Reiff Manufacturing is not your typical family business. Founded in 1963 by the father of current owner and company president Steve Reiff, the business changed hands twice before Steve took the reins in 1997.
“I’ve worked in and around this business for 30 years,” Steve said. “It hasn’t always been in the family, but now it is again.” Steve and his son, David, Reiff’s general manager, work side-by-side to create state-of-the-art custom-built fiberglass products. “It’s really been a blessing to be here,” David attested. “The job is always changing, there’s always something different, and I really enjoy that part of it.”
Though Reiff works with multiple manufacturing materials, the company is best known for its use of fiberglass. A multi-use material, fiberglass is a polyester or vinyl ester resin encapsulated by fiberglass strands. For Reiff Manufacturing’s purposes, the material is typically covered with an ultraviolet coating. Fiberglass is very versatile and able to withstand weathering — characteristics that make it an optimal material for use in Reiff’s many outdoor projects. “Fiberglass is a composite material that is used just like any other commodity,” Steve said. “It’s what we know how to do.” The company can manufacture nearly any fiberglass product, but its trademark items include a variety of shelters, fish hatcheries and antenna covers for clients worldwide
MEETING CLIENT NEEDS: REIFF’S MOST POPULAR PRODUCTS
Reiff regularly manufactures multiple types of shelters, along with customized structures. As one of the largest products that it makes, Reiff commonly constructs airport landing system equipment shelters according to Federal Administration Agency (FAA) specifications. Reiff’s maintenance shelters offer temporary living quarters to scientists performing field research and others who need protection from the elements in remote locations. Reiff’s equipment shelters are often used on job sites to house generators and pumps. Its shelters have been placed in locations across North America and as far abroad as the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Israel, Egypt and Vietnam. “We’ve got product all over the world,” Steve remarked. “We have communication shelters for cell phone towers in the state of Alaska that have been installed via helicopter in very remote places — probably as remote as any place on the planet.” These communication shelters are small, self-contained buildings, often featuring individual generators and battery backup. Made from fiberglass and steel, they are insulated and wired for electricity. “You could even live in them if you had to,” Steve asserted.
The FAA has played a particularly important role in developing the standard Reiff shelter. “We [Reiff and the FAA] came to an agreement about what they needed and developed a product to suit it. We have built our product to adapt to their specs. Our customers have a comfort level and understanding that we build a product that complies with and exceeds FAA standards,” David said. “We do business with THALES and Selex — major players in the air traffic control industry as far as providing landing approach systems. We sell indirectly to the FAA and the U.S. Air Force through those companies.”
By venturing into hatchery construction, Reiff also became a major player in the aquaculture industry. Fish hatcheries offer enclosed environments in which to breed and hatch fish, often before releasing them into the wild. Reiff has developed a reputation for its well-constructed tanks and raceways. “It’s all based around the fish and their needs,” David explained. “The fish start out in a very small container, and we move them first into a round tank, then a larger trough, then into a raceway, and finally, they’re released into the wild. Each step requires a different container.”
Reiff begins the manufacturing process for the hatcheries with a simple mold and works up from there. “We started out building smaller round tanks and have grown to include larger round tanks up to 20 feet in diameter, as well as raceways, as we have grown in our ability to produce larger items,” David remarked. “In general, it’s been a process of just learning about our industries and learning what they need. The benefit is that it gives us the opportunity to expand on what we do, our knowledge of the aquaculture industry and best practices.” Some of Reiff’s consistent aquaculture customers include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, the State of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State of Utah Department of Fish and Game. “Washington buys from us every year,” David asserted. “They have consistently used us over the past 25 years.”
The company is also involved in manufacturing LPD and radome antenna covers — structured enclosures to protect the antenna from the elements — for use by the FAA. These covers range in size from small units to larger walk-in units that a person can enter to adjust the equipment manually.
CUSTOMER SATISFACTION: REIFF DOES IT RIGHT
The U.S. government is one of the company’s most loyal clients. “Probably 95 percent of the work that we do is directly or indirectly involved with some government agency,” Steve estimated. “A lot of the shelters that we build are for the FAA, some state and local governments and also some foreign governments.”
“Over the last two years, we’ve built several fairly large shelters for the U.S. government,” David confirmed. “One of the most memorable was for the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. It was a custom shelter application that was 10 feet wide and 40 feet long, designed as a place to prepare the food for the mammals. Since then, we’ve sold similar shelters to the USDA in California.” Since Reiff has a number of reliable repeat customers, the company rarely launches an extensive sales campaign, relying instead on word of mouth and product quality to bring in new clients. “Our main emphasis is to deliver high-quality goods. We don’t compete as much on cost and volume. I think a lot of our business has been through word of mouth, and I think our quality has led to additional opportunities,” David explained. “For example, we were building shelters for the FAA, and that’s how we got a customer in Kansas City. Our high-quality goods have opened up doors in certain areas; our core competencies are great enough that we can expand into areas that are similar. It’s not a major sales effort on our part; instead, we perform well at what we do.”
LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE: MEETING CHALLENGES HEAD-ON
Despite Reiff’s successes, the recent economic downturn has threatened the company’s typically high levels of production. “Keeping everybody busy [is a challenge],” Steve admitted. “We’re living in an economy that’s not very good right now. One of the things that keeps our business viable is the fact that we don’t just deal with one or two different people; we’re dealing with people all over the place. We feel very fortunate to be as busy as we are.”
Meeting and exceeding their clients’ expectations can also enliven each new job. “There are always challenges involved in building a product to meet your customer’s needs,” David mused. “We want them to always be really pleased with their product. We’re building things for our customers, not for ourselves.”
Even in the midst of a recession, the future looks bright for Reiff Manufacturing. “I don’t see any end to some of the things that we build,” Steve remarked. “There’s always going to be a market for these shelters and fish hatchery equipment. I think that we’ll be here for many years to come. We’ve been here a long time already and have a good reputation.”
To David, the future may be a time to improve upon what is arguably already perfection: “I think we have the ability to get better just within what we do by improving our efficiency and our building process.”
Both men agree that their employees have played a crucial role in making the business the success that it is today. “I’ve got a lot of skilled people working for me, and they do some really good stuff,” Steve said. Taking care of Reiff employees is a top priority for father and son. “It’s nice to employ families and to understand that we’re here, not just to make a dollar, but to support people’s lives,” David agreed. With excellent products and customer loyalty on their side, there’s no doubt that Reiff will be able to take care of its own for many years to come.