Ronson’s mechanics: (L-R): Dan Lucas, Jim Lucas, Henry Dahm, Terry Miller, Bob Wielgos.
Fifteen years ago, in September 2000, Ronson Equipment Co. opened its doors in Griffith, Ind. At the start, it was a four-man operation — David and Ron Wietbrock, Skip Henson and Terry Miller. The quartet did not constitute the entire staff of the fledgling company, however, just the visible part: Their wives helped out around the office without being on the payroll.
“We started with a dream, a five-year business plan, a rented building, a couple of used pickup trucks, one used service truck, and an unshakable desire to succeed,” recalls David Wietbrock. “We thought we had a pretty cool logo, too.”
New Holland Construction was looking for a dealer in northwest Indiana, and settled on Ronson Equipment. “New Holland Construction believed in our ability and our plan and trusted that our years of combined experience would support our ambition and accomplish their goals in northwest Indiana,” Dave Weitbrock said.
The relationship blossomed and Ronson prospered. It relocated one year after opening to roomier facilities in Lowell, Ind. The Ronson product line kept growing. In 2002, the company became a dealer for Kobelco equipment, and three years after that took on Doosan products. Ronson’s first decade of business expansion was capped in 2009 by the opening of a second sales and parts office in Westville, Ind.
“Kobelco, Doosan, ASV and Kioti quickly became our dominant suppliers in the years following our start-up, “Wietbrock said. “Today, those four core brands lead the way with a large sector of our sales coming from the sale of late model used equipment.”
Times were good for Ronson, and then the nation’s financial crisis fully unfolded and all but smothered the construction industry. Contractors and equipment dealerships began a years-long economic struggle as contracts and jobs disappeared.
“The tough construction market from 2008 and the years that followed taught us much,” Wietbrock says in retrospect. “It helped us realize just how fortunate we really are to be surrounded by great customers, and to have great employees and equipment manufacturers who stuck with us during the tough times. We were able to endure through the worst of it and business is much better now.”
Indeed. Doosan singled out Ronson Equipment in 2013 as one of its top 10 dealerships. A year later, the company moved up to rank among the top 5 Doosan dealers in North America. “These past 15 years have been quite an adventure for us, and our customers made it happen.”
Let the history books show that Ronson Equipment’s first invoice was for two batteries purchased by Grimmer Construction on Sept. 28, 2000, bringing $383.40 into the company till. David Weitbrock recalls not having an envelope in which to send Grimmer the bill. That first sale was followed a few days later by delivery of a 24-volt strobe light to B & D Sewer, grossing another $235 for the company.
Then in November of the inaugural year, a customer named Brian Lenting representing Forest Landscaping showed up at Ronson. Referred to the equipment dealership by Dewey Excavating, Lenting became the first Ronson customer to buy a new machine.
“We were off and running,” said Wietbrock of those exciting start-up days. He adds: “These customers, and dozens more, weren’t done helping us. They would take the time to tell us what they liked and disliked. They helped us come up with customer-friendly solutions that we still use today. From the beginning, Ronson became a customer-driven company. We will be eternally grateful to all of our genuine friends — individuals, families and contractors — who contributed to our success during the first 15 years.”
The fact is, Ronson Equipment wouldn’t have quality customers if it didn’t offer quality equipment. From the beginning, premium manufacturers stocked Ronson Equipment shelves with proven parts and devices and filled Ronson’s equipment yard with superior machinery. That was the catalyst for all that followed.
“We needed quality products, sure,” Wietbrock acknowledges, “but we learned very quickly that the best thing we had going was loyal customers and their unbelievable desire to help us achieve success. We still say that this business would have failed in any other location without the help of these awesome families and companies. They helped us unload machines when we didn’t have a loading dock, loaned us equipment we needed, and purchased parts and attachments we didn’t have and were happy to wait for the delivery.”
Fifteen years and counting. Now serving customers in parts of three states, Ronson Equipment operates a fleet of fully equipped service trucks so customers can keep their machinery serviced and on job sites. It sells new and used equipment ranging from skid steers to dozers. Its services include parts, equipment rentals and financing.
“We have grown since those early days, but we still understand that people are the ultimate difference in business success. They always have been and always will be,” says Wietbrock. “We are grateful to have known fine people through this business experience and we are excited about the next 15 years.”