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Gilette employees mate engines to generators here in Elkhart and ship them around the world to provide electric power in emergency situations. (Truth Photo By Justin Leighty)
This Elkhart hidden gem is a power player

Posted on June 13, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on June 13, 2013 at 2:49 p.m.

ELKHART — This family-owned hidden gem of Elkhart County business not only manages to muscle its way in a market dominated by some huge companies, it helps power the lights — and sometimes life-sustaining equipment — in emergencies.

COMPANY NAME

Gillette Generators

FOUNDED/WHY THEY’RE HERE

Ray Habic bought the business in 1972 from Paul Gillette, who had a tiny company in White Pigeon.

WHAT THEY DO

They use diesel engines, gasoline engines or engines converted from gasoline power to run on natural gas and/or propane to generate electricity, largely in the emergency backup generator market.

WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU KNEW

When hurricane-turned-superstorm Sandy hit the east coast last year, it caused lots of damage and widespread power outages. Backup generators can only run for so long, so many businesses are replacing them. “A lot of the orders we have right now are directly related to Hurricane Sandy,” said Charlie Habic, vice president of sales. It’s a mix of replacement generators and new ones for people who decided they need backup power.

WHERE THEY REACH

The company ships generators all over. While most of their sales are across the U.S., they have some international sales.

COMPETITORS

In small generators, which used to be the company’s key, Chinese-made imports vastly dominate the market with cheap units. On the large end of the spectrum, “This industry’s dominated by Cat, Cummins, Kohler,” Habic said, but Gillette manages to compete there. Their sweet spot is in between, selling to contractors, firefighters, military and rental markets.

INTERESTING FACTS

Ÿ Habic expects an 18-month cycle of orders coming out of Sandy, based on the impact the company saw following Hurricane Katrina.

Ÿ One of their Sandy orders will go to national TV personality Neil Cavuto, who wants one that will run propane and natural gas. “He’ll have himself a nice little power plant,” Habic said.

Ÿ Choosing a power source can be tricky. After Sandy, some natural gas pipes were shut down due to damage, while diesel fuel was in short supply.

Ÿ At full load, a 420-gallon diesel tank will provide electricity for 72 hours, though Habic recommended people reduce their electricity usage when running on generator power.

Ÿ Ray Habic still comes in each day at the age of 79, designing equipment. “He’s close to retiring,” Charlie Habic said. “We call him an industrial artist.”

Ÿ They have special arrangements with three trucking companies to ship generators, most of which are placed in a truck, and then a bulkhead is installed. Shipping to the east coast can be about $3,000.

Ÿ They provide generators that run off of hydraulic systems on fire trucks, allowing firefighters to set up lights to illuminate fire scenes.

Ÿ They farm out all metal fabrication. “One nice thing about Elkhart, with all the RV guys here, there are all kinds of feeder companies. … Manufacturers like us really benefit by the RV industry even though we’re not related to it,” said Charlie Habic.

Ÿ They sell hundreds of generators to Saudia Arabia for rescue vehicles.

Ÿ They’ve sold generators to the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

NEXT TIME

We’ll tell you about an Elkhart company that has a fleet of airplanes larger than some regional U.S. airlines, even though you’ve probably never heard of them.

Do you know of a hidden gem in Elkhart County? Contact jleighty@etruth.com