142. Hero – Ray Tharpe, Owner/President at RTM Industrial Maintenance Inc.


Ray: 00:00 

What drives me to get up and get going is just to be able to come out for a service that we can make a substantial living from, and as well, provide people with some support. I use teachings that I gathered through the years to help somebody and then to see their general appreciation, not just the fact that they’re paying a bill that, we’ve actually done something to impact them and their employees.

Chris: 00:25 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

 Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have a hero conversation. I’m very excited to have with me, my old friend, my buddy from high school and in college there. And we palled around there for a while. Mr. Ray Tharpe, he is the owner and president at RTM Industrial Maintenance. So welcome Ray!

Ray: 01:11 

Hello! How are you doing? 

Chris: 01:13 

Oh man, it’s good, man. It’s late on a Friday as beautiful outside.  I just appreciate you taking the time. I know you’re a busy guy, man to sit down with us. 

Ray: 01:21 

The pleasure is mine. I appreciate you inviting me to do this.

Chris: 01:25 

Absolutely, man, absolutely. These hero conversations, Ray. We love to get them started just by sharing with our listeners a little bit about your journey to where you’re at now, man. So what would you like to share with us here? 

Ray: 01:37 

I’m a fifth-generation logger saw miller. I actually grew up in the wood industry. After I decided not to return to college, I went into the sawmilling profession, which I spent 15 years actually manufacturing lumber.

And that’s where I learned the trade, how to work on the equipment then would be my background that led me to where I’m at today. I wanted more wanted to try to do my own thing. So I took a leap of faith, created RTM, launched that in January of 2016. And we are a millwright service company and our services include welding, fabricating, equipment installation, alignments, troubleshooting.

Pretty much anything in a sawmill we can handle for our customers. And we have seen great growth, built an amazing customer base. And we’re steadily building. 

Chris: 02:34 

That is awesome man. So I didn’t realize you spent 15 years in the actual mill. So where was that mill at? 

Ray: 02:41 

It was located in Alberta, Virginia.

Chris: 02:44 

Cool man. That’s awesome. And you started 2016 for RTM. And were you guys, I think just by watching you online, looks like, are you nationwide. I mean, you’re all over the place. When I look at it and see the stuff you’re posting. 

Ray: 03:00 

Ah, we were covering pretty much the east coast. We’ve worked in 15 states now. that’s our customer base for now. We’re still steadily going further and further, we love what we do and we want to help everybody. 

Chris: 03:14 

Yeah. I thought I saw something recently you’re like in New York or something and working on it in a mill. I mean, I was like, man, Ray is all over the place, man.

Ray: 03:22 

Made some tracks in a year. 

Chris: 03:26 

Yeah, how about, you know, when you’re serving the, wood industry and the saw mills, what do you seeing man, as some of the biggest challenges those mills have in the future? 

Ray: 03:35 

Course raw material, you know, trees are, they’re replanted as they’re harvested. As far as the turnaround on the years, you know, it was such a demand for the product that the trees are not as large as they used to be. So the mills are having to learn how to handle the smaller log, more efficiently to still produce the same amount and all that. That’s been the S problem, biggest thing. 

Chris: 04:04 

And trying to get the most quality lumber out of that smaller, raw product.I got you, man. Okay. Now, how about, the people out there Ray, that, maybe we’re sitting there and we’re talking with some, seniors in high school, or, young folks like that. And we want to give them some advice about pursuing a career in wood products. What would we tell them, man? What would you offer up to them? 

Ray: 04:30 

Forestry industry has been very good to me. It’s a very rewarding job. I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest, it’s the climate and weather. You know, that’s a big factor and I mean, it is tough work, but if you put the work in, you will reap the reward. On top of that, it’s always, it’s a demand for the demand for forest products is not going to go anywhere. So that’s substantial. 

Chris: 04:55 

Yeah, no doubt. The demand is doing nothing, but going up. There’s something to be said about job security. Now what about when you look back, man, you’ve had, a lot of people in your life and you’re helping a lot of people. Any mentors stand out to you from the wood industry that you’d like to share about? 

Ray: 05:17 

I’ll tell you. I’ve been very fortunate that a lot of the older generation when I was young and coming through the ranks there at the mill, I showed that I had a want to learn and to understand. And if people took the time to teach me.

The individual this going to stand out the most. My biggest influencer of what got me started, and then this will be my dad and I grew up in it. And as soon as I was big enough to be able to go to the woods when he was logging or go to the sawmill, when he was running the mill, you know, I was right there.

