By Brian Letendre
Photos: Brian & Scott Letendre
In the world of suspension systems and aftermarket support, many companies come and go as often as you need to change the oil. Other companies have been around for many years but have begun to outsource to remain competitive in the market. So who do they have to remain competitive with? Well, Rough Country Suspension Systems is a definite trend setter and company who constantly is raising the bar in aftermarket support of both older and newer vehicles all while keeping prices low and quality high. So how do they do it? I recently took a trip down to Dyersburg, TN to learn more.

Meeting with Jeff Green, my son and I were treated to a tour of all 3 facilities which make this business machine tick. We were quite impressed. I will try to give you a rundown of how they have their operation laid out. I admit, I might be off on which buildings housed which departments, since it all ran together after touring this massive operation, but I will do my best to piece together the estimated 250 acres under roof that is, Rough Country Suspension Systems.

We started our tour where any good kit begins, Research and Development. In the first building we toured, these guys were working on a new custom piggy-back shock configuration for ½-ton Chevy trucks, a lift kit to suit the larger axle on a Dodge Cummins Dually, and a custom roll-pan style bumper for the famous and well loved Jeep XJ Cherokee. Walking around this shop was what most guys dream of for their home fabrication shop. With plenty of lighting, tools, lifts, and even a few extra goodies to make the job easier, most people would be extremely happy to have even half of what was represented in this portion of the building, then we went around the wall. Behind the wall of the R&D building was the production lines of brackets, spacers, and steel parts. Four large scale laser cutting CNC machines lined one wall. Loading 4'x8' sheets of 3/8" or 1/2" steel on the tray then sending them into the machine to be cut into the templates of choice for that run.

Seeing 1 of these machines was impressive but, 4 working away and cutting constantly blew my mind. Across the aisle from these monstrous machines were stations of people making all the bends needed to turn these cut steel templates into the shapes and sizes needed to fit all the vehicle needs. Imagine when you were a kid, picking what shapes would fold into a square or a pyramid; these guys are doing it with steel, and at a fast pace. In another area, toward the back wall (if I was not completely lost), more huge machines were putting out precise parts; this time, not steel, but synthetic. It was a plastic-like synthetic material with a super high strength. I can't tell you what the material was called (because I don't remember, but we will call it a trade secret since it sounds cool), but it is received in small pellets like a wood burning stove would use. Then, through the magic of technology, this machine would press out spacers, pucks, or whatever dye they had loaded to produce. Not cutting it, but mold formed and super high strength. Jeff grabbed one of these thinner pieces, for a Chevrolet truck leveling kit if I remember, and beat it hard against the crate, then threw it down hard on the concrete shop floor. Bouncing across and under a press across the room, this piece was not damaged in any way. I am not sure what this stuff was, but if you call it plastic, you are seriously underrating the strength it holds. Also housed in this facility were a few offices. All the internet gurus and the tech guys lived here. Producing the high quality web images and marketing materials that catch your eyes every time you see them. These were the guys that made you drool and want to buy all these cool parts. This wrapped up the first building and we exited back through the R&D shop and into the second facility.

Across the parking lot from the massive R&D building, Jeff and the sales team shared a much smaller building. This was not just offices, there was space to look over and drool on the newest in vehicles and builds from Rough Country. The bays were set up for viewing. Jeff did not explain this area much, but you could tell it was a place for the sales team to see the newest and learn all about what they would be selling. This building was a great layout for the entire team to collaborate and strategize the next steps and determine how to best serve you, their customers.

