Hercules Sealing Products is a distributor of after-market seals and seal kits for hydraulic cylinders used in heavy equipment. Headquartered in Clearwater, Florida, the company operates one of the largest inventories in the industry, stocking 47,000 products in a 52,000 square foot, state-of-the-art warehouse.
Hercules Sealing Products is a subsidiary of Diploma PLC, a major publicly-traded company based in London, England specializing in three sectors. These are life sciences, controls, and the sector that Hercules operates in: hydraulic and pneumatic seals. Under the Diploma banner, Hercules belongs to a family of seal companies called the Hercules Fluid Power Group which distributes sealing solutions in two key markets. Half of the members of this group are focused on the distribution of industrial OEM products while the rest, including Hercules, specialize in the distribution of aftermarket parts.
Hercules Sealing Products was founded in 1962 in Clearwater as an offshoot of a seal manufacturer from Buffalo, New York called Hercules Products. At that time, OEM cylinder manufacturers lacked sufficient support for aftermarket repairs. The founder of Hercules realized that there was a need for aftermarket seal kits, and built a company to fill that niche.
Since that time, the company has grown substantially. Today, customers depend on Hercules to provide seal solutions for equipment in a broad range of industries including construction, mining, agriculture, dump and refuse, logging, and industrial applications. Roughly 400 people are employed across the entire Hercules Fluid Power Group, 160 of whom work for Hercules Sealing Products serving thousands of customers throughout the United States, Canada, Central, and South America.
Hercules ships roughly 1300 packages a day from its Clearwater facility and 85 percent of those are next-day-air. “Our typical customer is a hydraulic cylinder repair shop,” says company CEO Russ Brown. “If a cylinder is out of warranty it doesn’t go back to the manufacturer for repairs, it goes to a local repair shop. It might be a shop that’s repairing cylinders in heavy equipment or stationary applications in manufacturing plants. They take the cylinder apart, see what seals they need, and order them from us. They can repair that cylinder, reseal it, test it, and get it back to their customer within 48 hours.”
This rapid response time is a result of Hercules’ next-day-air shipping and a key differentiator for the company. Many OEMs take weeks to ship a part, while Hercules can deliver by the next day.
The company has in-house product development services that are used internally to design products for its catalog, but the engineering team also applies that expertise to assist clients with their product development needs. For example, one large national customer was having trouble obtaining hydraulic cylinders from a supplier. They were unhappy with long lead times and the equipment wasn’t meeting their quality requirements. Hercules engineers obtained drawings from the customer and were able to build on those designs with a number of enhancements to improve the reliability of the product.
Hercules has a number of third-party manufacturing partners throughout the United States, and through one of them, the company was able to have the new cylinder manufactured domestically and very quickly, saving the customer time and resulting in a higher quality cylinder ultimately. This is one example of the product development capabilities that Hercules has in-house.
In order to help customers detect and troubleshoot equipment problems, Hercules’ engineering team also offers failure analysis services. This is a comprehensive data-driven analysis that can help the customer understand why a particular seal or cylinder is failing. The team’s engineers are hydraulic seal experts capable of solving complex problems, saving the customer time and money by finding the right solution.
There are a lot of hydraulic cylinder products on the market for which aftermarket seals don’t exist, and one of Hercules’ specialties is reverse engineering these products so that the team can design a seal that fits. “It’s not uncommon for our customers to send us OEM kits that we can reverse engineer,” says Brown. “They want them faster than the OEM can ship them. The OEM typically has a longer shipment period, while we do it in 24 hours.”
While Hercules is a subsidiary of a much larger organization, Diploma PLC companies all operate with a great deal of independence. The company’s culture is about flexibility and being nimble enough to get things done quickly. Employees are empowered to make decisions without a lot of red tape, and this has enabled the company to stand apart from competitors. “We do a lot for our employees,” says Director of Sales and Marketing, Kurt Kocik. “A lot of people that started from the bottom have worked their way up into management. We empower our employees to grow in the organization and get the education they need to excel within the company.” To this end, Hercules offers tuition programs and some employees have even earned their degrees through the company.
Certainly, technical expertise is central to the company’s success, and Hercules employees are viewed by customers as the industry’s leading experts. The company has been able to maintain a nucleus of key people within its engineering and inside sales teams that have an unrivaled level of expertise in the field. “We don’t have order takers that are picking up the phone, taking down a part number, and don’t know anything about the products,” says Kocik. Instead, “We have people who have been picking up that phone for fifteen or twenty years. They know exactly what the customer needs and can get those needs taken care of with one phone call.” Indeed, industry expertise is a common thread throughout every aspect of the company.
For eight years Hercules has operated a web store that has grown to be the most feature-rich and technically advanced in the entire industry. Serving thousands of customers every day, it has become a key asset to the company and adds significant value to the service. Among the features it’s best known for are the many ways that customers can search for products. Competitors’ websites usually have one way: type a keyword into a search box and hope for the best. The Hercules Sealing Products website allows customers to search by model, by serial or part number or by application, and the main search field even provides automated suggestions based on your entry. The company’s products are the industry standard so most customers know the parts by name or number. If they begin typing it in, the system will usually bring up their part before they finish.
OEM and competitor part numbers are also integrated into the system. If a customer is seeking a Hercules aftermarket replacement for an OEM part, they can enter the OEM part number and the system will find the appropriate product to replace it.
In addition, the “seals-by-size” lookup allows a customer to measure a seal that they don’t have a part number for and use those measurements to find a matching seal from Hercules’ catalog. This feature is a favorite for machine shops because they can machine a custom part and see if Hercules has a seal for it in stock. Further, the custom seal configurator allows customers to design unique seals meeting custom specifications.
For customers who need to look up a large number of parts, the Hercules web store can read an excel file exported directly from that company’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. The website will respond with a list containing prices and availability for each part. When parts aren’t available, the system will suggest parts that can be substituted for whatever is missing. The system is connected to the company’s purchasing data, so when a part is out of stock it can provide a restocking date. The Hercules website is responsible for roughly one-third of the company’s total business. It’s constantly being updated and a highly trained team monitors and manages its operation.
Going forward, the company is poised to continue its growth. “The secret to our success has always been our people,” says Brown. “We grow every year providing seals for equipment – whether it’s a forklift, logging equipment, garbage truck, industrial press, bulldozer, excavator, it’s the equipment that keeps America running. When they’re down, services aren’t being provided. Revenue’s not being generated. They’re important pieces of equipment and we’re critical in that chain of keeping those businesses running.”
Hercules Sealing Products has grown to be a leader in the hydraulic seals industry as a result of its best-in-class service, next-day-air delivery at reduced prices, and the best technical assistance available. These are the qualities that have made it a choice supplier for a plethora of repair facilities throughout the United States and Canada, and will serve it well long into the future.