Built for Longevity

RIDGID tools span multiple generations of plumbers and that carries over into manufacturing as well.

Built for Longevity

  RIDGID crew members work the assembly line at the manufacturing facility in Elyria, Ohio.

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When plumbers like Dan Gross, of Gross Plumbing in Ohio, pick up a RIDGID pipe wrench, they know they are getting a quality tool that has been around a long time and that they can depend on it.

“We appreciate the durability of RIDGID tools. The new and innovative tools that make our work easier to accomplish are also a game-changer and allow us to perform work faster and better,” says Gross.

Gross has been using RIDGID tools since he started his company in 1956, and that longevity is a point-of-pride for the men and women who work at RIDGID.

“When I first started here, I got a call from one of our customers telling me about his RIDGID wrenches and pipe cutters that had been passed down through three generations of plumbers,” says Craig Sumner, president of Professional Tools, Americas (RIDGID and Greenlee brands). “I sat back in my chair beaming with pride about working for a company where building high-quality product is central to the brand.”

Plumber recently conducted a Q&A with Sumner on the history of RIDGID, how far they’ve come and where they are headed.

Plumber: What is your name and title with the company?

Craig: Craig Sumner, president of Professional Tools, Americas (RIDGID and Greenlee brands). I have worked at Emerson — RIDGID and Greenlee’s parent company — for 15 years; eight of those years I’ve been working with our Professional Tools brands. From 2016 through 2018, I was the president of Emerson Tool Company, and I had the chance to play a role in expanding our RIDGID wet/dry vac lines. In 2018, I returned to our world headquarters in Elyria, Ohio, to take on my current position where I lead the Professional Tools business across the Americas and Asia Pacific.

Plumber: Can you give me a brief history on RIDGID.  How was it founded, what has it grown into?

Craig: We’ve always been dedicated to the professional trades – creating products that help the hardest workers achieve better results. I love the story of our founding because it reinforces this commitment. In the 1920s, it was a challenge to find a reliable tool to make or loosen tough pipe connections, as the wrenches of that era often broke or slipped off the pipe under heavy load. In 1923, the company launched its first product, the RIDGID pipe wrench, to solve this issue. It was built for a need and a purpose and solved the durability issues of prior products; and it’s a product that, in principle, remains largely unchanged and is still used globally today.

Nearly 100 years later, we’re the leading manufacturer of dependable, rugged tools trusted by tradespeople around the world. More importantly, we still believe in the idea of field-driven innovation. We know our tools have to stand up to the toughest challenges, so they are developed and tested on job sites. Every tool we offer is purpose-built to deliver a better way to work. Currently, we offer 300-plus types of tools in over 100 countries that help our customers get their jobs done. Our customers know, from the first turn of the wrench through their 50,000th press connection and beyond, that RIDGID tools stand up to the toughest challenges.

Plumber: How have you seen technology change over the last 5 or 10 years in regards to RIDGID tools/equipment?

Craig: Getting jobs done efficiently — yet with a high level of quality — will always be important to tradespeople. Today’s modern jobsites are faster paced than ever, and professionals are pressured to do more in less time. Speed, skill and efficiency have become a competitive advantage. These are demanding conditions, and tools must be an asset in helping tradespeople do their jobs in a more productive manner. Before buying a new tool, our customers often ask: “How can this make my life easier?” One way we’re doing this is integrating technology into our tools where there is a clear value to our customers. They’re still as tough and rugged as our customers have come to expect, yet they’re also smarter.

For example, two major pain points for plumbers are accessing tight spaces and fatigue from working overhead with heavy, awkward equipment. That is where designing lightweight, compact — yet rugged — tools is important. Over 20 years ago we were the first to bring pressing to the North American market, eliminating the need to solder copper pipe; today we continue to take this technology to the next level as we expand our capabilities to press new materials across broader applications. Our newest pressing tool, the RP 350, takes the benefits of pressing even further. In addition to being smaller and lighter, we are able maximize uptime by incorporating a brushless motor, enhancing our battery capacity by 20%, and eliminating necessary service intervals. The tool’s 360-degree swivel with a wireless bolt sensor is an industry first, and comes paired with bright LED lights to let users not only access tight spaces, but see them more clearly. The new pressure valve sensor increases reliability to ensure proper force output from the tool on every crimp, every time. 

We don’t just build technology into our tools; we use technology to improve processes across the enterprise. We look for any opportunity that allows us to add more value for our customers by streamlining our own processes. We recently finished construction on a 30,000-square-foot shipping and receiving facility expansion at our Elyria facility. It’s truly state-of-the-art, from the lighting to the improved flow of our products through the plant. This investment has allowed us to improve the speed in which we get products to our customers.

Plumber: You recently came out with several new tools that extended your existing product offerings. The RIDGID RP 342-XL Press Tool and FlexShaft Machines come to mind. What do these add to your lineup of  tools for plumbers?