Just wanted to be in the middle of it. He’s all, he’s a partner with me and RTM, we started this thing together and, with the addition of my cousin. And if he was a mentor to me growing up, he’s part of RTM. And RTM’s got over a hundred years of actual manufacturing experience that we bring to the table, just with our knowledge and know-how, but it’s a lot of individuals that I could give credit to, my knowledge and what I’ve learned. 

Chris: 06:17 

Now, and you said what? You’re a fifth-generation? 

Ray: 06:20 

Yes, sir. 

Chris: 06:21 

That’s awesome. As it is, it’s in your blood. Now, how about, you know,  the people who think about the wood industry, they have these perceptions. Any myths out there about it that you’d like to just knock out of the park? 

Ray: 06:33 

I’d like a lot of people get the misconception of what the logger actually does. you know, get mud in the road or where your stealing a natural resource, that type of thing. And then. The forestry industry has evolved so much. And I kind of refer to it like commercial farming now. They might plant a track of timber and in 18 years they clear cut it. Hey, we’re making a two-by-fours, your deck boards. And then it’s replanted, you know, almost did within six to eight months, they’ve replanted it.

And it’s  starting a cycle again for the next generation. So that trying to showcase that in a positive manner, we’re doing good just cause we’re not doing corn. You know, it does make evil people. 

Chris: 07:15 

That’s right. I’m with you, man. I’m with you. Now how about, you know, the work you’re doing, so much about RTM and stuff you’re putting out, what makes you the happiest, man? When do you get that sense of joy in the work that you’re doing? 

Ray: 07:28 

Success that we come in, we supply our customer with the services that they asked for and they have a general appreciation of what we did and they ask for us. I don’t want to do one job. I want repeat business. Then, I feel that I have succeeded. 

Chris: 07:46 

Hey, but you’ve earned that trust too, right? 

Ray: 07:49 

Yes. And the customer, they put a lot of faith and trust in you when you come in and you shut their multi-million dollar operation down and you got to revamp something and you got to get it back up and running this whale. It’s a lot of faith. 

Chris: 08:06 

And how about any cool projects that RTM has done that you look back on? And they were like, man, that one was pretty awesome. Any highlights? 

Ray: 08:16 

Oh, the recent ban mill installation we did this past January, that was a very tough installation due to constraints of the building and the existing footprint of a mill.

I mean, we literally, every dimension in there, we were within a half-inch of not landing. That close and that type. And there was absolutely no engineer. It was all done in-house. From the laying it out to the digging of the pit, steel design, the whole nine yards, it was all done in-house. So that was a kind of a neurotic one for me, just because we were showcasing some new services. A crane business that we started and being able to do the excavation work, things like that, that’s the one I’m probably most excited about.

And that’s the one that I had Koval Digital follow us on. And to showcase who we are and the new services. 

Chris: 09:11 

You mentioned the crane business. So these are new, is that like sub businesses that you’re starting now to just cause a demand? And you’re seeing the need for these services are increasing?

Ray: 09:22 

Yeah, we’ve had, we’ve been very fortunate through 2020 that we’ve had a lot of growth in demand and our services has increased and we are looking for diversification as well. Eventually, evolve into a one-stop-shop. We can come in and complete a turnkey project and that’s where we’re trying to gear towards. We still got some growing to do, we’re slowly getting there. 

Chris: 09:43 

You’re doing a great job. I just can’t, say enough about what you’re doing at RTM and just to see your success and that speaks about your character and the types of people that you’re working with that trust you’re providing, and just the value that you’re creating out there in the wood industry, man. So good stuff, man. Good stuff. 

So let’s talk a little bit about you outside of work, man. I’m sure there’s not much time outside of work for you as you’re laughing. So any hobbies, anything you enjoy doing? 

Ray: 10:14 

Oh, yeah, family, man. I got a young daughter. She’s 12 spent a lot of time with her. She’s doing travel volleyball now. So we stay on the go with that. And I still like to hunt and fish, even though I don’t get to do that as much as I want to. Just taking it easy. Spending time with family when I am off. Most of the time I’m on the road somewhere.

Chris: 10:39 

That’s right. Now, your family, is everybody there in Virginia? 

Ray: 10:45 

Yes. My mother, father and sisters, we all still live locally. 

Chris: 10:48 

Ray man, thanks for sharing about your family, man. Sounds like you got a lot, going on. RTM is doing great. How about things you enjoy maybe since you are on the road so much. What do you listen to? Any podcast or do you give or get a chance to check out any books around the, maybe the sawmill industry or anything like that you’d like to share with our listeners? 

Ray: 11:10 

I do. I read a lot more than not from say watch anything. More or less keeping up with what the manufacturers are doing. Things that are changing in the industry. And honestly, I mean, a lot of it is just self-education on things because the way technology is being introduced into what people would say is something that’s not rocket science is starting to become it because of the technological advances that are being made the leaps and bounds of innovation. So just staying up to speed with that is what I try to read up on. 

