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IMPO Onsite: RIDGID Tools Upholding A Legacy

Learn the story of Elyria, OH-based toolmaker RIDGID, which has roots dating back to 1923 when it released its iconic pipe wrench. Learn how the company has continued to innovate and adapt while maintaining its core values.

Although toolmaker RIDGID believes in innovating along with its numerous competitors in an ever-changing industrial landscape, the company’s primary concern is with maintaining the legacy it has been building since its start — specifically with upholding the relationships forged with its products’ users over the years.

“We’ve been talking to them since 1923 and we’ve been listening to their pain points,” says Lisa Engel, vice president of RIDGID’s marketing department. “We want to make sure the tools are easier to use, ergonomic and fail-safe.”

Elyria, OH-based RIDGID manufactures more than 300 types of tools for the industrial, commercial and energy industries. The company considers itself primarily a global manufacturer for pipe-dependent industries. Specifically, the company focuses on serving six segments: construction, service contractors, plant and facility maintenance, fire protection, utilities and energy and mining. The company partners with well-known distributors and wholesalers such as Grainger, Ferguson and The Home Depot, among numerous others.

The biggest point of pride for RIDGID has undoubtedly been its reputation and brand legacy. The RIDGID pipe wrench first came out when the company was founded in 1923. As the company’s first tool and one of the first mass marketed tools in the U.S., it is RIDGID’s most iconic product and it became an exemplary symbol of the brand overall. The tool is so popular that it even made an appearance in one of the Iron Man movies. RIDGID’s second product, the manual pipe tool, was released a dozen years later in 1935.

“There are even people who get tattoos of our tools,” says Becky Brotherton, RIDGID marketing communications manager. “A lot of these guys get these tools handed down from their fathers and grandfathers, so our brand is rated very favorably. It is a great brand, very reputable, and we take our name seriously.”

Exemplary of this legacy is the company’s Net Promotor Score ranking — a score that determines how likely people are to recommend RIDGID to others. Among those in the industry, RIDGID scored quite high for both recognition, as well as recommendation. While RIDGID’s score of 70 placed it next to other global leaders such as Apple and Costco, many of its direct competitors received mid-50s scores and lower. The company believes this is a visual proof to their customer loyalty.

Today, the company’s 300-plus tools come in more than 4,000 models and sizes. RIDGID’s reach now includes more than 4,000 distribution partners that have more than 50,000 combined locations worldwide. The company recently began a focus on electrical tools in 2014.

RIDGID has eight manufacturing plants worldwide, including its 17-acre headquarters facility in Elyria, which has 550,000 square feet of manufacturing space. There are approximately 350 to 375 machines in the Elyria plant overall, some including the older original machines and others more modern and robotic in function.

The new robotic technology has improved production drastically, but hasn’t had an effect on jobs — partially because people still need to man and maintain the machines — because the increase in retirement meant no layoffs were necessary. Thus, the reduction in the workforce came somewhat naturally. RIDGID has nearly 2,000 employees worldwide today.

All of the pipe wrenches are made completely in the Elyria plant — another point of pride for the company, which emphasizes its “Made in America” status. Plant manager Joe Hofferth says that’s also part of the reason for the brand loyalty.

Combating The Skills Gap

Just as loyal as the product users are the company’s workers. There are hundreds of senior workers who have been with the company for decades, Hofferth says. But the issue with this employee loyalty is one that affects the entire industry — it means they have to work even harder at addressing a widely reported growing skills gap.

Replacing retirees isn’t a huge concern for RIDGID, though, because it is well-aware of the situation and believe they are implementing the right steps to reduce the negative production impact of the oncoming labor struggle. Engle says the skills gap problem and general loss of interest in industry jobs is not simply local or even national, but rather a global issue.

For RIDGID to continue to grow in a time of uncertainty with manufacturing employment means that one of its largest focal points has to be training. The company works with local unions and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of Ohio to make a local impact on recruitment and visibility, as well as providing a lot of hands-on training and working with local trade schools.

“We’ve had the skills gap problem for years,” Hofferth notes. “We train everybody here.”

In 1995, the company opened its Schoolhouse Global Training Center in Elyria, which is currently being upgraded and renovated. The 15,000-square-foot facility provides hands-on training to people and companies from around the world. They practice real-world applications using a variety of RIDGID tools so they know exactly what takes place on the jobsite. Not only does this provide training for younger workers going into the industry, but it also provides RIDGID with an idea of how their tools are used in certain applications in addition to highlighting their trouble areas where there can be improvement. RIDGID operates 14 training centers around the world.

Staying Focused

Engle says the company’s overall goal is obviously to expand and she believes that’s the direction the company is moving toward. Because of the consumer shift from traditional to digital and online media, manufacturers across the board feel the pressure to modernize both their production processes, as well as their products.

For RIDGID, however, it’s not just about innovation — it’s about sticking to its roots and improving its legacy rather than trying to focus all its energy on creating something entirely different, as Engle explains.

“There’s a heartbeat here that is a heartbeat of RIDGID,” describes Engle. “I can feel that heartbeat when I walk around these halls. This is a company that truly believes in their products.”