Craig: Innovation is core to our future success and these tools are a couple of great examples. The RIDGID RP 342-XL press tool is a great example of technology that serves a clear purpose. As I mentioned, a major pain point with plumbers is getting the job done as efficiently as possible. The RP 342-XL is the first RIDGID press tool that works on pipes up to 4 inches across a variety of materials. From 1⁄2-inch PEX all the way up to 4-inch carbon steel, this tool can press it all. It also works with the full line of RP 350 accessories including the StrutSlayr strut shear head and Press Snap Soil pipe cutter.

Another great example of purpose-built innovation is our line of FlexShaft drain cleaning machines. These have really grown in popularity in recent years, and we’ve expanded our line to handle larger pipes and tougher blockages. Earlier this year, we launched the K9-306 FlexShaft drain cleaning machine. It’s built for wall-to-wall cleaning to 125 feet in 3- to 6-inch drain lines, making it ideal for large-scale residential or commercial jobs where speed is critical. This new addition complements the full line of sectional and drum drain cleaners that RIDGID has offered for decades — widening the breadth of solutions to our customers. Our commitment is to continually find ways to help plumbers be more productive and complete that extra job every day.

Plumber: Your tools have a history of lasting a long time, getting passed down to generations. What does that mean to you and your company?

Craig: There is absolutely something special about your brand when people are passing tools down from generation to generation and even getting tattoos of our tools on their arms. It highlights the design and workmanship of our products and the special connection tradespeople have with their tools. When I first started here, I got a call from one of our customers telling me about his RIDGID wrenches and pipe cutters that had been passed down through three generations of plumbers. I sat back in my chair beaming with pride about working for a company where building high-quality product is central to the brand and then thought about the fact we haven’t sold any wrenches to this family in over 50 years! However, it’s the reputation we’ve built with customers like this that have helped grow our business. Tradespeople trust their colleagues more than anyone, and he was telling his friends how much he trusted RIDGID. I love hearing from our customers, and there’s a genuine satisfaction in knowing that we’re building innovative products that stand up to tough jobsite conditions. Our tools are truly built for those who know. 

Plumber: I hear the culture at RIDGID is kind of unique with a lot of family working there; what do you think that adds to the company?

Craig: Our culture has always been one that stresses the importance of hard work. We place a strong value on doing what’s right and enjoying yourself while you’re doing it. It’s a mentality that we strive to instill at every level in our organization. I believe that is why we not only have many long-term employees — over 20% of our workforce in Elyria has been with us for over 25 years — but why we have several generations from the same family. A few families have worked in our facility consistently since the 1940s. The great part is combining the knowledge, experience and passion of our long-term employees with the fresh ideas and energy of those earlier in their career.

Brad Yuronich has worked in our software development group since 2004, but he’s been a part of the RIDGID family for much longer. His father, Ken, started with us as a machinist in 1973 and helped in the development of our threading machines such as the 535 and 300. During Ken’s time in the milling department, he saw the process go from 15 machines down to just one CNC machine, which did it all. I love that Brad is carrying on his father’s innovative spirit today for a new generation — helping to develop and enhance our software apps. Ken laid the foundation; now Brad is carrying it on.

Plumber: 2020 was a different year for many contractors and manufacturers. How have things changed for RIDGID (training, getting products out, etc.)?

Craig: It was a challenging year for everyone — especially tradespeople. But the challenges highlighted how essential our customers’ work is to their communities. We appreciate what they do every day to keep our country running and their role as essential workers during this pandemic. We’re also grateful to the essential workers in our plants who kept building the tools our customers needed on the job site. This situation brought out the best in our people, and we supported their commitment by implementing many new protocols to keep them safe, like staggering shifts, adjusting workspaces to allow for greater social distancing and hiring additional cleaning personnel in all areas of our operations.

As a manufacturer we looked for new ways to support the efforts of our customers during this challenging time, and launched JobSite Live — a virtual event series designed to put RIDGID and Greenlee experts in front of our customers using social media channels and live broadcasts. Viewers can ask questions and get immediate feedback. This new platform allows us to recreate a feeling of community in a virtual space. It’s a powerful way for us to have meaningful conversations with tradespeople, giving them the educational resources and expertise they rely on from RIDGID. We missed being on the jobsite with our customers during the height of the pandemic, but our team did a great job adjusting. 

Our distribution partners also experienced significant changes in how they operate. The pandemic accelerated a buying shift to e-commerce, so we worked closely with our channel partners to improve the online experience. RIDGID has supported this shift by simplifying the customer online journey and providing informative content. As customers moved to more curbside pickup, we shifted demonstrations to parking lots and supported customers through virtual product demonstrations.

Plumber: What’s ahead for RIDGID (new tools, what should readers look for)

Craig: We continue to broaden our portfolio to serve the professional trades, with Emerson acquiring Greenlee in 2018. Greenlee has a rich heritage with electrical and utility contractors, and they are a respected and trusted source for professional tools when it comes to installing wire and cable. As part of the same family of brands, we’re able to offer the broadest portfolio of products to our customers in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing trades.

At RIDGID, we are proud of our heritage, but we are genuinely excited about our future. We have an incredibly smart and dedicated team focused on delivering innovation that will improve the outcomes for our customers. I am proud to be a part of this great brand and organization. 


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