Bumpers are her business
While the bumpers she designs are plenty rugged, Dianne Reusser Nelson thinks of her pen-and-pencil sketches turned into steel as more of an art form.
"I draw the bumpers like a person's portrait," Nelson said.
So she feels pretty good that she was asked to design bumpers for the Chevy Avalanche and GMC Sierra pickups that are now being featured on the "Adventure Highway" cable television show for off-road truck enthusiasts. The trucks with Reunel bumpers were shown in the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer's Association trade show in November.
Burned out of its Yuba City facility in February 2001, Nelson's company, Reunel Manufacturing Co., built a new 30,000-square-foot facility in Maxwell, only six miles from the ranch where Nelson grew up. Its main line of products, heavy-duty front bumpers for pickup trucks, have made the cover of more than one four-wheel-drive magazine.
True, the bumpers were going along for the ride in a sense since the pickup trucks were what was being featured in the magazines. But they have helped put her company on the map. She started the firm with her husband in 1987 and is now the sole owner.
Nelson said the company was dealing with an agriculture slowdown in 1992 when she thought of marketing its sturdy rear bumper design, used to tow farming equipment, for the front of pickup trucks.
While the rear bumper may have been known in Stockton and Chico, its sturdy design made her company a bigger name among a certain hardcore group of hunters, outdoorsmen and public safety users.
Reunel's original automotive product was a welded steel rear towing bumper designed for farmers. Its half-inch thick plates allowed a 20,000-pound towing capacity and 6,000-pound tongue weight. Painted black and white, it sold for $200.
Now her 12 employees gussy them up for off-road pickups. One worker spends 40 hours polishing the top-end, stainless-steel models that can sell for as much as $5,000.
Even more than the publicity they generate, her creations have helped the company survive a slump in farming equipment sales.
"In the early '90s we couldn't sell a piece of farm machinery," Nelson said.
Farmers were always putting the bumpers on the front of trucks for winching and protection, making it a natural product evolution.
The recent request to make bumpers for Chevy Avalanche and GMC Sierra pickups is a coup because "Adventure Highway" is an established TV show, Nelson said. It was a challenge designing the bumpers from scratch in three weeks.
Though the company has gotten air time, it has not had as big a jump in sales as with past shows. "It's still not as large as I'd like," Nelson said.
And she said the company is still suffering from the $2 million cost of its new building after the 2001 fire. A big order from a company that turned out to be the subject of a white-collar crime probe didn't help either. Nelson is still trying to collect on that account receivable. She did not disclose her company's annual revenues.
The recent publicity didn't reach Ellis Hausken, of San Pedro, who told Nelson that she needs to advertise more in Los Angeles. Hausken is an outdoor sports enthusiast who seeks out spots for hunting, fishing and sea kayaking but had trouble finding the right bumper for his 1998 Dodge truck. "I looked everywhere and couldn't find a heavy-duty bumper," Hausken said.
But he did spot the Reunel logo on truck parked near his Los Angeles-area home. He tracked down company information from the logo and made the second of two trips from Los Angeles to Maxwell to have it installed Thursday.