Chernobyl became a feared household word as the location of the world’s worst nuclear accident. America mourned the loss of the Challenger space shuttle crew. Top Gun was flying high at the box office, while The Cosby Show dominated the small screen.
And a holding company called Diversified Technologies — whose properties included Sudenga Industries, an agricultural equipment manufacturer — established Ranger All Season Corp. and introduced the Ranger 1×3 and Ranger 2×3, a pair of scooters designed for outdoor use.
Fast forward 20 years, and Ranger, based in George, Iowa, now offers nine models with 13 different varieties of scooters, including bariatric offerings (the Solo HD carries riders up to 450 lbs., the Solo XT550 up to 550 lbs.). The latest new scooter is the Freedom, an indoor/outdoor model introduced last year and designed to be ultra-transportable. Ranger’s reputation has earned contracts to supply scooters at Universal Studios and other major theme parks.
“When we started in this industry, the average consumer was still concerned about the image of riding a scooter,” President Larry Kruse remembers. “Individual dealerships were the primary marketing arm for most scooter manufacturers, and most of the products we competed with were built right here in the U.S. Today, consumers understand the importance of their mobility, and they no longer fear the image of riding a scooter.”
Kruse says the competitive landscape has shifted as well. “Another major change has been the government’s decision to support larger payments for a power chair, while choking payments for scooters,” he explains. “This has shifted the attention of dealers, and ultimately consumers, away from scooters and into power chairs. Also, unfortunately for the American worker, it appears that the Chinese have targeted this industry, and therefore the vast majority of carts that are sold in the United States are built in China and Taiwan and, at best, assembled in the U.S.” The Freedom, designed by Ranger, is the company’s only scooter built outside the States.
Asked how he’s seen the industry evolve, Sales Manager Randy Riecks says, “The biggest change … has been technology: transaxle drives replacing chain drive. The other change is in electronics, programmable controllers and on-board chargers.” As for how Ranger itself has evolved, Riecks notes, “We have updated our manufacturing process with robot welders, more precise tool and die equipment. This allows us to make a better product than we did 20 years ago.”
The scooters’ toughness played a critical role in perhaps the manufacturer’s most famous testimonial. Leigh Gilmore, who uses a Ranger scooter because of multiple sclerosis, was a half block away as the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Gilmore credits the scooter with fighting through choking dust and debris, and saving her life.
“That’s probably the one I remember most,” Riecks says of the testimonial (Ranger replaced Gilmore’s scooter and will display the “9/11” scooter at Medtrade in Atlanta this fall). “Another one, from right after I started with Ranger, was from a doctor in South Carolina. He had a patient who could not go from his house to his mailbox, which was about 300 feet away, just because of lack of oxygen. I forwarded him to a dealer, and we got him a scooter. The doctor said, ‘You don’t know how much this changed this person’s life.’ “
As part of its anniversary celebration, Ranger will honor dealers who have been with the company for five or more years and have helped change a lot of lives. “Our theme is ‘Built to Last,'” Riecks says. “Personally, I have made some of the best friendships with our dealers and users, and nothing can bring more fulfillment than receiving the phone call or note telling how our products provided a service beyond a customer’s expectations. We would like to thank our dealers and customers who have purchased a Ranger scooter over the past 20 years. It is their input that we have used to improve our scooters.”