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Business Spotlight

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by Steven Nix-Ennen

SBJ Contributing Writer

For more than 30 years, one Springfield company has supported travel across the roadways of the world. Local folks who may ride on Springfield roads cruise right by the Bluegrass Road location nestled off Highway 65. Yet those who keep the world moving know well where to find the Ridewell Corporation.

Ridewell is an engineer and manufacturer of suspensions and controls for heavy-duty trucks, trailers and a variety of buses across the globe. You'll find their work supporting such vehicles as truck icons Peterbilt and Mack, Blue Bird buses, various luxury motor homes and several other heavy or industrial vehicles.

Ridewell's Air-Ride, Rubber-Ride and Steel-Spring suspensions are crafted entirely in Springfield before being shipped to the better-known transportation manufacturers. The company also manufactures height-control valves and custom axles to complement its suspension systems.

John Raidel Sr. founded Ridewell in June of 1967. He moved his family to Missouri from southern California four years earlier to work for a similar production firm.

Raidel started small when he struck out on his own, manufacturing only one product with three employees. Today, Ridewell employs an all-time high of 164 employees and sends more than 100 different products worldwide.

The company's success, according to current Ridewell President John Raidel II, is a melding of their commitment to quality, groundbreaking engineering and an efficient, motivated work force.

"We pride ourselves in original thought and innovative designs that satisfy the needs of our customers at a competitive price," said Raidel, who took on the role of president four years ago. "We have always been an engineering-driven company."

Ridewell currently owns more than 40 transportation-related patents on designs established by its founder, John Raidel Sr., and by an ever-expanding engineering crew. The company's patent claim is doubled if you figure in those held in the past, though many were allowed to expire because of the expense, or because they were replaced by new design.

The elder Raidel, now 79, remains involved as the company CEO, though he has taken a less active role due to recent illness. His 48-year-old son has been involved in the business since he began sweeping floors and cleaning the bathrooms as a teen.

The last 30 years have established Ridewell as an international market leader, yet the last three years have been particularly kind to the organization. Sales for the international firm rose 46 percent in the last year alone.

The company is now expanding the engineering and staff areas of its 120,000-square-foot plant that it moved to in 1984. Within the last 12 months, Ridewell has purchased additional robotic and conventional welding, plasma and material-handling equipment. The company is energetically looking to expand its production staff, 108 of whom are members of the Teamsters Local 245. The engineering department is also due for expansion.

"The demand for transportation products has been up, and we have changed our manufacturing process to streamline production flow," Raidel said. "The economy has been strong, so that has helped us out, as well."

The company prides itself on a four- to five-week lead time in their custom manufacturing. It is a challenge to the company, which ships 18 percent of its wares out of the United States. Ridewell products are on the roads of Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Chile, New Zealand and South Korea.

Until recently, the Asian market was the most vibrant, but the stability of that economy has faltered lately and Ridewell has shifted efforts to other regions in the international marketplace.

"We were doing quite well with the Asian market," Raidel said. "But when that market became unstable, we turned our attentions to other countries. Fortunately for us, other parts of the globe are hot. The South American market is going nicely."

Raidel said that as the company grows, there are adjustments to be made. Many of these come by way of the expanded technology used in engineering and in manufacturing. Other adjustments come in the sophistication of sales and management for the global supplier.

"As we grow we are becoming more mature," Raidel said. "We have refocused our sales to improve product flow," he said. "The economy has been healthy, and that has given us the opportunity to change our process and increase our output. We make a point to focus on a part of the industry we feel has been neglected."

Once they identify this need, Raidel said, one of the company goals is "to meet or exceed customer's expectations."

"We still build specifically for people," he added. "Our engineering department still has priority."

He credits Vice President of Sales Jerry Steele for much of Ridewell's newly matured sales initiative.

One might think that a company of such magnitude, working out of a small region like southwest Missouri, might be content with its 30 years of success. Not so.

Raidel said Ridewell is continually working on new products to expand or strengthen its market presence beyond the niche market of suspensions.

"As we grow, we are becoming more mainline. We are increasing our (market) appetite," Raidel said. "We have several new ideas for the future."

RIDEWELL CORPORATION

Founded in 1967 by John Raidel Sr.

Located at Highway 65 North and Bluegrass Road

833-4560

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