Solid as a Rock: The three-generation Charlevoix-based family business is changing the shape of the earth around the world

In 1999, Charlevoix brothers Jim, Ben, and Mark Manthei were running a heavy construction business and doing work at Bay Harbor, the luxury residential community along Lake Michigan, just south of Petoskey. The development needed a new retaining wall built.

The brothers had no experience in retaining walls, but they had a lot of something else: confidence in their abilities. Without hesitation, they told the developer, “Sure, we can do a retaining wall.”

When they got back to the office, Jim Manthei took a crayon and napkin and sketched a design that involved creating massive concrete wall blocks — larger than anything on the market at the time — that interlocked like giant Legos, using the force of gravity to hold back the earth and enabling the team to create some of the largest, sturdiest walls the marketplace had ever seen.

Initially Redi-Rock systems were sold only in northern Michigan, but that limited their sales, and the Mantheis soon realized there was a larger market out there.

Instead of manufacturing Redi-Rock in Charlevoix and shipping the heavy concrete systems all around the nation, the company set up a system of licensing manufacturers across the Midwest. Today, the product is found in a variety of construction projects around the nation — and the globe.

“We’re a family owned and operated marketing, sales, and design company that licenses the steel-forming system to create Redi-Rock products to concrete producers,” explained Redi-Rock President Jake Manthei. “We work with concrete producers around the world.”

Over the years, as business grew, so did the staff and the manufacturing network. Today, 140 manufacturers produce Redi-Rock products across the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Northern Ireland, Norway, Russia and South Korea.

“We look to work with small- to medium-sized companies who share our values,” said Manthei, an energetic 34-year-old graduate of Arizona State University who became company president about 18 months ago. Some of those values — “Lead the Way” and “Don’t Give Up,” in particular — might have been unspoken tenets of Redi-Rock’s founding, but they form the drumbeat to which the company marches today.

Redi-Rock team members constantly monitor their progress toward the company’s goals, which include developing two new products and 20 percent growth this year. Each team in the company has quarterly goals to meet.

“We have an all-hands meeting every month to assess and evaluate our progress toward the goals,” said Manthei.”We don’t want to solve new problems with old solutions. We don’t want to meet the needs of 2012. We’re looking 10 years ahead.”

It’s that forward-looking attitude that has helped the company succeed in recent years. “2016 was our high-water mark,” said Manthei. “So far we’re up 20 percent over our record year. The wind is at our back right now.”

All this success means Redi-Rock is constantly looking for new team members. Right now the company is on the hunt for a civil engineer, mechanical engineer, a graphic designer, financial analyst, human resource generalist, and members of the order processing team.

Redi-Rock is part of a wide-ranging Manthei family-run operation that includes more than a dozen companies and dates back to brothers Ted and Ernie, whose family strawberry farm inadvertently started their small business empire. The brothers wanted to make wooden baskets for their berries and bought themselves a lathe.

“Turns out they bought a veneer lathe by mistake,” said Manthei. “Instead of making berry baskets, they ended up making and selling hardwood veneer instead.”

In 1940, Ted and Ernie launched the Manthei veneer mill in Petoskey, owned today by the second and third generations of the family. It’s one of the few veneer mills in North America that is family owned and family operated.

In 1968, the family launched MDC Contracting, a heavy construction business that now includes Redi-Rock, along with underground systems, site development, aggregate processing, ready- mix and a new concrete product line, Rosetta, an “outdoor living” product for residential and commercial uses.

“We were selling a lot of Redi-Rock in northern Michigan, but not to landscapers and [we] asked one, ‘Why aren’t landscapers using the product?’” recalled Manthei. “It’s not the right size, the right texture, or right color,’ he told us. It was too utilitarian.”

So the company developed the Rosetta line as an outdoor living brand. “Rosetta is an opportunity to engage the community to get outdoors, to socialize,” said Manthei.

In addition to Rosetta, MDC boasts Pole Base, an exterior lighting foundation that features an attractive textured base for the overhead lights.

Click here to learn more about Redi-Rock.