First in the Community

Vision Quest

Connecting with their community, banking partners key for couple’s success

Dave and Diane Keiter had a vision when they opened Yellow Van Cleaning & Restoration in 1981. Sure, they had visions of clean homes and businesses. But it was more than that, more than being the best cleaning company they could be.

“My vision was to bring dignity to the service worker,” Dave said. “By that I mean, we wanted to take the cleaning industry and move it up, lift it up higher, both in earnings potential and just in recognition of a true craft that’s out there.”

Owner and CEO, Dave Keiter.

That vision led Dave to join several national and international boards within the cleaning industry. He assisted in the creation of standards for the industry, and took it to a new, higher level of professionalism and respect.

“I’m currently the president of the International Cleaning and Restoration Association that teaches people how to do the work and evaluate the work of cleaning and restoration of buildings and homes,” he said. “We actually have a hands-on operation that allows people to be evaluated at the technical and intellectual level that allows us to go out and see if someone understands the material. We’ve taken that to a new level of evaluating performance.”

Dave’s methods seemed to be working. After opening Yellow Van Cleaning & Restoration in Kearney, Neb., in 1981, the Keiters expanded their business by opening Yellow Van branches in Grand Island, Neb., in 2002, and another in Hastings, Neb., in 2010.

Today, Yellow Van – with a staff of 48 ­– offers services in everything from carpet and air duct cleaning to fire and water damage restoration.

Connecting and giving back to their communities

Dave is a golfer. He said after 36 years in the cleaning business he is finally able to golf regularly – several times a week, in fact. It’s his passion, and he and his wife, Diane, have taken that love of golf and created a foundation to give youth a chance to learn and participate in the sport.

“We currently teach about 3,000 kids the game of golf, kindergarten through 5th grade. It’s called SNAG: Starting New At Golf,” Dave said.

Diane and Dave have also chaired the United Way, which Dave says is a vital way for his immediate community, Kearney (where his family lives), to grow and move forward.

“We have a unified community that I think is very unique,” he said. “It’s a small community, and it embraces us, not only our business, but Diane and I personally. So for us it’s all about giving back.”

Growing together

The fleet of Yellow Van Cleaning & Restoration vehicles.

In addition to forward-thinking methods used in his cleaning business, Dave credited his banking partners with his continued success.

“For us, it’s a symbiotic relationship,” he said. “If you don’t have good financing and solid leadership in the financial institutions, businesses won’t have that confidence. That’s really what it is – that trust – and that is what I value most about my relationship with First National Bank – they’ve got my back.”

Trust is another trait that stands out for the Keiters.

“Trust is the one thing that we seek to develop with our clients, and I think First National has done that as well,” Dave said. “It’s having your back, and not everybody has that mindset in business. Sometimes it’s a get or be gotten mentality, but when it comes right down to it, it’s about having trust that your banker is going to look out for your best interest.”

Dave said he’s had a chance to personally get to know the people at First National Bank in Kearney and Grand Island, and the bank’s commitment to the communities in which they work is perhaps what impresses him most.

“To me, that is probably the most important part of banking –  that bankers are real people, they’re community-minded people. I can’t express enough how fortunate Kearney is to have First National, because they are an incredible asset to the community.”

Quick Start for Kwik Stop

Rapid expansion key to success for the O’Neills

Before Dan O’Neill took over Kwik Stop and grew the operation into a chain of 22 stores, he called on the convenience store as a sales representative for Cash-Wa, a food distributor based in Kearney, Neb.

For 15 years, he lived and worked as the sales rep assigned to the North Platte area, where he built strong relationships with his customers, one of which was Kwik Stop, opened in 1974 by Paul and Jacque Trumble.

In 1991, Cash-Wa transferred O’Neill to Kearney into a management position, but he never lost contact with his valued customers from North Platte.

Five years later, Trumble approached O’Neill with an idea. The Trumbles wanted to build more Kwik Stop stores and they were going to use sweat equity to facilitate those plans. O’Neill agreed to become their Director of Operations and was appointed president in 2000.

