PM sat down recently with Ridge Tool President Fred Pond at the company’s Elyria, Ohio, headquarters, where the company has been working to expand and improve its manufacturing processes while simultaneously investing significantly in the surrounding community.
PM: How has Ridge been investing in its manufacturing over the past year or so?
FP: Well, first of all it's not a singular-year thing for us. We've had a very, very strong track record of investment for a long period of time. We’ve invested significant sums of money just in this facility alone — I mean, it’s almost hard to spend that amount of money unless you've got a really good plan. The vast majority of our capital goes into our processing and our abilities to produce better products, hold tighter tolerances. Frankly, we needed additional capacity throughout the world in terms of just our growth.
I think probably the amazing thing about RIDGID is that even when times were a little tough, we continued to invest. We did not hold back on investment, and you can see it. You can walk around the floor and there's, I don't even know, 400 machine tools probably down on this floor alone. It's pretty densely packed with machine tools.
PM: Are you running out of room at your Elyria facility?
FP: If you come back 12 months from now, we're going to show you something really, really cool — we’ve got some really big plans for this facility. We’re going to go to smaller, kind of. What we found out was we had spaced all of those machines downstairs because we had to get two tubs in between them, but now, if we get two of these walk-behind wire baskets, I can put machining tools even closer together. So that was probably the one benefit that we didn’t really even think it when we started the process of eliminating the stackers. As we get rid of the stackers, of course, there’ll be inventory only on the floor.
PM: How many area residents have you hired and trained lately, and can you talk a little about your company culture?
FP: On the hourly workforce, just in the last several months we’ve brought more than 40 people on. One of the beauties of RIDGID, and it really is an interesting thing, is that these are really good jobs. People want to work here, they're proud of working here — they're proud of working for an American company that has this great tradition.
We just had an open house, and we had about 1,000 people attend, many of whom were retirees. They all wrote me these nice notes saying that no one does this [host a company open house] — why do you do it? I said, well, because you know what? You’re part of this, and you're an important portion of this. We're not going to forget that.
It was amazing to me to see our very young employees coming in and bringing their families and saying: “Here’s what I do and here's how I do it today versus how I used to do it. Here’s what I’ve done. I’ve set this cell up, I worked on this, I was the guy who designed this.” So we have this very inclusive kind of thoughtful process today, and I think people want to be part of that. They feel connected to it. It’s very common for people to come here and spend 40 years.
PM: I noticed that safety is a top concern in your facility. Can you talk a little bit about that?
FP: Absolutely. You really picked up on something that's really near and dear to our hearts, and it's a basic human right. You deserve to work in an environment where you're free of any form of an accident. We need everybody engaged to make that happen. It's not that I can stand up and say, “Geez, don't do this," because that doesn't work.
We’ve had pretty active engagement across all of our employees, and that’s globally. That’s really hard to do. We have improved safety dramatically and seen about a 300% decrease over the last 10 years — maybe 400% since then — and an incident for us could be a bee sting. You could walk outside and a bee could sting you and of course it swells up and you've got to go to the doctor or something.
We’re working at it each and every day. We want our people to be absolutely free from any accident if at all possible, so we rethink everything. We look at everything. That’s absolutely been a huge focus of ours.
PM: I heard you now have a dedicated person whose job is just to ensure safety, correct?
FP: Yeah, he does. He wears actually a couple of hats, in fairness. He has a bit of a background in this area, and he's actually part of our HR department, but really, safety starts with everybody. They have got to walk in with that mindset. You came in this way; we want you to go home the same way. Go home happy and healthy to your families when you're done with the workday.
PM: You work with the local community college, but what else are you doing to promote the trades?
FP: We have a long, long history of doing that. I’ve been with the company 38 years and I can't remember a time where we didn't have active involvement. We actually have a couple of universities. This is pretty funny. We have one Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, where our 60-inch pipe wrench is their mascot.
We do a lot with the trades, and we do a lot in terms of philanthropic donations. But certainly we’re involved in things like SkillsUSA and PHCC. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't get a request from somebody in terms of donations for either a trade school, high school, or something else, and you can't press all the keys on the piano, but you try to press as many as you can.