RiteWay is a conveyor manufacturer located in Minnesota. Denise Johnson, it’s president, began working there in 2001 after a career as an office manager. Denise’s father owned and ran the business.
In 2004, her father was diagnosed with cancer, and Denise was made Vice President. The company was in financial distress. By 2010 the two issues were reaching crisis stage.
The stress of the company’s financial situation exasperated the cancer. According to Denise, “The five months prior to my father’s death were full of worry, fear, anxiety, and a complete roller coaster ride. My dad’s treatment was being changed as it was the last hope that he would have if it worked. He was so sick all the time from blood transfusions and long stays in the hospital with infections. “
During this time, Denise began reading the book, Traveling Light by Max Lucado. The book focuses on Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepard.” “I would read a few chapters and make some notes. Then, I’d visit my dad in the hospital and read to him what I wrote and had learned as I knew the stress from the business was killing him. On July 28th, we were actually at a funeral for my uncle and I received an email from my dad saying ‘I’m Happy. Chemo is working.’ What mixed emotions with losing my uncle to this horrible disease and the thought that my dad is going to be okay. “
“Fast forward to September 23, 2010. My dad and I needed to go to a customer in Milwaukee, WI and he was still sick from the chemo and was not able to go. I asked my sister Dana to go with me and she agreed. Then we decided we should see if my other sister Dawn could come as well. She was able to come too. On Thursday, September 29th, we headed to Milwaukee and it was a time of reconciling with my sisters as we really didn’t do much together. We had the most amazing time from listening to songs when we were young and singing at the top of our lungs to talking about how blessed we were by the parents we had.”
“On September 30th, I headed to my meeting and left my sisters at the hotel. My visit went well, and I headed back to pick my sisters up. We were all awaiting a phone call from mom as dad had a PET Scan that day and we were waiting for the report. When Mom called, she was crying, and we were told that the cancer had spread and was in his liver and his bones, and the doctor had given him two weeks to two months to live. So many emotions were going through all of us girls. It was then that I realized it was part of God’s plan that the three of us be together for the support and love. Lots of tears were shed and it was hard to drive the rest of the way home.”
“Dad died on October 25th. It was another day of mixed emotions, knowing Dad was in a better place, but knowing I had to wait until it was my time to be with him. I remember the day when he handed me his phone, his keys and some papers and told me that this was the last time I could ask him questions as he was no longer going to be able to do so. I thought a part of me was going to die. This was all so real, and it broke my heart. He also told me he was sorry he ruined my life by bringing me out to RiteWay as the business was in trouble. I told him that the past eight years were the best years of my life and I didn’t regret getting to be with him daily and I wouldn’t change it for the world. His passing was beautiful as his eyes turned the prettiest blue and whatever he saw as he looked passed us was amazing. It was at that moment that I was no longer afraid of dying.”
“A week after my dad’s passing (which isn’t much time to mourn), the bank came in with a receiver and I thought not only did I lose my dad, but now I was going to lose the one thing that tied us together, RiteWay. On November 23, 2010, I filed Chapter 11 to try to save the company. The business was $8 Million in debt. It was a long journey, but I truly believe that this all happened so that I would learn to lean on God more and more. Usually you are only allowed to be in Chapter 11 for a year. RiteWay was a little shy of two years. After many ups and downs and the court denying my plan on February 14, 2012, I was told that it was over, and that the liquidation of RiteWay would begin. The next day Mark, my Director of Operations said, “I can’t believe you are just going to walk away and not even give it one last try.” I thought about it and prayed. That night I called the attorney and said I didn’t want to give up. I said I knew that it was a long shot, but I had to do everything I could. “
“After a long time and a lot of unknown, I believed RiteWay was in God’s hands. I spoke to 67 banks and all of them said no. My mother had a tax return and offered to use the money to fund the purchase. That, together with some money from my uncle and myself allowed me to make a down payment. Heritage Bank agreed to fund the balance, and I was able to purchase the business out of bankruptcy on October 8, 2012.”
The business had several ups and downs, hovering between $2.5 and $4 million in sales. In October 2017, Bruce, Denise’s husband who is not involved in the business, was mowing the lawn when God spoke to him and told him to give his retirement to Denise to save the business. He did. He had decided to trust God.
Denise and Bruce began to pray together regularly, and Denise decided to leave RiteWay in God’s hands, trusting him to lead Denise and guide her.
In 2018, the business was again in dire financial circumstances. The bank, this time Home State Bank, was pushing for significant changes. Denise decided to close the “Phoenix program” – a special program they had with Federal Express. This freed up time, space and energy, and allowed her to sell the building and lease back a portion of it. With the proceeds of the building, she was able to pay off the long-term debt and, except for financing her receivables, had no long-term debt.
In January 2019, while Denise was on vacation, RiteWay received a $1 million-dollar order. As of end of the first quarter, the company had $ 2.1 million in booked orders, against a $3 million-dollar annual goal.
RiteWay is now free of long-term debt and has a plan to eventually take over its own receivables. While they are still on COD with many of their vendors, their financial situation is dramatically improved.
Denise has gradually grown closer to God in the process and has lived her faith in her business. An Emmaus retreat in 2016 was significant. Additionally, she attributes The Good Book on Business with instilling the idea that her business is her household and that she runs it that way. Her CBIG group has provided invaluable business and spiritual support.
“My people know that I consider them part of my household” she said, “and they rely on that. I’ll be honest with them and do what I can for them.” That means praying for them regularly, helping with personal issues when she can. She doesn’t believe in political correctness, but instead acknowledges God as the owner of the business and has a couple of bible verses on her website, and on the stickers that accompany every piece of equipment manufacturer by the company.