Handing over the reins

In 2006, the Trumbles semi-retired and turned the operation over to O’Neill. That’s when O’Neill and wife Judy’s management corporation moved their banking relationship to First National Bank North Platte.

“We wanted to expand and felt that, for our situation, FNB was just a better partner. They really did assist us in structuring the collateral and loans and line of credit that we needed to move forward,” O’Neill said. “I guess in the convenience store world things move very quickly, and FNB gave us the flexibility to move forward.”

Local visitors enjoying a break at a North Platte Kwik Stop location.

O’Neill said the thing that impressed him the most was that, although First National Bank North Platte is a large corporation, their local management clearly had the autonomy to make the key decisions affecting his business. He realized he had the best of both worlds: a banker who could move fast enough to keep up with the breakneck pace of his industry and a bank with multiple levels of sophistication and experience from which to draw, with a culture that did not impede his rapid growth.

A true partnership early on

In the beginning, O’Neill built the business full time while Judy raised their kids and worked for Kwik Stop part time. “But,” Dan quips, “she probably didn’t like her boss very much.”

Once the kids were in school, Judy continued her work for Kwik Stop while also working as a school guidance counselor to maintain a close involvement with her children’s education.

Much of their non-work life revolved around school functions.

His busy schedule didn’t keep O’Neill from making major contributions to many statewide and local organizations. As he puts it: “I’m fortunate that my key employees allow me to be on a lot of boards.”

Statewide, O’Neill serves on the NET board, UNMC board of counselors, University of Nebraska board of trustees and the MONA board. And locally he serves on the Great Plains Health board, the mid-Nebraska community foundation board and is a Rotary member.

O’Neill always tries to tie his various board meeting obligations into spending time at Kwik Stop locations. There are currently 22 sites open 24/7 with one under construction. The locations range from North Platte in the east to Clarks, Neb., and from North Platte in the west to Morrill on the Wyoming line and south to Benkelman, Neb.

The growth continues

Kwik Stop has grown both through new builds and some acquisitions requiring major improvements and equipment upgrades. O’Neill attributes much of Kwik Stop’s success to their continued efforts to keep employees happy.

Oasis Travel Centre, one of the many Kwik Stop locations.

“I really credit our people,” he said. “That sounds cliché, but we have a core group of people that are really great employees, both staff and management. Many of our managers have been with us for a long time. We focus on those really good people.”

The O’Neills also invest money back into the business continually. As Dan says, “We keep stores up-to-date, safe and clean. They (the employees) see that and appreciate it.”

And as Dan puts it, there is a reward for keeping your people happy. “People shop where they like the people,” he said, “and we try very hard to make sure our frontline employees are very good.”

And true to his relationship-building nature, Dan is still on great terms with the folks at Cash-Wa. In fact, they still do a great deal of business together.

 

Pharmacists Turned Businessmen

How two UNMC grads built a regional empire one store at a time

When Bill Snodgrass and Mike Hamik went to the UNMC College of Pharmacy, their goals were simple: graduate with a degree in pharmacy and find a way to work for themselves. Upon graduation in the late 70s, they both got jobs with different companies, but they continued to talk about their shared goal.

They were approached by a supermarket with a pharmacy inside, and decided that was an interesting business model, so they gave it a try. By 1978, they opened the second pharmacy inside of a supermarket in the state of Nebraska.

With that, U Save Pharmacy was born. And that was just the beginning.

Creating the U Save business model

After their first successful venture, supermarkets in other cities began to approach them from North Platte, Lexington and Central City. Over time they amassed about 15 pharmacies in supermarket stores in various Nebraska cities west of Omaha.

When the partners opened each new store, they focused on hiring exceptional employees, many of whom had their own dreams of becoming business owners. Bill and Mike worked to ensure each location was up and functioning successfully.

Once they were confident that things were running smoothly, they arranged to sell a portion of each location to the employee with an aptitude for and interest in ownership. In some stores, they remained partners, and in others they sold out to the employee entirely over time.

As the business continued to grow, they also bought many of their competitors within the various towns throughout the state. In some cases, if the opportunity was there, they bought more than one store within a town, some stand alone and some in supermarkets, some independent and some chains. They merged all of these competitive operations into their original business within each community.

