For Benjamin and Amy Bertram of Green Bay, date night looks quite a bit different than it used to. More often than not, time together means working at their business, Fiberglass Solutions.
"Recently, we spent a weekend cleaning out the shop," Amy said. "But it isn’t like work. To us it is an endless opportunity to succeed based on what we put into it."
Owning a business was a dream they shared for many years. Benjamin, who has a background in architecture and a master’s degree in business, excelled in his career and advanced to the role of plant manager, where he learned all about manufacturing.
"The project management skills I had throughout my career led to this," he said. "I was managing projects from start to finish and everything I did prepared me for this. One of the greatest assets was learning how to work with and manage employees — this isn’t something you learn in a classroom."
After moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, for Benjamin’s career, they continued to talk about owning a business. Amy, a school teacher, prepared by further developing financial and clerical skills.
"We always talked about doing this as a team, so I learned what I needed to know so I would be prepared," she added.
They also saved. And saved some more.
"When we bought the business, I think the biggest surprise was the costs associated with closing on a business — getting things in order and making sure we had the right equipment. There were costs that we hadn’t expected," Benjamin said.
They decided to purchase an existing business and began a search in earnest several years ago. With three uncles that had business experience, they sought advice when analyzing opportunities. One of the uncles was Paul Simons, a Green Bay SCORE volunteer mentor.
The couple narrowed their search to manufacturing and found that most of those they looked at were overpriced.
"I was running the financials and the thing I kept running into is that the owners had an asking price that wasn’t close to the value," Benjamin said. "When it got down to it, I would find there was no way to close that gap."
Then they found a listing for Fiberglass Solutions in Green Bay. Benjamin thought the numbers looked good, and his uncles agreed. Not only was the business attractive, the Bertrams thought the seller was fair and was looking for the right buyers to continue what they were leaving behind in retirement.
Benjamin said, "The nice part about buying an existing business is that we had the existing customer base and the name, and Ken (Glowacki) had a great reputation."
Ken, who owned the business with his wife, Mary, had purchased the business in 2001. It had been established in 1974 with a specialty in boat repair and fabricating custom parts and tooling for the fiberglass boat industry. Under the Glowackis, it had evolved to designing custom products serving local industries with a large number of customers in the cheesemaking industry.
The Bertrams plan for further evolution as they look to expand into other markets and grow the workforce. Although they have owned the business for just over a year, they have made a number of changes including raising wages and benefits to reduce employee turnover, improving safety, and updating or adding equipment.
They are working with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership as they plan future growth.
"We are now getting to the point where we have invested in employees and equipment and can dig deeper into strategy," Benjamin said. "The business was built on working with the cheese industry; that has been kind of our niche. But we’re looking into more of a manufacturing base. There are a lot of companies that use fiberglass components, and we want to get a better handle on that."
They also want to work on an expanded business and marketing plan, and set goals. With their combination of skill sets and commitment to quality, they are ready to take on any new challenges.
"I tell everyone that my favorite part of this is just the opportunity," Benjamin said. "My stress level has gone down, not up, and I love it."
"The feeling of ownership; knowing we can grow this business as big as we want to, that drives me," Amy added.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin