Made in the Tri-States: 5th generation leads Klauer Manufacturing into future

Molly Mueller and Randy Fleckenstein package aluminum soffit at Klauer Manufacturing in Dubuque. The company has changed its products through the years. Today, it focuses on products in three categories. It employs 140 full-time workers, many with decades of experience. PHOTO CREDIT: EILEEN MESLAR

Michael Klauer’s long and twisting journey at Klauer Manufacturing began with a broom in his hand.

Klauer started working as a janitor at the Dubuque manufacturer when he was just 14 years old. He said his time was occupied by cleaning bathrooms and “pushing a broom on the plant floor.”

“I wasn’t qualified to do anything else,” he recalled with a laugh. “But that was a great experience and a great way to meet the people and become friends with the employees on the floor.”

After graduating from college and spending more than a dozen years in Omaha, Neb., Klauer returned to the family business in 2013 as chief financial officer.

Along with Chief Operating Officer Michael Igo, who married Klauer’s sister and has been with the company for 20 years, Klauer represents the fifth generation of the family to lead the business.

Klauer Manufacturing was founded in Dubuque in 1870. The company is anticipating growth, diversifying its offerings and contemplating the possibilities of automation as it approaches its 150th anniversary.

BIG FOOTPRINT

Klauer Manufacturing spreads its operations between two Dubuque facilities and creates products in three main categories.

The company’s largest offering — and the one that dates back furthest — is residential roof flashings, a product that prevents water from seeping into a structure and causing damage. The flashings are created within Klauer Manufacturing’s facility at 1185 Roosevelt St. Ext., located off Kerper Boulevard.

These products are sold in 43 states, according to Klauer.

Klauer Manufacturing also has established a foothold in the agricultural market, specializing in roofing, siding and accessories for metal buildings. Most recently, the company added residential soffit, fascia and steel siding to its areas of expertise.

Many of Klauer Manufacturing’s specialty products are created at a second Dubuque site, near the corner of 26th and Washington streets.

Igo said products have come and gone through the years.

Up until 2000, the company was known for the production of large snow blowers. That portion of the business was sold off at the turn of the century.

Igo said the company struck a deal in 2009 to bring aluminum soffit and fascia into the fold. Two years later, Klauer Manufacturing completed an acquisition that allowed them to bring residential steel siding into the mix. Both of these changes allowed the company to diversify its products at a time when the Great Recession was dampening the demand for its other lines.

“We expanded our offerings,” said Igo. “It was a slow climb out (of the recession) and we are still on that trajectory.”

COMMITTED TO KLAUER

Klauer Manufacturing employs about 140 full-time workers. Igo noted that temporary workers are customarily added in the summer months, which represents the busiest time of the year for the company.

To Igo, the experience of the company’s workforce is one of the things that separates Klauer Manufacturing from the rest of the pack.

“The longevity of our employees is really something,” Igo said. “We have a number of people who have been here 30 years or 40 years. One gentlemen has been working here for 50 years.”

While the tenure of the workforce is a source of pride, it also has the potential to raise some concerns.

Igo said the company has seen “lots of retirements” in the past three to four years. So far, he noted, the company has been able to find capable replacements.

But both Klauer and Igo are acutely aware that Dubuque’s labor market — which has an unemployment rate of about 2 percent — will pose steep challenges in the future.

Klauer acknowledged that the company will struggle to keep up with its expected growth solely by adding to the ranks of its workforce.

That means Klauer Manufacturing will have to delve further into the possibilities of automation, an area it has yet to fully explore.

“We are just scratching the surface when it comes to automation … but (automation) is something on the forefront of our minds,” Klauer said.

GROWTH TRAJECTORY

With positive indicators in both of its end markets, Igo and Klauer believe there are big things in store for the business in 2018.

Klauer said the company has been gaining market share in a residential market that has recently shown improvement. The ag market, meanwhile, is set for a solid 2018 after three to four tough years in a row.

“We are looking at double-digit overall growth in 2018,” Klauer said.

Despite this anticipated growth, both Klauer and Igo remain humbled by the company’s extensive history and dedicated workforce.

For Klauer, who has risen from broom pusher to CFO, the continued success of the family business weighs heavily on his mind.

“It is hard to put into words,” he said. “To me, it is a burden of responsibility that we bear, to make sure we continue the legacy of the business, that we can be seen within the community as a participant, and that our employees look at us as an employer they are proud to be associated with.”