Taking on big box businesses

Once Walmart and large retailers began opening stores in rural communities, the supermarkets began to struggle, so Bill and Mike adjusted their business model to stand-alones with drive-thrus.

U Save Exterior

Their business spread to cities such as McCook, Crete, Nebraska City and Hayes, Kan. They owned all or part of 33 stores, and purchased and merged with several others in the communities they were already present in as a way to grow their business.

“We really relied on strong managers in each location, we got out of their way and let them go. That worked really well for us,” Snodgrass said.

“Most of them bought their stores out fairly quickly over time. And we still have a (joint) buying group, so we leverage the purchasing of all the stores to help us buy better, and that makes us very competitive. Of all the stores, we’re all still good friends and we still buy together – they’re all very good managers.”

Finding the right banking partner

From the very beginning when money was scarce, they worked with several banks to amass the money needed to make these purchases. As they began to grow, it became clear that First National Bank North Platte was a logical choice to bank with.

Both Bill and Mike found them easy to work with and could see how deeply involved First National was in the community.

Throughout their buying and selling years, the partners always maintained their strong community support and philanthropy. They encouraged their managers and partners to belong to their respective community commerce chambers.

As a company, they have supported everything from sports, education, religion, healthcare and food banks in their various communities.

Bill is particularly proud and appreciative of the 10 years he spent on the board of First National Bank North Platte. He is quick to point out that a great deal of his business knowledge is a result of watching and listening at those board meetings.

“They run a terrific bank; their managerial skills actually helped me to refine my own business skills,” he said.

And many of the folks who work at FNBNP are also loyal customers of U Save Pharmacy.

Loyal customers are the result of loyal, dedicated employees

Bill – who has been married to wife Sherry for 46 years (they have two children, and four grandchildren) – could not stress the importance of surrounding yourself with good people enough. Often the employee of a pharmacy, as well as a bank, is the only person the customer sees.

“The real backbone of our company was really friendly service, but really fast service. We didn’t want folks to be standing around waiting, we wanted to get them out quick. We wanted to have them come in happy and leave happy.”

At first, the U Save business model was about low cost and good service. Good service was what has really paid off now that people are no longer paying for their prescriptions. Good, fast service is what really matters now.

“We’ve had half a dozen people with us for 25 or more years, and it’s immeasurable how much they’ve helped the business. A quality employee brings so much to your business, they build your business.”

When asked how his nearly 40-year partnership with Mike has been, Bill was quick to point out that he and Mike are very similar. Both pharmacists who wanted to work for themselves, the partners overlap in almost all aspects of the business and have never had a fight. Although Bill admits with a laugh, “Maybe that’s because we’ve never worked in the same location.”

Climbing a Route to Success

Movement makes plans to add a third location

Mike and Anne-Worley Moelter are climbers. And climbers are always looking for ways to ascend higher, to reach new summits.

That mentality and relentless drive to climb higher has served this husband-and-wife team well in their business life as the owners of Movement Climbing + Fitness facilities, which are among the most respected and renowned climbing facilities in the country.

Mike and Anne-Worley Moelter of Movement Climbing + Fitness

 

The first Movement Climbing + Fitness – which opened in Boulder, Colo., in 2009 – takes up 22,500 square feet of space. The second Movement location, in Denver, takes up 32,500 square feet. And the third Movement, set to be the second facility in Denver, will have 40,000 square feet.

Notice a trend?

“We’re getting bigger and bigger,” said Anne-Worley Moelter, who is the former Executive Director of USA Climbing, the national governing body of competitive climbing in the United States.

“We’ve run climbing competitions all around the country, and we took the U.S. team to international competitions, so we got to visit climbing gyms all over the country and all around the world. When we came back to Boulder, we both felt like we had a concept of combining climbing with really high-quality fitness offerings, such as yoga, cycling and fitness classes, that would take the existing facilities to the next level.”

Starting from the ground up

When the Moelters secured construction loans in 2007, it was First National Bank that won the couple’s business. In addition to a conventional business loan, Anne-Worley said, the bank also provided a “mini perm loan” (a short-term loan typically used during construction of commercial properties) that helped make sure the business got off the ground.

