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Essential Products History

Built on a foundation of service and passion.

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” – Winston Churchill

Looking back at the history of our company, few can claim the lineage, the tradition, and the line of continuous family participation the Rayner Company of Chicago (now Essential Products) can describe. Founded in the 1850s in New York City by Julius Rayner, the company was a sawmill active in what is now the financial district of the city.

However, as Chicago rapidly emerged as the manufacturing heart of the United States, it was obvious the company would be more effective if it were located at the industrial center of a growing economy. The combination of an expanding mid-western railway hub and the home of the Pullman Car Company, to who Rayner sold Mahogany, induced Frank Rayner, one of the founder’s sons, to move the company to their site in 1904. Today, Essential Products, formally the Rayner Company, resides not too far away at 7361 S Meade Ave. in Bedford Park, IL

Today, the company has over 160 years in business. For a company to survive and prosper, through all of the economic ups and downs our economy has experienced, it requires more than just tradition, continuity, and sound business practices. Great organizations and great companies prosper through dynamic leadership, innovation, adaptation, and a commitment to grow with their customer’s needs.


The Die Board Revolution

The primary industry for the company was lumber for furniture making, specifically mahogany.

However, Frank Rayner, recognized in 1940 an opportunity for the sale of plywood to an emerging toolmaking industry, built around steel rule dieboards. At that time the dieboards were shipped all over the United States from the Chicago center; however, as times changed, the company changed. Frank’s son Larry took over the company and opened distribution centers in Wilkes-Barre, PA; Buffalo, NY; and Charlotte, NC. In addition, Rayner products were made available through many of the key distributors involved in die-making. As a result of this early and continuous involvement in the development of plywood dieboards, the Rayner organization built up an enviable network of suppliers, a vast amount of experience, and a reputation for innovation. The product mix offered for making steel rule dies has grown from just being flat maple to boards to now including rotary, composite, and specially finished boards along with birch, phenolics, and steel plates.

As the steel rule diemaking industry grew in size, reputation, competence, and experience, the plywood dieboard had to change and adapt to an increasingly tighter specification. This ongoing innovation and development were made possible by the long-term relationships Rayner has built with the leading plywood mills in the United States and in Europe.

This determination to provide the block, the jig, and the combination diemaker with a precision product was perfectly timed to align with a new method of preparing a board to accept the rule.  That new method was to cut with a computer-controlled laser.


The Lasercutting Revolution

The dieboard industry and the manufacturing of the composite plywood panels were transformed by this new method of machining kerf at high speed, with great precision, and with unmatched repeatability.

Although the first lasercut dieboard was machined in 1968, it was not until the early 1970s when an extraordinary technology developer and an inspired visionary named Ray Miller recognized the potential for this method of dieboard manufacturing. But like any revolutionary challenge to the status quo, this change was more evolutionary and driven by a small number of organizations who had the courage of their convictions.  It was the courage of those few companies that forced the revolution in this industry to embrace this new technology.

At this time a young man named Ron Murray joined Rayner and started his career in the warehouse.  A passion was born in him for this business and as he grew with the company he worked in various positions to where he eventually ended up running the company for the Rayner family.

This passion led Ron to be an active member of the International Association of Diecutters and Diemakers in 1975. Ron was so committed to the IADD and to the industry that he worked as a committee member, a program chairman, a nominating chairman, and was an enthusiastic supporter and contributor to the growth of the association and the professional diemaking membership. His peers recognized Ron Murray’s exceptional effort when he received the President’s Award from the association.

In the early 1980s, Ron Murray became Sales Manager of the Rayner Company. When the company split into two logical organizations, one to focus on the steel rule die industry and one to focus on furniture and related lumber products, it was obvious the man to lead the new company was Murray, and he was appointed Company President.

This leadership role, both at Rayner and in the Industry, was critical as the diemaking industry was changing rapidly and laser machining was growing exponentially. During the ’80s and early ’90s, Ron and his colleagues were instrumental in developing new standards, refining new materials, and perfecting more effective methods of plywood manufacturing.

However, as laser cutting technology had powered a path to new standards of machining in the industry, the end-user of the steel rule die, the diecutter, were looking to the diemaker for greater precision, improved converting quality, and higher press speed. It was at this time that another young man named Paul Hettinga stepped in to lead them into the next stage of dieboard and toolmaking innovation.


The Toolmaking Revolution

Paul Hettinga joined the organization in 1997 as Sales and Marketing Manager. Upon Ron Murray’s retirement, Paul became President of the Rayner Company. Paul held various positions prior to joining Rayner from working with charitable foundations such as Young Life to developing import/export businesses to help developing communities in East Africa, to selling dieboards for a company named Piette.

Paul worked with Gene Piette for several years and credits Gene with giving him the foundation of knowledge on which he built his career as a dieboard supplier, manufacturer, and innovator.

It was during his initial period in the industry with Gene and then with Rayner that Paul’s “fresh” ear began to discern a change from the dieboard as a simple “plywood” panel to the requirement for a wider range of dieboard products with very different properties. Paul recognized the industry was using progressive automation of the entire diemaking process to move rapidly from a labor-intensive, craft-based process, to a computer-integrated system of manufacturing. In addition, the simple steel rule die was, in reality, a multi-station set of integrated male and female tools, with very precise performance expectations.

It was obvious to Paul the materials, the dieboard production process, the veneer assembly process, and the entire specification for a “dieboard” must be radically changed to meet higher quality and productivity standards.

Paul rapidly converted this strategic understanding of industry trends into an aggressive development program to find better materials to construct a more precise dieboard material. This family of products he developed under the name Rayform has for years been the benchmark for precision and stability for those tools that need to be within the tightest tolerances.

Once a full family of products was developed and offered, Paul approached the challenge of how to get more products to customers in a way that not only supported the customer with “just-in-time” inventory but also made Rayner more efficient.  A consignment program was born that was named T.I.M for Total Inventory Management that has grown, expanded, and evolved to become one of the best programs for inventory management for die board materials.

Under Paul, a team developed and solidified that made Rayner the primary supplier of boards to the industry.  Paul and Dan Valmassei of Monroe Rubber Plastic each reached a point where they needed outside sales help.  A synergy was hatched between those two companies because of the complementary nature of both being used for making dies.  If someone was buying die boards, then they needed rubber; if they bought rubber, chances are they needed boards.  Together they approached David West to be their outside independent sales rep.  During that time period sales for both companies grew nicely and Dave grew in responsibilities to where he ended up managing the sales and marketing for both companies.

In 2013 Paul approached Dave with the news that he was ready to sell the company and because Dave was interested, they both worked together to form a purchase program that was beneficial to both.  As company buyouts go out, this was a unique one in that each was very concerned for the wellbeing of the other, and in fact, they shared an attorney which is almost never done.  It was this close bond and relationship that allowed for a smooth transition of ownership that did not disrupt the team, which was a focal point.

January 1, 2014, Dave took over the company and within the year a new location was established for the home office that tripled the size of the warehouse space and the name changed to Essential Products.

Essential Products today has grown substantially and has also played a large part in substantial growth at Monroe Rubber and Plastic as well.  Today 10 trailers travel the US with the Essential Products logo and serve customers through seven warehouses spread across the country.  On top of that, the initial team that was part of the success under Paul remains along with some new members.  Everyone at Essential Products is fully committed to the continued success and support of our customers.  The legacy continues…




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7361 S Meade Ave
Bedford Park, IL
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