Volume 14 | Issue 1 | Year 2011

When Rex Larkin, vice president of sales and marketing for Reelcraft Industries, talks about the organization, he conjures memories of actor Henry Fonda, specifically in “The Grapes of Wrath.”
You may recall at least part of Fonda’s memorable speech at the end of the 1940 film: “I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat. I’ll be there.”

Larkin and the Columbia City, Ind.-headquartered enterprise echo that kind of fervent commitment. “We are wherever hoses, cords and cables are used and need to be organized,” says Larkin.

The company’s products find usage in industrial, automotive, aerospace, welding, fuel delivery, food processing, chemical delivery, firefighting, agriculture, turf care, maritime, military and specialty applications. That covers a lot of territory.

In its 50-plus year history, Reelcraft has grown into the world’s largest manufacturer of spring-driven hose, cord and cable reels. Further, it gained recognition as its industry leader when it comes to product innovation and quality and customer service. Its strong focus in these key areas enabled it to develop the most durable, productive and accessible of spring-driven, motor-driven and hand-crank hose reels, cord reels and cable reels.

And Larkin wasn’t exaggerating when he said that Reelcraft is everywhere. The company has global offices and strategically placed warehouses that provide efficient service in the United States and Canada and throughout the world. Its Columbia City-based North American headquarters and manufacturing plant provides quick domestic production while its Southern California warehouse offers fast service to the West Coast. Further, Reelcraft serves customers in Europe, China, Asia, Latin America, Australia and the Middle East.

Global offices include Reelcraft International Inc., located in Corby, Northamptonshire, United Kingdom serving Europe and Africa; Reelcraft Industries Inc. China, headquartered in Changzhou, Jiangsu; Reelcraft Asia Pacific, located in the Philippines; Reelcraft Industries Inc. Latin America and the Middle East and a facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Reelcraft began more than 50 years ago as the Equipment Corporation, in Delta, Ohio, from where it supplied hose reels to distributors, who then sold the products under private labels. Wayne Pump Company acquired Equipment Corporation and moved the Hose Reel Division to Fort Wayne, Ind. The Hose Reel Division was later moved to Salisbury, Md., but after a change in ownership, it returned to Fort Wayne as a division of Dresser Industries.

“Then partners Stan Penn Jr. and Richard Schaller purchased the tooling from Dresser in 1969 and started Reelcraft Industries, and the production of reels, in 1971,” recalls Larkin. “Schaller retired in 1981, and Penn bought his share of the company and became sole owner. He ran the company until he passed away in 2004. But the year before, he appointed Walt Sterneman as president of Reelcraft Industries and chief executive officer of the Reelcraft European branch.”

In addition, in 2006, Reelcraft integrated the operations of its sister company, Nordic Systems (of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), into the Columbia City headquarters. In 2007, the company became part of LN Acquisitions Corporation, a Harbour Group company. Sterneman remained on board as president. “Now, we’re in the process of an ownership change,” informs Larkin. “We’re being purchased by the SKF Group, a bearing and lubrications company.”

Along the way, Reelcraft expanded its Columbia City production site to include 130,000 square feet and 200 employees. The dedicated workforce, combined with the company’s strong focus on programs such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, have contributed to Reelcraft becoming one of the most efficient and productive enterprises in its industry.

“As far as Lean, we’re always looking for ways to become more efficient, reducing the movement of products throughout the facility and making it easier for the employees to do their work,” comments Larkin. “It comes down to the elimination of waste: wasted time and wasted materials. Further, we bring the employees into the discussion. After all, they’re the ones that do the everyday work and, as such, they often have the best ideas.”

Also, Reelcraft is the only U.S.-based business of its kind that is ISO-certified, reports Larkin. The company achieved certification in 1996. “That means we document everything we do, and we continuously look for ways to improve our operations. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything right. That’s just one of the things that differentiate our company, not only from other companies but from the competition as well. But there is no silver bullet. A collection of several things make us successful.”

Indeed, the company describes the “Reelcraft Difference”: Along with Lean, Six Sigma and ISO certification, this difference include the engineering excellence which makes the company’s products “better by design”; product innovation; fast, friendly professional service; and the most extensive line of hose reels, cord reels and cable reels. Reelcraft manufactures more than 2,500 models of hose, cord and cable reels, as diverse as heavy-duty hose reels used in the marine industry, hose reels within robotic automotive assembly cells, and reels needed to syringe the greens of a golf course. These models include spring retractable, motor driven, hand crank, stainless steel, twin welding, twin hydraulic and electric reels, handling hose lengths up to 600 feet and ranging from a quarter inch to four inches in diameter. The spring retractable models are widely used in industrial applications to improve safety by keeping hoses and cables off the floor. “Along with everything else, safety is a strong Reelcraft focus,” says Larkin. “When you have a cord or cable that is properly managed, you reduce slips and falls. People aren’t tripping over hoses and cords.”

The majority of Reelcraft hose reels deliver fluid and air, with the others designed to coil welding cables, extension and power cords. Reels transfer anything from air, water, transmission fluid, grease, oils, antifreeze, diesel fuels, welding gases, liquid pesticides, fertilizers, detergents, solvents, chemicals, blacktop sealers and printing inks.

Not only does Reelcraft offer the broadest, most complete product line available anywhere in the world, it provides customized products. Its engineered product group boasts the capabilities to custom build according to specific customer specifications. Special engineered products are developed for demanding applications such as marine, military, aviation, hydro-seeding, sewer and well cleaning, offshore oil rigs, robotic cable, among many others.

“We find that many customers have unmet needs that are very specific,” says Larkin. “Over the past several years, we’ve put a great deal of effort toward making custom products, whether that is a modification to current standard products or something entirely new. Sometimes this can involve simply painting a product a different color, or it can require a great deal of engineering.”

The company offers very flexible height, width and depth; nearly limitless pressure ranges; special finishes and paint options; and unique options such as hose boss rewind assist, tensioning bars, multiple fluid paths, level rewinds and more. Further, customization service requires no minimum quantities. Customers can order from one to as many as they need.

This, coupled with the focus on efficiencies – its own as well as the customer’s – has contributed to the company’s success and growth. “A longstanding trend that has fostered the growth of reels in general is the improvement in the efficiencies in the various uses of hoses, cords and cables – primarily in manufacturing, but in other sectors, too,” reports Larkin. “Everyone looks for ways to improve their efficiencies, as this makes them more competitive on a global basis.”

That applies to Reelcraft itself. “For at least 10 years now, we have recorded growth in the low double digits just about each year. In 2008, we had a record year. But, like most companies, we saw a reduction in business in 2009, because of the economy,” says Larkin.

But he adds that the company experienced decent growth in 2010 and that it is very optimistic about 2011. “But that doesn’t mean that we expect things to be robust. However, we expect to see growth in the overall market as well as in our share of the market.”

Further, recent economic circumstances have compelled Reelcraft to go back to the basics. “Not that we ever lost sight of that,” says Larkin. “But we are making sure we cover all of the details required to satisfy customers.”

With that approach, Reelcraft will no doubt reel in more business.

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