R&D Merlot: Diamond-plated dreams

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RAVENNA, Ohio – Bob and Becky Flint are creative when it comes to diamond plate aluminum.
They use the material to build flatbeds, gas tanks, pull-behind trailers and more. Bob has even gone as far as sinking diamond plate tiles into his office floor, and dreams of designing and building a desk from the metal, too.
The Flints operate R&D Merlot in Ravenna, a company known for its custom-created and -built aluminum truck and trailer accessories.
History. The Flints started their business in January 2001 as R&D Trailer Service, designing and building car haulers and trailers, along with tarps and tarp systems.
It was through that business they partnered in 2003 with a customer, Vincent Merlot Jr. from Pennsylvania, to form today’s R&D Merlot.
“Vince was very good at the business part of things and I wasn’t, so it was a good fit,” Bob Flint said.
The merger freed Bob to focus on the things he is good at: sales, purchasing, design and building their full line of products.
Do it all. R&D Merlot offers a wide selection of custom aluminum flatbeds and builds parts like bulkheads and uprights for tarping systems.
The shop also offers a range of service work, including welding.
“We can build and do whatever people want,” Bob said.
And he truly means whatever they want. Customers can sit down in the office with Bob and describe just what they want to see come out of the R&D Merlot shop.
Bob interprets it, shares photos of jobs he’s already done, takes ideas and draws up each custom plan with AutoCAD software. Customers can fully tweak any design, Flint said.
And usually in less than a week, a customer can have their new aluminum bed ready to use.
Aluminum. The Flints and their shop of six full-time and three part-time employees believe in their work, and take special steps to give the best quality product to every customer.
First, they craft their work from aluminum and stainless steel, which eliminates the need for sandblasting and primers compared with traditional steel work.
“Steel rusts before you get out the door. With this stuff you can build a product and it will still be here 10 years from now,” Bob Flint said.
Every truck bed or trailer that leaves the property is also spit-shined and fingerprint-free, “just because it looking good is important to us,” the Flints said.
Moving ahead. R&D Merlot relocated to its state Route 5 shop in Ravenna less than two months ago.
The Flints say they had outgrown their previous location, near the intersections of Interstate 76 and state Route 14, and needed more room to keep up with demand. Their new 10,000-square-foot building has turned out to be a good fit.
“We were elbow to elbow,” Bob Flint said, noting the old plant wouldn’t have afforded them room to continue to develop new body styles. In the past year, the company added dump inserts and western haulers to its product line.
“We needed room to get all the jobs done,” Flint said.
Audience. The Flints acknowledge their major customer base is farmers.
“A regular truck to a farmer is wasteful. With a flatbed they can haul anything they want,” Bob Flint said.
The company has also found a home with construction contractors and truck dealers wanting to equip cab-and-chassis models with an aluminum bed for a truck ready to work right off the lot.
The best. All of R&D Merlot’s products come with a lifetime guarantee, a rarity that the Flints see as a highlight in their business.
They also say their products are overly constructed, making them heavier and sturdier than the competition.
Every piece of equipment they sell is custom- and handmade by Bob and his staff of welders and machinists.
“Other companies don’t customize like we do regular,” Bob said. “By the time you end up adding on all that we offer as standard, the cost gets you.”
Nothing leaves the shop without a full inspection.
“Even the parts you can’t see from the outside we inspect,” Bob said. “When it leaves here, it’s got to be perfect.”
At the end of every day, it’s satisfied customers who keep the Flints moving forward and keeping up with the growing demand.
“Satisfied customers are the best thing for our business.”
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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