How Strutmasters Turned a Breakdown Into a Breakthrough

When Chip Lofton and his family were stranded on the side of the road during a road trip, he needed a quick fix to get him moving again. However, the fix he found for his broken air suspension would eventually do much more than just get the Loftons back on the road safely. Nearly 25 years later, the idea of ​​that quick fix has become the backbone of Strutmasters, LLC., a multi-billion dollar company that now serves car owners around the world.

The Automoblog team took a trip to the Strutmasters headquarters in Roxboro, North Carolina, to take a look inside their production facility. We also spoke with Strutmasters General Manager Scott Beaddles to learn more about the business, its history, and its future.

Trustmasters Headquarters in Roxboro, North Carolina

Necessity is the mother of suspension invention

When Lofton’s Lincoln Town Car broke down on that 1999 road trip, he was left with few options. You would have to wait for the parts for your air suspension to arrive, and once they did, you would have to pay quite a bit of money for the repairs. But he figured he could replace his air suspension strut with a basic traditional spring strut from a similar vehicle and at least get his car and family home.

the lincoln town car that started strutmasters
Chip Lofton’s 1989 Lincoln Town Car that sparked the idea for Strutmasters.

That gamble ended up paying off. The replacement strut performed even better than expected, and Lofton managed to avoid paying most of the air suspension repair costs.

Soon after, he realized that this idea could benefit other air suspension car owners, so he founded Strutmasters, LLC. The company started out by providing spring suspension replacements for a handful of air-sprung vehicles and grew its catalog from there.

Within a few years, Strutmasters was making parts and kits for dozens of makes and models. The company took advantage of the burgeoning trend of e-commerce and began shipping products to customers across the country. Two and a half decades later, the company is a formidable force in the suspension replacement industry that it helped create.

An old school solution to new school problems

Some may be surprised to learn that air suspension technology is over 120 years old. In 1901, a patent was filed for a “vehicle air spring” that used compressed air to provide resistance to a car’s suspension. However, it wasn’t until 1986, when Toyota introduced the first electronically controlled air suspension, that this technology began to become a popular feature in consumer vehicles.

Modern air suspension systems work by monitoring a vehicle’s ride height relative to the road and adjusting the air pressure in the air springs to provide optimum resistance. The result is a car that responds to changing road conditions and provides a smooth ride for driver and passengers. However, these active suspension systems are classified as high-tech automotive equipment, which usually results in complicated and expensive repair.

By contrast, the coilover suspension system may initially feel like a museum piece, with origins dating back to 1763. First used on automobiles in 1904, these more traditional suspension systems use a metal strut to support a car and a spring to provide a balance of give and resistance.

Strutmasters designs and manufactures parts and “suspension conversion kits” that replace the air suspension on a car with a suspension system. For the car owner, this means losing the functionality of an active suspension, but it also means saving a lot of money, sometimes several thousand dollars.

strutmaster assemblies waiting to be packed

Beaddles explains that the savings are worth more than the difference for many drivers.

“For most people it’s just a matter of cost,” he says. “In many cases, replacing the active suspension can cost more than your car is worth, which doesn’t make much sense to most people. When done right, coilovers can offer comparable performance at a fraction of the cost.”

Keeping it close to home

In addition to the technology itself, Strutmasters operates on another idea that seems a bit dated in 2023: assemble its products nationally. While the company sources its components from global manufacturers, it assembles its kits at its Roxboro headquarters.

Also Read:  Inside The 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170, The World's Most Powerful Muscle Car
a strutmaster worker loads a strut assembly

Beaddles shares that the decision to complete the final steps in the manufacturing chain in North Carolina provides Strutmasters with some advantages.

“Overseas manufacturing quality these days can be really good,” he says. “But assembling things and testing them allows us to step in and do quality control. [quality assurance] on our own at any time. It’s much easier to make sure everything is up to spec. We do not want surprises for us or for the client”.

Strutmasters also uses the factory at their headquarters to design and test their products. According to Beaddles, this helps with the product development process.

a strutmasters employee welds a fitting into a kit

“A big part of it is that it’s actually easier to get things done here, even if it’s a bit more expensive,” he says. “We want to get as close to the ride as possible and feel like people felt with their active suspension when it was running. Even a slight variation in spring pressure, for example, can make a big difference in the way a car handles and the feedback it gives the driver.”

Beaddles says that the process of fine-tuning replacement suspension parts can often involve a lot of back and forth. Sending designs to third parties and waiting for them to come back adds time and complexity to the process.

“To get the parts exactly right, we have to test and refine everything,” says Beaddles. “Doing it internally means we can make adjustments and improvements in real time. That allows our engineers to really focus on one thing at a time and helps us get to the point of production much faster.”

Made with the DIYer in mind.

Fixing one’s own car is another practice that is increasingly going out of fashion, but Strutmasters embrace it. While changing a suspension system can seem like a daunting task for anyone who isn’t a professional mechanic, the company encourages people to consider doing the repair themselves.

a strutmasters employee assembles a kit

“As automobiles have gotten more complicated, working on your own vehicle has become a lost art,” says Beaddles. “Today it takes special equipment to do a lot of the work that needs to be done on a car, but installing new coil-over shocks is still pretty simple.”

Beaddles says that while many customers have a mechanic install their kits and components, he hopes people will at least consider doing the work themselves. To help, the company hosts installation videos on its website and packages DIY instructions with its products.

a strutmasters employee moves some packages ready to be shipped

“Replacing your suspension yourself, of course, saves you a lot of money,” he says. “But I also think it’s good for people. Most people probably don’t know that there is still a lot of work on their car that they can do themselves. Doing a great job as a home suspension replacement can help people realize that.”

strutting into the future

Although Strutmasters built its success on long-established technology, the company undoubtedly has its eyes set on the future. In recent years, the company has expanded to offer motorcycle suspension kits and components, specialty off-road products, and even has a growing line of active suspension components.

Beaddles says the company will continue to grow and develop along with the industry. That may include adopting new technology or expanding into different areas. However, the old-school values ​​that helped build Strutmasters aren’t going away.

“Maybe we’re just stubborn,” he says. “I’m sure we could find cheaper ways to do what we do, but we like to do things at home and be very practical. It’s much simpler.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *