The lady and the clamp: a woman in the rigging world
04 March 2008
Anne Renfroe could be considered an anomaly in the business of rigging products. First of all she is a woman in what has been pretty much considered a man's line of work. Secondly, she is every bit the lady mpeccably dressed, well versed and herbeautiful Southern drawl a pleasure to hear.
As president of J.C. Renfroe & Sons, Renfroe runs the company with the sawy of a highly skilled business person and industry leader. She understands the attributes and functionality of the famous “Renfroe clamp,” her father-in-law Joseph Cleveland Renfroe designed back in the early 1940s, as well as the hundreds of other rigging products her company sells around the globe.
Renfroe became involved in the business about eight years ago when her husband, who had run his father's business for more than 40 years, suddenly passed away. She says she thought about selling the business and moving on, but the intrigue was too much to pass up. “My husband Charles had said to me, ‘You can do this,'” she says. “And he was right. I had devoted a lot of my time to volunteer work. I figured with volunteerism you learn to get along with other people and manage people and you get them to do it without pay. The good thing about running this company is we have a team of people who are devoted and who love what they do. They have all helped me and helped us get the company into such a good position.”
The most intriguing thing about Renfroe is that she is not afraid to ask questions and to make strategic decisions based on the answers to these questions. She has a unique understanding of the business and industry in which she works and she is committed to quality, safety and customer support.
Back in October in Quebec City, I had the opportunity to sit down with Renfroe and talk about her role as the head of her company and as the incoming president of the Associated Wire Rope Fabricators. We both were at the fall meeting of the AWRF, which promotes the interests common among companies manufacturing, fabricating, or distributing lifting, rigging and load securement devices made of chain, rope, and wire rope.
What is the biggest challenge for you in running the business?
The challenge for anyone running a business is keeping all the balls in the air. I have changed some things through the years. One of the first things I did was to call in a firm to look at the business and tell me where we were. We engaged as our general manager Ronald Raymond, to help with the day to day management. Having the right human capital has been the key to our success. We had the product – we had to have the right people.
When you call our company you don't have a lot of buttons to push or to leave a message. You get a person on the phone. That is important to me, to assure we are talking with and communicating with our clients and our customers.
What distinguishes J.C. Renfroe in the markets it serves?
No matter how good you are, if you do not have the product, you won't have a successful business. We have the products. Some of our products have been in use 30 to 40 years. You can't kill them. Our customers have complete faith in our products.
I also think it is good for our customers to know that there is a Renfroe at Renfroe. I'm here. My son is here.
Safety is also a part of our culture. The company was actually founded on the need to keep safety in the workplace. When I came on board, everyone knew I wasn't a person who could operate a one-ton clamp. I realized I didn't have the knowledge of this business and a lifetime of experience in it like my husband did. I wanted to be assured that the products we produced did what we said they would. We build them with a 5 to 1 ratio but I still felt we needed outside, independent lab testing, just to confirm what we have known.
We also offer training for our customers and the end user on our products. This is very important. It's very expensive for us to do but what could be more worth it than to assure that your products are being used safely. We have invested in a training and program facility and we also go to our customers to show them how to survey our clamps. We show them what to look for. These products should be seriously viewed at certain intervals. Every clamp has a tag number and a code. We can tell you about the boat that the ore came in on. For an abused clamp, it's usually due to overloading. If we see an abused clamp we will tag it and tell our customers it most be destroyed.
You were recently inducted as president of AWRF. What does the work of this organization do to bring higher quality to the wire rope and rigging products industry?
AWRF is a serious organization that serves people and businesses that are vital to industry and the country. This is a business that can have problems if it is not up to date and producing quality. We are also an organization that is serious about safety. Safety is vital to our industry. AWRF is a family of businesses, many of which are family businesses.
Being a member of this organization has been very valuable for my company. In many cases, members are competitors but we can get together and we don't t price. We have shared interests to lo after. There is a lot of mutual respect this organization. Our goal this year is work with the board to help add valu to the members so that they get the money's worth and more. We wan to look at every area that can mak membership more beneficial. Each committee will review their policies and determine how to be more proactive.
What is it that keeps you intrigued and involved in this business?
It's always different, every day. I like working in the area of sales and marketing. I like doing the marketing and advertising for the company. If I had it all to do over again, I would have been a marketing person probably. I love this aspect of work.
I like to continually work with our sales force. Our sales force is a cadre of reps who do not work exclusively for us. We have 20 some odd reps who cover the US and they, as it is said, ‘eat what they kill.' We have a get together at intervals and ask each other what's going on. We talk about what will keep us competitive and that's how our Renfroe Too products came to be, from one of these strategy meetings. In most cases, these products can be sold to our same customers. So that's been an exciting development, launching Renfroe Too.
For several years now, the industry has been in an upturn. How do you approach the inevitability of an economic slowdown?
We watch our bottom line and we are fortunate to be able to ride out a slowdown that may come. Our biggest concern has been getting the product out the door. We are doing better. With our Renfroe Too line we are bringing in other manufacturers. We have added to our facilities almost doubling our size.
What's the major challenge in the rigging products industry?
The biggest news is that our products are being knocked off. We have had to put a stop to it and I believe we have. I believe there is always going to be a market for quality and you can't replicate a good product with inferior products and labor. These products may look like ours but they are not the same product. This is serious to us. It's free enterprise and that's good. If you buy an inferior product by mistake, not knowing it, that's one thing. If you choose to buy a products whose pedigree you can't be sure of, you stand to have a problem. When it means someone's life, that is serious.