By Linda Schmid

It’s true what they say…necessity is the mother of invention according to Steve Borntrager, Sales Manager at Cardinal Manufacturing, LLC. Borntrager and his brother James started the company back in 2000, but at that time they were a shed company. 

Like any business, Cardinal had its challenges. One of those  challenges had to do with shed delivery. Some people wanted their sheds delivered to very specific, often tight locations. Some wanted their sheds delivered right away, rain or shine, without their lawns getting ripped up. Others wanted to wait until the weather was dry, then the company would get many calls from people asking for their sheds to be delivered immediately before it began raining again.  

A Better Way to Move Sheds

The Borntragers thought there had to be a better way. They looked around thinking they would find a solution out there, maybe something they could tweak a bit to serve their own purposes, but they couldn’t find anything. That was when they set to work and came up with their own solution. They called it “Esel”, which is German for “mule”, and it made maneuvering portable buildings so much easier they used it on all their jobs.  

The Esel II…from the archives

They continued to improve the Esel, and this machine that made their deliveries so much smoother did not go unnoticed by others in the industry. Soon they were asking for Esels of their own.

In 2006 Cardinal made their third version of the Esel, they named it the Mule III, a more accessible name, and they made it available for purchase. Still, they continued to improve it, adding wider tires that allow the Mule to “float” over wet ground. In 2011 they  added wireless remote controls. In 2018, features such as high torque drive hubs, automatic tracking, and on board diagnostics were incorporated into the Mule 524 model, a flexible mchine with more than 97,000 in. lb. of axle torque. Still the innovation has continued as Cardinal offers more options for various types of jobs. 

Company Challenges

In more recent years, the company’s challenges have been related to supply chain issues. When they can’t get electronic or hydraulic parts, it delays production, thereby delaying delivery to the customer. They have shopped for different suppliers for the same or better products to fill the gaps, exhausting every avenue. 

Borntrager acknowledges that the labor force is tight, but says that they actually have a very strong, loyal labor force, so they haven’t felt that pinch as strongly as some companies have. 

“We engender a strong team spirit by being team players ourselves,” he said. “We talk to employees and encourage them to provide input in meetings. We work with employees who do not seem to be acting as part of the team.”

Of course, prices have risen also and the company watches the costs very carefully. 

Company Triumphs

“Even with all of the challenges in the last few years, we have made improvements to our products, introduced new products, and we have lots of satisfied customers.” Borntrager takes these things as wins.

The most powerful Mule, the Mule 737T

In fact, their customers are so engaged with the company and its mission to make portable building delivery easy, that Borntrager hesitates to say what is coming on the horizon. 

“We have something new being tested as always, ” Borntrager says, but adds that they like to wait until they are ready to launch to announce their new products because above all they do not want to disappoint a customer. 

Service and Mission

Cardinal is located in southern Illinois, but they serve all of North America and even some international markets.   

“We are a small company, supplying a niche market,” Borntrager states. 

Their focus is in three areas: portable buildings or sheds, shipping containers, and portable storage, rental units like Pods that are delivered to your house for you to fill, then are taken to your new residence or to a storage facility. And they cover these niches well. 

They see their mission as bringing solutions to their customers’ challenges. That is how they got their start and how they’ve continued down their path. They challenge themselves to do the best they can to develop equipment for the customer and to service the equipment after purchase. 

The company and employees go about their business based on a strong Christian ethic. They believe in being honest, up-front,  and treating others as they would want to be treated. Like any company they want to be profitable, but according to Borntrager, they don’t want profit at any cost. The goal is for everyone to profit, including their customer. GSCB