Sisters At Helm Of Family Business
From Left to Right: Joe Bartz, Patty Kramer, Brock Cornwell, LeRoy Kramer, Tim Bartz, Lisa Bartz and Arlene Kramer (seated).
Having three different parts of a business is a decided advantage, according to Lisa Bartz of Kramer’s Auto Parts & Iron Co., Inc. (www.kramersautoparts.com) in Grand Island, Neb. “When one slows down, the others keep you busy!”
It helps that the three businesses are related, but different enough. “Recycling and scrap go hand-in-hand, and so does the towing service,” she said. “When the winter storm came at the beginning of the month, hardly anyone came in for parts or to sell scrap. But the tow trucks were busy.”
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Back in 1963 when her parents LeRoy and Arlene Kramer first opened the business, there was just one focus: scrap. And it wasn’t just any scrap, but iron scrap. Eventually the Kramers branched out into scrap metal, aluminum soda cans, cardboard and at one point, even plastic. Adding the car parts was a natural extension of the scrap business because they bought cars for the iron. That - and the towing business - was added after Kramer’s moved to its present location in 1968.
The Kramer’s daughter Lisa Bartz runs the business with her sister, husband, son and nephew.
The Kramers’ four children worked alongside them the whole way, including after school and family vacations. Lisa has never had another job, and Patty Kramer has worked for one or two other companies. Today, the sisters sit at the helm now that their parents are officially retired. (Sadly, their brothers, Steve and Jim, each died in separate vehicle accidents, Steve in 1986 and Jim in 2005.) Lisa’s husband Tim Bartz works as yard foreman. Their children represent the next generation. Lisa’s son, Joe Bartz, works in the yard and does towing. Patty’s son Brock Cornwell does dismantling and checks car engines.
“Dad’s retired but he still goes to car auctions and buys cars for us,” said Lisa. “He also delivers parts locally. It’s nice for our customers to see him, and for him to continue those relationships.”
Other changes have happened since the sisters took a leadership role in the business. “We updated the dismantling,” explained Lisa. “Now we leave whole cars in the yard; before everything was stocked immediately. For older cars, we’ll pull the cores. We have a new racking system and a cement wall for extra protection against spills.” They also invested in new equipment from Komatsu cranes and Caterpillar cranes to forklifts to the yard. They use an Al-Jon car logger to crush the cars.
As for the scrap business, Kramer’s continues despite a challenging market that has seen recent prices at all-time lows due to factors such as the expense of government regulations, the cost of hiring U.S. workers and overseas competition.
At Kramer’s, they recycle aluminum cans and ship by the semi-load directly to Alcoa where they are melted down and made into new aluminum products. They also buy non-ferrous metals, which are shipped by the semi-load to a distributor. They have trailers and containers available for customer use for cleaning up locations with scrap.
“Scrap dropped off a bit but it’s starting to come around,” said Lisa. “Prices now are mediocre; they could be up a little bit more.” But she and Patty follow a time-honored philosophy, which is to continue to buy and sell scrap despite the pricing fluctuations.
As for the future, Lisa looks forward to working alongside the next generation and leaving it as their legacy. “Locally, it’s hard to find a family-run business in this industry,” she said. She believes that personal touch really makes the difference.“When scrap was so high, everyone came in,” she said. “Now that it’s low, there’s a temptation to ‘sit on it’ until the price rebounds. We don’t because then when it goes up, everyone rushes to the mills-and my truck driver sits and has a four-hour wait to drop it off. That means I’m down a driver. It’s more stable, and doesn’t affect you as much, if you just keep up with it.”
“We care about our customers,” she said. “It’s why we try to keep the parts on hand. Sure, they could wait a day to get the part. But why should they have to? We get them the part the same day. It’s important to us because it’s important to them.”