Quirky Work: Amigo manufacturing about more than a product

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BRIDGEPORT TWP. — Next to the shopping carts they sit, charged and waiting.

Amigos carry people unable to get around on their own through supermarkets and malls across the country and around the world. They help nurses and doctors transport patients in hospitals and even allow mobility-challenged Orthodox Jews to get around on the Sabbath.

Based at 6693 Dixie in Bridgeport, Amigo Mobility was founded in 1968 by Al Thieme, who remains its president. Amigo sold its first motorized shopping cart in 1970 and continues to sell the carts to Kroger, Walmart, Sears and dozens of other large and small-scale shopping centers. Costco and Sam’s Club also carry Amigo Shoppers with orange flags and over-sized baskets for all those super-sized items.

The company also makes custom scooters for in-home and hospital use.

A picture of a proud father next to his daughter in a white gown helps keep the company’s 84 employees striving for perfection and working toward the next best thing.

The workers on the production line are methodical and precise. They know one mistake could leave someone stranded.

Amigo assembler Dick Belill is responsible for installing the scooter’s bearings, handle bars and motor. Every seven or eight minutes, Belill is threading cords through narrow passages and checking to make sure every nut and bolt is as secure as can be. Belill’s station is the second in a series of five. The other workers install the Amigo’s wheels, decals, batteries and basket. Mike Henris is the man who does the final programing of the computer and quality testing before the Amigo Shopper is driven at its top speed of 2.3 miles per hour over to where it will be shrink-wrapped for shipping.

As Belill continued to work away on the black motorized shopper, he said he feels like he’s making a difference in people’s lives through his work.

“The customer is the most important thing,” he said. “They are why we are here.”

“All of them rely on us for their day-to-day mobility,” said Beth Thieme, chief executive officer of Amigo. “We are their legs.”

Pictures of customers hang in the company’s offices and manufacturing areas as a reminder of for who they’re working.

On one wall, near the entrance to where the Amigos are manufactured, there’s a large collection of photos from Ronnie Bachman, a motivational speaker and Amigo customer who had his legs amputated when he was 4. His Amigo has allowed him to travel the country, speaking to children about bullying, and even to escort his daughter, Alicia Maria, down the aisle on her wedding day.


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