History of RPI
The Story of Rotary Products Inc.
At Rotary Products in Ashley, Ohio hangs a brittle, old piece of paper curled up and yellowed with age. It reads: “State of Ohio Vendor’s License, February 17, 1958, James A. Buechel, DBA- Rotary Broom Refilling Service.” Now, many years later, owned and operated by Chris Buechel, the little company that he started is still going strong.
Originating in the Detroit area, at a very early age Jim exhibited a strong drive to succeed. Before he was out of high school, he had his own painting and wall washing business complete with a truck with his name on the door, and one employee. His wife, Betty Ann, remembers when dating back in high school that they would sometimes deliver estimates on their way to the evening’s activities.
Shortly after they were married, Jim had a stint in the Navy Reserve during the Korean War. It was at this time that Gary was born. It was probably also during this time that the young entrepreneur realized that Uncle Sam would probably be a very good customer.
Jim’s next endeavor would prove to be a turning point in his career. He got a job rebristling brooms for road and street sweepers. This was before plastic bristles were available. Brooms were filled with natural materials or steel. There was no method of prefabricated refills and when a broom wore out it needed to be rebristled in a broom refilling machine. Many of the large municipalities had their own machines. The company that Jim was working for had a machine mounted on a trailer which they hauled around Ohio. They were trying to sell the machines. The salesman came back an reported that there was almost nobody doing broom refilling in Ohio. Twenty-seven-year-old Jim bought one of the machines and headed for Columbus because there was a need for the service and because it was the home of the Defense Construction Supply Center. He started in a rented building on the edge of The Ohio State University campus.
Previous to his arrival in Ohio, customers were accustomed to waiting for a month or more to get a broom filled. When Jim’s first customer stopped in, he filled the broom on the spot while the customer waited. When the man returned with the newly filled broom, his boss refused to believe that it was the same one and was convinced that the broom had been switched. Over the years, customers became so spoiled with the service that they would expect to get their brooms filled immediately with no appointment. It was with this background and tradition of service that Chris was introduced into the business world. The company’s unwritten rule has always been “never wait until tomorrow if you can service the customer today.”
As with all new businesses, Jim’s was not an overnight success. Besides trying to get the broom business going, he turned his attention to Uncle Sam. His first contract was for a rail-car load of brooms. He lost money on every one of them, but it got his foot in the door. For the next two years, the young family stayed behind in Michigan and Jim came home only on the weekends. Finally, in 1960, the time was right to move the whole family to Ohio.
About that time, the federal government instituted the program of breaking the stranglehold of sole source parts. There were many things that were being bought from suppliers who had no competition. In order to be qualified to supply items, a company had to bail out the part with a deposit and then generate drawings and a sample of the part. This business became such an important part of Rotary Broom Refilling Service that the company evolved into a precision machine shop which eventually became Rotary Products Inc. In the mean time, the company did not pursue the manufacturing of the modern broom products, but rather became a distributor of these products manufactured by other companies.
In 1971, Rotary Products moved from Columbus to Dublin, Ohio. By this time Chris was reaching adulthood and became involved in the business. Within a few years after moving to Dublin, it was becoming apparent that the machine shop business was not as profitable as it used to be and that some sort of change needed to be on the horizon. This was an interesting period in which several projects were explored and considered. For a short time Rotary Products even ventured into the portable toilet business!
Around that time, Jim was approached to become involved in the manufacture of seals for loading dock doors. It was a difficult market to break into, but the Buechels realized from the positive feedback of the customers that it had potential. Next, Jim had the opportunity to sell his machine shop equipment. The proceeds from this sale represented, to some extent, what Jim had to show for twenty years of work. To his son, however, it represented the money that the company could use to get the dock equipment business going. Although it would have been a good time to cash in his chips, Jim rolled the dice and continued to support the company’s new line of products.
Progress was painfully slow and the company went through an extended drought in regard to profits. About that time, one of the customers told the Buechels about a trade organization called the Door & Operator Dealers of America. This was a group of companies in the garage door business. Their headquarters was in Cleveland, and Jim was there to look at a job and stopped in unannounced to the DODA headquarters to sign up. This was a great surprise to the director, Tony Font, who had never had this happen before. After joining the organization, the Buechels came to realize that they had stumbled upon a niche in the market that seemed to have great potential.
Most of the established dock seal manufacturing companies at that time distributed their products through material handling distributors which are companies that sell products such as forklifts. In the customers’ mind, there was a logical connection between the garage door and the seals that go around the doors. When the door dealers called the seal manufacturers, they were referred to the local forklift company. When Rotary Products attended their first door convention in 1979, the response was overwhelming. At the end of the first day of exhibits, all of the other manufacturers had left the area and the lights were being shut off while the Buechels still had people standing in line waiting to talk to them.
Profitability remained illusive and some sort of shakeup seemed in order. That is when Jim decided that the best course of action would be to kick his son out of the nest, in a manner of speaking. Chris started looking for new facilities that would allow them to lower overhead. He discovered a vacant furniture store located in the small rural village of Ashley, Ohio. So in the early part of 1981, Rotary Products moved from the prestigious Dublin area out to the country. Jim sold his interest in the business to his son the following year.
Jim was right- the company started doing well! About a year later, an addition had to be built onto the building. Shortly after that, part of the operation was moved across the street. A few years later, the offices were also moved across the street. A milestone in the company’s history came in 1990 at the national garage door convention. Rotary Products was awarded the Associate Member Achievement Award, which is given to the outstanding manufacturer in the industry. We were the first small company to achieve this distinction, which was a source of great pride.
Today, Rotary Products is still located in Ashley making dock seals and shelters, strip doors, and has expanded their business activity into the distribution of all types of loading dock products. We are still going strong and are confident that we have a bright future.