Chris: 11:44 

Cool man. It’s hard to stay on top of that stuff because it’s changing so fast, 

Ray: 11:49 

Daily in some areas. 

Chris: 11:51 

And I’ll tell you what when you walk in a sawmill now, you know, I think you mentioned this previously, what used to be a 30, 40 person mill is a lot fewer people now, and it’s because of the innovation and the way technology has shifted and just the impact that it’s made.

Ray: 12:07 

Yes. And that’s, some of what’s been an increase in demand for like my company, and then being up to date, we’re having to diversify with the industry, learn and grow as well, because you certainly don’t want to go make a service call and you have no idea what you’re looking at.

Chris: 12:24 

That’s right. That would be tough. Wouldn’t it? So how about this man? We like to play a game, on the hero episodes. We call it the lightning round, man. It’s just a bunch of random stuff that I like to throw out just to get to know our guests a little bit more. So if you’re willing to play, we’ll have some fun with it.

All right, man. What’s your favorite food? 

Ray: 12:44 

Potatoes. Steak and potatoes. 

Chris: 12:46 

All right. How about your adult beverage? 

Ray: 12:50

A good cold Bud Light would be wonderful. 

Chris: 12:53 

I hear ya man. Particularly in the summer and Virginia, but that does taste good buddy. How about favorite sports teams? 

Ray: 13:02 

I’m a New England Patriots fan. Even though my man Brady left. I’m still gonna hold it with the Patriots. 

Chris: 13:09 

I hear you. I saw the Patriots behind you there, so I figured you probably go there, but I did not know that about you, Ray. Have you always pulled for the Patriots? 

Ray: 13:20 

Oh, yeah. I was a Pats fan back, Curtis Martin and Drew Bledsoe were playing. 

Chris: 13:27 

Okay, so you didn’t jump on the bandwagon. Okay, got it. 

Ray: 13:31 

No. That’s what everybody gives me a fit about though. I liked them when they weren’t that good.

Chris: 13:36 

Okay. Well how about your favorite music man?

Ray: 13:39 

I’m a country music fella.

Chris: 13:41 

Country music. Okay. Very good. How about what’s your favorite band then? 

Ray: 13:45 

I gravitated to the Jason Aldean, Luke Combs, that kind of, era, I liked that new beat that they, that vibe that they have going on there.

Chris: 13:54 

Yeah. That’s cool, man. How about somewhere that you hadn’t been before, man, that you’d like to go one day?

Ray: 14:00 

I really want to visit Canada. In the summertime 

Chris: 14:03 

In the summertime, just to clarify.

Ray: 14:09

I’d really like to go up there. I’m planning on doing that as soon as the restrictions are lifted.  

Chris: 14:15 

Yeah, no doubt, man. No doubt. And how about maybe last one? Dogs or cats? 

Ray: 14:21 

I’m going to say I’m a dog person.

Chris: 14:24 

All right. There’s only one, right answer. And you got it right, brother. That’s good. This has been fun, Ray. It’s been so good to catch up with you, man. 

And we call it EECO Asks Why, we always end up with the why. And it just talks about what people are passionate about, what drives them. So man, somebody comes up to you and says, “Hey Ray, what is your personal, why?” What would that be, man? 

Ray: 14:45 

What drives me to get up and get going is just to be able to come out all for a service, you know, we can make a substantial living from, and as well, provide people with some support. Use teachings that I gathered through the years to help somebody and then to see their general appreciation, not just the fact that they’re paying a bill that, we’ve actually done something to impact them and their employees.

That’s a lot of. There’s a lot of families and I might put too much responsibility on myself, but I feel responsible for all my guys and then all the mouths they have to feed. And we look at our customers the same way we go in there and do something that’s detrimental to the mill. It doesn’t, it might hurt the customer, but it’s the employees that are impacted if we were to make a mistake. And we take a lot pride in satisfying our customers. 

Chris: 15:39 

You’re doing a great job of it, Ray, it’s been good to catch up. I wish nothing but the best for RTM industrial maintenance and all the things you’re doing. Just thank you so much. And for our listeners out there that want to connect with Ray or learn more about RTM, check out the show notes all his, the links to the resources to connect directly with him will be there. I encourage you to, particularly if you’re in the wood industry to check him out, talk to him. He’s a wealth of knowledge. And this has been really fun Ray. So thank you for taking the time to share. 

Ray: 16:11 

Yes sir. Thank you too. I appreciate you having me.

Chris: 16:15 

Absolutely. You have a great day. 

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