Because Cequent Performance Products takes great pride in what it puts out, the company is its own toughest critic. That’s why the Michigan-headquartered company continuously subjects itself and its products to a rigorous testing regimen. It’s not only seeking to elevate itself. As Dan Harvey reports, Cequent seeks to elevate industry standards.
Cequent Performance Products (CPP) is one tough company. It’s even brutal. But brutality is self directed. In an effort to constantly improve, this Plymouth, Mich.-based enterprise subjects its products to the harshest testing procedures.
It’s a strict regime, and CPP appropriately trademarked it as its Tested Tough program – and, in particular, the company applied it to its Draw-Tite towing industry brand (North America’s preferred hitch provider). But the program applies to all products and brands across the board – hich means a considerable number of brand names and products. Indeed, CPP is a versatile organization that serves numerous markets with established brands.
CPP is a leading manufacturer of towing and trailer products, and everything it produces is birthed by state-of-the-art engineering. But it takes more than that to satisfy this rock-jawed company. That means that before any product reaches the exit door, it’s rigorously tested, to ensure that it meets client requirements – and that’s one major company differentiator. For sure, each product CPP designs, manufactures and sells are not only tough tested to meet client approval, it also must go above and beyond industry standards.
ISSUING A CHALLENGE
For this company, “above and beyond” is as much a credo as testing tough. Obviously, this takes an extra step, but the result is an unprecedented level of quality and durability. This company doesn’t concede anything when it comes to its goals. Indeed, compromise has no place in its corporate vocabulary. Further, this pugnacious company challenges competitors to meet its level of excellence. “We’re telling the market, and the competition, that we developed tough standards – and that our ‘Testing Tough’ program has raised our own bar and the market industry bar,” says Paul Caruso, vice president of CPP’s towing group.
This is a rather interesting stance, as CPP is essentially challenging the competition to be just as good as it is. “We want competitors to adopt the same rigorous test standards that are as demanding as ours,” says Thomas Benson, CPP’s president.
CPP accomplishes testing every which way but loose. It’s ferocious when it comes to testing, because products must perform optimally in the real world, where vagaries of climatic and geographic conditions can come into play almost every day.
Specifically, tough testing requirements include:
- Deflection testing that is a 20-percent improvement in allowable hitch deflection above and beyond industry standards;
- Fatigue testing essential for ensuring long-term performance (not something mandated by industry specifications, but just another extra step that CPP will take);
- Hitch ball testing that simulates the kind of real-world hazards that frequently occur.
Such efforts provide the CPP customer with a product characterized by a superior engineering design and lifelong strength. That should be a given, but CPP realizes that other companies fall short. That’s why it has made its challenge; it simply wants to raise industry standards. “We’re hardest on ourselves,” say Caruso. “Before we even think about bringing a new product to the market, we make sure the product raises the bar on existing standards.”
For CPP, it’s not just about the bottom line. The Tested Tough program is directly opposed to material cost cutting to increase profitability. Use of robust alloys and exacting construction minimums ensure that Draw-Tite hitches surpass every legal requirement, for capacity and performance.
Also, as the company stands on the shoreline and looks overseas, it has drawn a line in the sand. “We’re not just hoping that our product line makes us different and better, or to make our industry better, but we’re looking to create a barrier to entry for offshore competition,” says Caruso.
“They not only threaten our business, but they’re diluting the markets with product that we would never even consider placing our brand names upon,” says Benson. “We’re constantly rethinking our business, our markets and our industry – and we have focused on providing high-quality, rugged products and brands to best meet the needs of our customers. That’s something that a casual entrant into our markets cannot accomplish.”
LEADER OF THE PACKS
CPP’s main markets include the automotive aftermarket, automotive OEM and OES; RV (both aftermarket and OE); marine (aftermarket and OE), and agricultural and industrial (also aftermarket and OE). The company’s many products fit into three categories, or company groups: towing, trailer and electrical. Its marketing and sales groups extend across all of these markets. “We sell to the OE and to distributors and also direct to installers,” says John Walsh, vice president of CPP’s sales group. “We cover all of the business models, which can get complicated at times.”
But CPP can handle the complexities, thanks to the strength of its brands. Along with the aforementioned Draw-Tite, CPP’s well-established brands include Bargman, Bulldog, Fulton, Hidden Hitch, Highland, Pro Series, Reese, ROLA, Tekonsha and Wesbar. Each brand performs well in its respective market, says Benson. “For instance, Draw-Tite is strong in the automotive aftermarket. Fulton leads in the marine market. Bulldog is quite strong in the agricultural market, and Tekonsha goes across all of our different markets. In fact, we have the leading brand in each of the markets that we participate in,” he points out.
Products include trailer hitches – and Draw-Tite has become the most trusted name in trailer hitch design and engineering since the products were first introduced in 1946. Today, the products’ innovative low-profile designs complement the rear contours and aerodynamic styling of new vehicles.
“You no longer have 10 hitches that comprise 80 percent of the market. Now, about 100 hitches make up 20 percent of the market,” says Caruso. “That means a company needs to be very good when coming out with new releases, as manufacturers come out with new vehicles.”
Other CPP offerings include ball mounts, hitch accessories, brake controllers, electrical wiring, weight distribution products, fifth wheel hitches, gooseneck hitches, ATV accessories, cargo management products, trailer couplers, trailer lighting products and trailer accessories.
With its different brands, CPP boasts a heritage that goes back a century.
“CPP resulted from about different companies accumulated over the course of about 20 years. Acquisitions and consolidation – that’s how the business grew,” reveals Benson. “The oldest company, Fulton, turns 100 this year. The next oldest is Bulldog, which was established in 1919. The youngest would be Hidden Hitch, which was established in 1968. So, CPP is a collection of companies gathered since about 1991. Because of the economic downturn in 2008, the decision was made to place them together into what is now known as CPP.”
CPP – which has manufacturing facilities in Goshen, Ind., and in Mexico (Juarez and Reynosa) – is part of Cequent North America, which includes CPP and Cequent Consumer Products and is, in turn, part of the TriMas Corporation. Headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., TriMas is a diversified growth company of specialty niche businesses manufacturing a variety of highly engineered products for commercial, industrial and consumer markets worldwide. TriMas is organized into five strategic business segments: packaging systems, energy products, industrial specialties, RV and trailer products, and recreational accessories.
“But CPP is really its own company,” says Benson. “Don’t think of us as a division or subsidiary. TriMas compromises about 14 different companies that have been placed into five segments.”
Getting back to recent economic circumstances, CPP helped TriMas weather the storm. “The entire organization struggled with the economic downturn of 2008, but our company – coming together as it did, and then performing quite well – was instrumental in helping TriMas get through the tough times,” relates Benson, who was appointed CPP president in 2008. “In 2009, we won the company of the year award, because our performance was better than anyone anticipated. We helped TriMas deal with the liquidity issues that existed.”
That gets back to what is best about CPP. “Our company and our products represent brands that enjoy a great reputation,” says Caruso.
But the company doesn’t rest on its laurels. In fact, CPP is its own toughest critic. “We’re pretty hard on ourselves, especially when we develop a new product and bring it to the market,” adds Caruso.
That’s why it’s so adamant about testing.