For the last 31 years, Reitnouer Inc. (Reitnouer Trailer) has been leading the way in all-aluminum, fully-bolted flatbed trailers and drop decks as one of the top manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada. “We’re proud of what we do here, because we build quality,” assures Bud Reitnouer, founder and president of Reitnouer Trailer. “Everyone says they do, but we truly do; the numbers speak for themselves.”
Just north of Philadelphia, in Birdsboro, Pa., Reitnouer Trailer has now captured more than 14 percent of the overall flatbed market share nationwide and more than 50 percent of the aluminum market, as the second largest manufacturer of its kind in the U.S. “In our market, we out build our combo competitors – manufacturers of half steel-half aluminum flatbeds – and we’re doing it with just two salesmen; one for the east and one for the west,” reveals Bud.
The company now has at least one dealership in every state in the nation and some 220 employees. “In 2013, we manufactured and fabricated just shy of 3,000 units and in years past, before the recession, we’ve done 3,500 units,” notes Bud.
Changing the face of the industry
Reitnouer Trailer’s road to the top began in 1982, when Bud revolutionized the flatbed industry, essentially creating a new aluminum, bolted flatbed trailer market. After years of watching his father as a tool-and-die machinist, Bud finished college and went to work in the family business.
“I grew up around fabricating and metal stampings and the trailer and hauling business was always a big industry in this area,” he recalls. “Some of the country’s major manufacturers, such as Mack Trucks, are based outside of Philly.”
After working for his father for several years, Bud decided it was time to build something of his own. In 1982, at just 25 years old, with a mathematics degree and a bit of industry know-how, he set out looking for something to manufacture.
“I wanted to build something I could be proud of and didn’t want to do it unless I could find something I could improve on,” recounts Bud. “When I started the design for an all-aluminum, bolted flatbed, the industry standard was a welded, steel or steel-aluminum combo.” However, Bud was convinced that a better aluminum trailer could be manufactured without welding.
“Since aluminum is a heat-treated metal, basic metallurgy tells us that welding [re-heating a heat-treated metal] structurally weakens the material at the point of attachment,” explains Bud. “I knew bolting a trailer could eliminate this inherent problem.”
From that basic premise, Bud engineered the first Reitnouer Trailer. “We pioneered advancements by going against the norm and changing the entire industry’s mindset,” he says.
Improving the technology was the easy part, doing so at 25 years old and getting customers who had always purchased welded trailers to believe was another matter. “It was clearly a better way, but it was also a new way,” recalls Bud. “Back then, the trailers retailed for $17,000 – that’s no small change. It’s quite different from convincing someone to buy a $39.99 coffee maker. It took a lot of faith in my word and character on behalf of my first customers, because if I went out of business, their trailer was worth nothing.”
Building a foundation in repeat business
Bud promised if something happened, he would take care of it, and he’s kept his word ever since. “For the first five years, we didn’t even have written warrantees, people just trusted me on my word,” he shares. “Reitnouer Trailer started to grow through word-of-mouth; without the help of salesmen or advertising, just repeat business and references.”
Above all else, Bud really focused on keeping his customers happy and not having to make up for a lack of customer satisfaction through advertising and sales. “I just dialed in and made sure they were satisfied; it’s not that hard to do,” he assures.
After growing the company for the first 18 years solely around word-of-mouth referrals, in 2000, once his children had graduated from high school, Bud decided he wanted to boost the business from its already impressive 27 percent nationwide market share to 50 percent. “In 2000, I hired my first salesman and his marching orders were, ‘Every state has two top dealers and we want one of them,’” recalls Bud.
Bud explains that every region was performing well, except the Midwest. “So about five years ago, I hired my second salesman and since then our dealer of the year has been from the Midwest,” he continues. “He’s done an exceptional job marketing us in that region.”
Hauling across the nation
As Reitnouer Trailer’s geographical footprint grew, so did the company’s customer base. “We started with owner-operators and as we grew and the product performed, larger fleets started coming our way,” says Bud. “It’s now a 50-50 split between owner-operators and large, national fleets. Prime has been with us for 20 years and in the last six years we’ve gained Maverick out of Little Rock, Ark., Hunt out of Nebraska, as well as PGT out of Pittsburg, which has been with the company for 20 years; the list goes on and on.”
Reitnouer Trailer has grown to serve major fleets from the first 10,000-square-foot facility, where Bud says the company could do a trailer a month, to 120 trailers a week in a brand-new, 140,000-square-foot site. “We purchased the new facility in August 2013 and moved in Jan. 1, 2014,” reveals Bud. “The move will allow us to sustain growth in an efficient manner without the congestion of the old space.”
The design of choice
Reitnouer Trailer is hauling its way to nationwide success, and the company’s signature all-aluminum, bolted flatbed body is quickly becoming the design of choice. “We’re doing almost all of the manufacturing and fabricating in-house and we handle everything twice to bolt the trailer, so our competitors really can’t duplicate our quality,” says Bud. “The only thing we outsource is laser-cut parts, because we don’t have a laser machine.”
Bud goes on to explain that a trailer is a more complex structure than most people think. “As the industry evolves, companies aren’t hauling the same commodity every day,” he continues. “One day they’re hauling lumber, the next shingles and coils or blocks, there was room for improvement when we started and there still is.”
And Reitnouer Trailer is continuing to improve, offering the lightest, most fuel-efficient flatbed trailers on the market that also require minimal maintenance. “With our trailers, companies can haul more payload and the trailer doesn’t chip, rust or need to be painted,” adds Bud.
While the company’s improved design has started to dominate the market, Bud says the business did take a significant hit through the recession. “We’re driven by manufacturing, because our trailers haul everything from drywall to lumber, steel to shingles and more; it’s the heartbeat of the country running on these flatbeds, so we’re very much tied to the overall economy,” he explains. “When there’s not a lot going on in construction, there’s not as much need for transport. In 2009 our business was off by 90 percent, but things are picking back up and the economic outlook is good for us right now and the potential is there.”
Over the course of the next five years, Bud says he sees the potential to once again double Reitnouer Trailer’s market share. “Aluminum has grown from about 12 percent to 25 percent in usage, so over the next couple of years, I see that trend continuing and doubling again and we’re growing with it,” he assures. “We’re meeting with top flatbed carriers using combo trailers and they’re making the switch to aluminum.”
Bud continues to build on the reason he got into the industry in the first place: looking to make improvements. Reitnouer Inc. has done just that, totally revolutionizing the flatbed industry.