Dennis, Carol and Ryan Heimerman
Denny Heimerman credits his grandfather Joseph Schmidt for providing the spark that was the inspiration behind Metal Services of Blooming Prairie, Inc. He said he “likes to think of his business as today’s version of blacksmithing.”
“Grandpa Joe immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1910. He was only 20 years old when he came here to Southern Minnesota and settled in, and in 1920 he and his brother – my great-uncle Bob – started Schmidt Brothers Blacksmith Shop in Waldorf. I never planned to be in this business. I didn’t even know I had an interest in it or an aptitude for it until I graduated high school in the early 70’s and started working at (now-defunct) Owatonna Manufacturing Company in their steel and welding shops,” he said.
Denny’s Grandpa and great uncle
Schmidt Brothers Blacksmith @1920 In Waldorf, Mn
Heimerman said he had some great teachers at OMC and other places he worked before he opened his own shop in February 1984, saying they taught him the basics of machining and welding. Most of his early work in the shop included machinery repairs and small projects for farmers in the area, but he said things changed in the mid-eighties when the farming industry began to show signs of failure.
“Farmers couldn’t afford to do business. Their machinery was being sold off – even repossessed – as their farm- operating funds sunk lower and lower. I was desperate. I had just moved into this building. I was a new guy in a new business and this was hurting me too. So I decided to add the fabrication and installation operations, and I hand-wrote hundreds of letters to companies asking for their business,” Heimerman recalled.
And it worked.
In time, Heimerman said he had enough response from those companies that he “hooked up” with McNeilus Truck in Dodge Center MN and placed an order for steel. Over time and additional steel orders, Heimerman said something magical happened. He met Dick Baker, his contact at McNeilus who would soon become a close personal friend – and his business mentor.
“Those years during the farm failures really scared me,” Heimerman said. “I realized I knew how to DO the business, but I didn’t know anything about BEING in business. Dick taught me everything from production scheduling and ordering the right amount of materials to how to prepare invoices and pay bills promptly. He took a huge risk believing in a young kid, but he invested time and faith in me, and to this day I still credit him – and a lot of hard work – for much of the success I’ve had. “
Ironically, around that same time, cement truck sales picked up for McNeilus Truck. Enough that the company soon began ordering parts they couldn’t produce from Metal Services. “They couldn’t keep up. How this works is that companies usually set themselves up to be self-sufficient, able to produce the parts they need for the normal number of orders they plan on, based on history. But when sales exceed production capacity, something has to go. So if a company is selling a finished product that includes parts made of glass, wood, plastic and steel , one or more of those production lines have to be converted to one or more of the other commodities. So they amp up production on the glass and plastic lines and start ordering wood and steel parts from other companies. That’s how it worked for us, and McNeilus quickly became our biggest customer. Strange how that works,” Heimerman mused.
Heimerman says the communities of Owatonna and Dodge Center were critical to his company’s growth. “Between the larger and larger orders from McNeilus Truck (especially after they began manufacturing and selling refuse trucks as well as cement trucks) and the rapidly expanding Industrial Park in Owatonna, things just took off for us. And I say US because I really don’t give enough credit to my wife Carol and my son Ryan, who are both partners in the business, and who both work as hard as any other person here. I personally couldn’t do this without either one of them.”
In the southwest corner of the company’s conference room stands a flip-chart easel. Several pages have been turned over the top of the easel, but hand-written on the current page is the company’s mission statement : “We dedicate ourselves to helping every customer, regardless of size, find dependable and professional solutions that meet their metal fabrication, installation and repair needs.”
“There were just a handful of us when we got started, and now we have 40 employees. That still blows me away. We have a repair shop in one corner of Blooming, the fab shop is here off Highway 30, and our millwright crew is on the opposite corner of town.” The millwright crew was added on a couple of years ago, Heimerman explained. “When a construction company calls and says they broke a steel part on their on-site digger, the millwright crew goes to the customer‘s jobsite and makes the repairs.”
Heimerman grinned as he recalled how he had talked himself out of more business than he could believe because of how often he had suggested a better ‘fix’ than the customer had requested – many times to a competing shop. “I’m a people-pleaser and a problem-solver. I’m one of those guys who isn’t gonna be in your face every day. I’m here when you need me, and I’m not bugging you when you don’t. The business I sent somewhere else wasn’t lost to me. In fact, some of those guys are my most loyal customers. That’s because they’ve learned I’m not going to do something that isn’t in their best interest. That’s called integrity, and you have to work hard to earn it, and even harder to keep it.”
- Authored By Lisa Richmond