A quick trip across the highway took us to the next facility Rough Country occupies. This building, slightly larger than the first, by about double, was used for the fabrication and anything needing larger jigs. Rows and rows of racks and jigs for every bracket, kit, system, and anything else you can name with precision dimensions was on these shelves. In the back, skilled guys were balancing a custom driveshaft, just another thing Rough Country supplies with some of their kits which need it. Also in this building was the final prep and powder coating facility. A massive conveyor system which takes the parts both big and small through a series of cleaning and prepping, then on to the powder coat application room with electronic eyes which recognize how much powder will be needed and how many guns are to be used, then a final check by hand to make sure powder is covering all surfaces. From this room, the parts will exit the application room and enter the massive oven and then cooling area until it finally is able to be handled and the line turns back toward where it started while guys pull the parts off the line and give them a final inspection. Since we were visiting on Friday, the powder coat process was not operational, so we got to walk through and get a good look at the inner workings of this amazing system. Jeff told us that this machine had been installed 3 years ago and runs 4-day per week. Jeff doubted that it was ever cleaned heavily and remarked how efficient it was at using powder. Between the electronic eyes to detect part sizes and the vacuums to remove extra powder coat from the air as it was applied, the floor was still clean concrete and the blue of the machine parts was still easily seen. Even the applications guns were still white. Considering most all of the Rough Country parts are gloss black, this was a surprise to see. The back portion of this building was dedicated to packing. All these parts that were large and needed their own boxes were carefully wrapped and palletized to be sent on to the final building we went to. Smaller parts were bundled and sent in large batches to our next destination as well.

Back into Jeff's truck, a well adorned Ford with Rough Country lift, lights, and grille to name a few well used enhancements and a slightly longer trip across town to the final facility in the Rough Country setup for Dyersburg. This building, the largest of the three, was where the magic happened. Entering through a well adorned entry with a sales-like floor almost ready to be their own vehicle showroom, you pass through another set of doors to reveal the massive warehouse that was the brains of the packing and shipping. We entered just after the lunch bell rang. So the room was amazingly quiet despite its massive size and all the work you knew was done here. We walked aisles and aisles of parts, all cataloged and organized; down the center, a wide aisle used by the fork lifts as their highway. Each person assigned a section of the warehouse to get parts. This building was massive. About half way back, a small office with a sign which told of the production rate for the day. At our visit, by lunch time, over 1,800 units had been packed and ready to ship that day. As we walked to the back of the warehouse, the shipping docks were lined with trailers for UPS, FedEx, and other ground carriers. As we walked, Jeff explained that every order that was placed came here first. The order would be broken down into sections of the warehouse to retrieve parts, then lined up on a roller table where another worker would pack the shipment off all the parts, down to every nut and bolt, then it would be sealed and labeled and sent down to the shipping trucks and ready to distribute. Jeff explained to us as we walked, that this facility and all of it's staff were able to take nearly every order that is submitted through the website and have it put together, packed, and ready to ship in 1-day, and sometimes, even less than a day. As we walked back to the front of this massive warehouse, lunch was over and we were quickly becoming obstacles for the large number of forklifts and people moving quickly around and building getting the next orders to be sent out. Remember the large sign with the number of units, as we walked past it again, just about 30 minutes later, it had soared over 2,000 units packed. We exited the warehouse back through the showroom and out to the truck. On our drive back to the first buildings, Jeff told us a bit about the history of Rough Country and its growth over the many years of existence.

Rough Country Suspension Systems was born out of a small suspension company dealing with automakers and steering components, and after purchasing the ailing 'Rough Country' from a previous owner, they moved the company in over 50 tractor-trailer loads to Tennessee where they began to build suspension systems. Being one of the first companies to deal directly with the consumer, Rough Country led the way in eliminating the middleman and dealing direct with their customers. As the company grew, even the recession of 2008 could not slow down the growth of Rough Country. As the team of leaders grew, they began to focus on the importance of quality parts, good prices, and fast turnaround times. Those three focuses have grown Rough Country from a small business of less than 10 employees to the large organization we toured with 3 large facilities and over 240 employees. By the way, when I spoke to a few of those employees during our tour, every one of them said it was a great place to work and they would never think of going anywhere else. Those comments didn't surprise me since every building we went in and every warehouse we toured, Jeff knew everybody and they all knew Jeff. That's always a good sign that no matter the size, the small family company atmosphere still exists and they care about their people.

So if you are in the market for a lift kit, a light bar, leveling kit, armor, LED lighted grill, or just about any other part you could think of for your off road vehicle, check out the folks at Rough Country Suspension Systems. They do more than just suspension, and you will get a great kit made right here in the heart of America. When you do, I know you will be happy with their service, and tell them Brian, from United Christian Off-Road Alliance sent you.

God Bless, and Safe Wheeling!