“I really can’t say enough good things about our employees.” With one sentence, Bob Schwartz explained what he believes is the primary reason his second-generation family business has been successful.
Bob Schwartz, the youngest of Bill Schwartz’s family, doesn’t admit to having a title in the business. Instead, he prefers to describe his role as working in the office, working with employees and helping run the business. Regardless of what that sounds like, Bob is more comfortable directing attention to the success of his siblings—Tim, Dave and Deb—who also earn their livelihood in the company.
“My dad, Bill, lost his job in the mines in the 1960s, so he sold the family car and bought a dump truck,” Bob explained. “He did dirt work in the summer and some logging in the winter.”
Bill Schwartz grew up in the Lawrence Lake community 15 miles north of downtown Bovey, Minnesota. Bill began his business by digging basements, laying out septic systems and constructing driveways for friends and neighbors, and over time the business grew by word of mouth throughout the Balsam, Wabana and Grand Rapids areas.
“My dad was always a steadying force around here,” said Bob. “He figured that if each of us had a niche, we would all do our jobs and together things would work out. It worked out that way. Dad died in September 2017. He worked up until August. This business was his life.”
Bob explains that there is no real pecking order in the family business. Tim is in charge of the excavating work and runs the crews. Dave oversees the gravel and aggregate operation, as well as the maintenance, while sister Deb “runs the show: she manages the books and keeps us all in line.”
Bob earned a degree in social studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he played on the college football team. He worked as a teacher for three days and quickly realized “it wasn’t going to be a fit.”
The Schwartz business operates four main gravel pits, sources of the aggregate used for their excavating projects and for concrete production. Lesser pits are scattered around the area. Most of the business the company does is with residential and commercial customers from within an hour’s drive of Grand Rapids.
The Redi-Mix operation is a year-round business, although there is no question activity slows in the winter months. However, Bob recalls that it was 23 below zero the day they poured concrete for the new WalMart store in Grand Rapids a few years ago.
Because the business is seasonal, Bob is very grateful for the relationship the company has developed over the years with Grand Rapids State Bank.
“Managing our cash flow is one of the biggest challenges we face,” said Bob. “Grand Rapids State Bank has been great to work with. Keeping cash flow and our receivables balanced can be a struggle, but Jeff Lee is very good to work with. Back in 2001, when we wanted to expand into the Redi-Mix operation, the bank was there to help us grow. We basically outgrew our previous community bank, and Grand Rapids State Bank helped us when we needed it.”
Bob credits a loyal, excellent work force for the ultimate success of the Schwartz business. During the peak construction season there are 50-60 people employed under the excavating division. In 2001 they hired seven Redi-Mix drivers, all who are still with the company.
“I tell our drivers every year that we could make our Redi-Mix out of gold, but if they treat the customers badly, it may as well be manure,” said Bob. “Those fellows and the rest of our work force are our extended family, and they represent us when they interact with customers anywhere. They’re family, and they’re the reason for the continued success of this company.”
Bob’s other passion is football, and he’s been coaching the Greenway-Nashwauk high school football team since 1993. “That’s been a great experience,” added Bob. “To see these kids work together as a team, winning and losing, is very rewarding.”
Coach Schwartz is what he goes by on the football field; it’s probably the only title he would accept at work, too.