Bluetooth enablement an app and online portal that allow you to track those units and manage [both] where they are and their maintenance,” explains Fischer.
As the third generation Stihl family leaders continue to revolutionize the power tool market, Fischer foresees an increase in battery-powered products. “STIHL is a very long-term orientated company. We always look to the future,” he says.