Bliss Industries LLC: Leading Equipment Production to Form Pellets

Pellets – whether used as feed for farm animals, food for dogs or fuel – are made from a raw material. That raw material has to be ground, mixed, formed into pellets and then cooled. Many companies producing pellets for whatever purpose use equipment produced by Bliss Industries LLC (Bliss).

Bliss, headquartered in Ponca City, Okla., is an industry leader in the production of hammer mills, pellet mills and pellet coolers. The Bliss family founded the company in 1981 as a small, privately held business in Newkirk. The production and office facilities were later relocated to its current space in Ponca City. In 2007 the Bliss family sold the company.

Today Bliss is owned by Pennington Allen Capital Partners, an investment firm formed by principals W. Lane Pennington and Mark H. Allen. When Bliss was sold to Pennington Allen Capital Partners, Paul Gill, current president and COO of Bliss, joined the company.

“Our local presence as a U.S.-based manufacturing company sets us apart,” says Gill. “Our products are made primarily from materials sourced in the U.S., and we manufacture and service our own equipment.”

Bliss is capable of producing equipment suitable for small feed processing plants or large companies like Nestle, a global producer of food and drink. The main products manufactured by Bliss include the hammer mill, pellet mill and pellet cooler. Gill explains the hammer mill is used to grind raw product that is then blended and further processed through the pellet mill, which forms the pellets. Once pellets are formed, he continues, the material has to cool prior to packaging and that is the function of the pellet cooler.

Compared to its competitors, Gill doesn’t perceive Bliss is a large company. “We’re local,” he says. “We have one manufacturing facility and about 60 employees.” Despite the company’s smaller size, Bliss produces and distributes equipment globally. Gill estimates that between 15 and 20 percent of production is for international business.

Variety of Applications

Gill doesn’t see Bliss as having a niche because the equipment produced by the company serves a wide array of purposes. The animal feed industry and pet food industry are a big part of Bliss history and growth. However, according to Gill, the ethanol industry had a significant impact on Bliss. “From 2005 to 2007 the ethanol industry helped double our sales,” he says.

Bliss has set the standard in hammer mill grinding efficiency, which makes the equipment produced perfect for the biofuel industry. The equipment ranges from 15 horsepower to 600 horsepower and 6.5 inches to 60 inches in grinding chamber width.

“Corn and grain ethanol have been a primary focus for Bliss,” explains Gill. “Between 60 and 65 percent of the ethanol plants in the U.S. are running Bliss hammer mills.” The renewable fuels industry also includes the production of wood pellets and biomass processing. According to Gill, Bliss has installed equipment in 33 biomass processing pellet facilities worldwide.

Meanwhile, in the animal feed industry, Bliss equipment is used in processing food for Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Iams, Mars Petcare, Nestle Purina Petcare Company, Purina Mills and DelMonte Foods. One reason Bliss has made such a mark in the grind process for companion, livestock and aquatic feeds is the company’s dedication to customizing its equipment to suit customer needs.

“Any time that we are manufacturing equipment for a specific customer that customer can send us sample material,” says Gill. “Bliss has a test facility with lab equipment that allows us to perform test grinds and form pellets from the test material. We can test their actual material and inform the customer how their material will process through our equipment.”

According to Gill, that is not the company’s only competitive edge. “Testing helps us answer client questions and size the equipment correctly,” he says. Bliss has also been called upon to develop and improve digestibility of foods through hammer mill technology, design and installation.

Meeting Economic Challenges

Following the boom in business based in the ethanol production industry, Bliss struggled with the economy in 2009 and 2010. “The capital markets were very tight so our target customer was not spending much as far as capital expansion,” says Gill. “We rely on equipment sales, and when various industries are not approving capital expansions, it impacts us.”

To survive the downturn, Bliss reduced the size of its workforce through attrition and restructuring, initiated a short-term reduction on hours worked and increased its focus on selling replacement parts. Gill conveys that parts sales increased to 50 percent of Bliss’ revenue when that sector of the business is typically between 20 and 25 percent. “We made some internal changes, too, in an attempt to further reduce overhead expenses,” he says.

But seeing an uptick in business in 2011 and 2012, Gill is refocused on the company’s future. While many pet food producers use the Bliss hammer mill, Gill is trying to see how Bliss can get the company’s cooler into those manufacturing facilities. “We’re currently looking at how to modify our cooler to make it more sanitary for pet food use,” he says.

Gill and the team foresee positive changes. “We’re looking forward to growth,” Gill continues. “We’re looking at product improvements and strategic partnerships with an original equipment manufacturer [OEM], other than those we currently work with now.”

However, that is not all Gill has in mind. “I would like for us to expand our equipment offering into industries and markets we currently serve,” he continues. “For example, in a particular industry, a company may have a Bliss hammer mill, but use a competitor’s cooler or pellet mill.”

Gill’s effort to expand market penetration and provide more equipment to the companies that Bliss currently serves is Gill’s push to keep the business strong. With 60 employees on staff, he realizes it is more than just jobs at stake; it is 60 families that rely on Bliss for a steady paycheck and benefits. “That’s not something I take lightly,” Gill says.

Luckily for those employed at Bliss, Gill is not solely focused on the bottom line; perhaps this is yet another attribute that sets the company apart. With strong leadership in place, as well as a dedicated staff and workforce, Bliss Industries LLC will be sure to weather the ebb and flow of the industries it serves for years to come.