Big R Bridge is celebrating 40 years of innovation this year. In this, the final installment of a four-part series, we start the new millennium with a glimpse of Big R in its fourth full decade of operation – the 2000s.
It’s been quite a journey following the Big R team as they carved out new territories in the 70s, rode the oil exploration boom in the 80s and refocused on the expanding forestry and development sectors in the 90s – along with growing their strategic relationship with their ally, Atlantic Industries Limited (AIL).
The AIL relationship flourished in the 90s with Big R becoming a key US partner for AIL’s innovative structural plate products like Super•Cor and Bolt-A-Plate. AIL was also able to market Big R’s Modular Bridges in their established territories in the Eastern US and Canada. The Big R team was very enthusiastic about their potential as the new millennium approached.
What would the new decade – and the new millennium – bring?
The new century began with the roar of fireworks heard around the world, but soon settled back to reality just three months later with the sound of one bubble bursting – the dot.com bubble. And, along with that, the whole economy spiraled into recession.
After thirty years in the business, the management team at Big R (Sid Wilke, Tom Selders and Dave Wilke) had been thinking about a succession plan and, seeing how they were such a catch, potential suitors were starting to take notice. With a proven relationship, AIL was hoping to stay at the front of the line. Sporting a fresh haircut and his best suit, AIL Chief Executive Officer, Mike Wilson, came calling in 2001 with an offer that made perfect sense, and Big R Manufacturing LLC was soon acquired by the AIL Group of Companies. With the sale, Sid and Tom retired from Big R, while the younger Dave stayed on to ease the transition, with AIL’s Kenzie MacPherson taking the reins.
Kenzie had a lot on his plate, and surviving the tough economic climate meant being even more resourceful. Big R’s nervous competitors were slashing their margins and offering rock-bottom prices. Big R’s vehicular bridges were considered to be highly-engineered “Cadillacs” with lots of features built in. But, in recessionary times, it was the simpler “Chevrolets” that were needed. Although they still specialized in “Cadillacs”, they embarked on a process of value-engineering more-competitive solutions by streamlining their designs, processes and construction methods.
A full Enterprise Resource Planning System was implemented to provide better control of costs – especially labor. AIL’s Eastern US sales team was soon brought in under Big R. Then, Engineering was brought in-house in 2004 with the establishment of their own team, which has since grown to eight bodies. This reduced costs and avoided the delay caused by relying on third-party consultants – a differentiator that would bring real benefits.
These increased efficiencies and enhanced design capabilities paved the way for new bridge applications, and Big R moved more into the design/build market. With a decline in vehicular bridge activity, Big R parlayed their design capabilities into pedestrian bridges and carved out quite a niche. Soon, Big R’s pedestrian bridge designs were setting industry standards, and production kept the company busy year-round. To accommodate the increased demand, their Greeley, Colorado facility doubled in size in 2007. They also opened another facility near Fort Worth, Texas, specifically to produce their Bolt-A-Plate and Super•Cor structural steel plate solutions.
A milestone project in pedestrian bridges was a large pedestrian bridge over a 13-lane toll plaza for the South Jersey Transit Authority. Dubbed “The Gateway to Atlantic City”, the 240' long bridge was delivered in eight sections, which minimized fieldwork, and took just one evening to set in place, as there was a minimum freeway closure window.
In 2008, the company changed its name from Big R Manufacturing LLC to Big R Bridge. Also, in 2008, they introduced a patented hybrid design called The Tunable Bridge – that allowed lighter weight spans of 400' or more. Due to increasing demand, a Super•Cor manufacturing line was added to their existing manufacturing lines in Forth Worth in 2009.
To celebrate their 40th Anniversary a special luncheon BBQ event was held at the Greeley facility with the original founders and current teams all in attendance to mark this great occasion.
After 40 years of innovation, Big R Bridge has quite the legacy. They’ve grown rapidly, survived tough economies and thrived while others struggled. Today’s Big R team firmly believes the years to come have incredible potential as the infrastructure sector continues to expand, and the AIL Group of Companies keeps growing and investing in success.