“If you recall, the economy was not doing so well,” she said. “The fact that First National Bank provided a mini perm loan really was, I believe, a lifesaver for the business because if we had had to go out and look for financing at that point, I don’t know what we would have done,” Anne-Worley said.

“From the very beginning First National stood behind us. Sometimes, when a recession happens, things can change, and they stood by us, and they’ve stood by us ever since with all the other facilities. It has been a great partnership.”

Movement Climbing + Fitness solar panel

Earth-friendly buildings

Movement Boulder features a combination of ample daylight, solar panels and solar thermal heaters that provide over 80 percent of Movement’s energy. Paired with high-quality, efficient building materials, Movement is considered one of the most environmentally friendly commercial buildings in the country.

“That was extremely important to us,” Anne-Worley said. “Not only to build a facility that was a nice space and felt good to go into, but we felt it was our responsibility to give back in as many ways as possible, and being energy efficient was one of them.

“We paid to have day lighting studies done so we could put in skylights so that on a sunny Colorado day, the facility can operate without any artificial lighting. Over the nearly eight years that we’ve been open, we have produced over 50 percent of the energy that we have needed to consume. For a building that size, we’re very proud of that.”

State-of-the-art climbing wall

As you might expect, considering the Moelters’ background in climbing, the climbing wall at Movement is cutting edge, thanks in part to Mike’s experience as a “route setter” – the person responsible for placing climbing holds for other climbers to follow. Mike, who is the former Operations Director of USA Climbing, is now one of four internationally certified route setters in the country.

“The holds in the climbing walls come on and off so you can change the routes,” Anne-Worley said. “Change the difficulty, the variety, the style. That really is the product.”

If you find a route you like at Movement, enjoy it while it lasts. New routes are created every six weeks.

“That has really given us a step up,” Anne-Worley said.

More than a climbing wall

With each Movement location employing about 60 people – many of whom are trainers in spin, yoga, weights, etc. – fitness is just as vital to the business’s success, Anne-Worley said.

“The wall is definitely the ‘wow factor,’ but we have strived to provide some of the highest quality classes in the Boulder and the Denver markets,” she said, “In Boulder, we offer between 45 and 55 classes a week, and in Denver we offer between 50 and 60. The idea is that we look at the whole person when they come into the facility. We want to offer complementary activities that they can do so they can come and do their climbing and then maybe the next day they’ll do a restorative yoga class and then the following day they’ll come and do a high intensity cardio workout. All of the features we offer complement each other well.”

Movement Climbing + Fitness classes

Connecting with the community

 Movement wears its core values on its sleeve … well, on the front of their t-shirts, anyway. They are “Commitment, Motivation, Community.”

Community, which includes the company’s extended family, is perhaps the most important of those solid cores. When a member of their team developed epilepsy late in life and needed financial help, Movement held a fundraiser. The first year, Movement raised $5,000. The second year, Movement partnered with the Boulder Climbing Community and raised $10,000. This year, $13,000 was raised for Mission Nepal. (There’s that aspiration to go higher and higher again.)

“The community aspect really speaks to the people that are part of Movement,” Anne-Worley said. “In the summertime, we have happy hours the first Friday of June, July and August. It’s just a chance for people to come hang out with the people that are in the Movement community.

“We also will do things with our youth teams, like trail cleanup days. We really enjoy getting personal with our community.”

It’s that same personalized attention that drew the Moelters to First National Bank.

“It’s First National’s capability to do what big banks can do, but they have the feel of a small bank,” Anne-Worley said. “The personalized attention – that’s just a perfect fit for Movement.”

 

 

 

Climbing a Road to Growth

Loveland’s Summit Pathology continues to expand services

Summit Pathology has reached great heights in growth since the group formed in 2004. The Loveland, Colo., business contracted with two medical centers in the beginning, and now partners with 16 hospitals.

Summit started with a group of pathologists that had been practicing for more than 30 years at hospitals in the Loveland area. They still work with those hospitals – and the others that they have added to their client list – but now it is on an independent basis.

“We’ve been growing dramatically over the past 10 years,” said Andrea Davidson, Director of Client Services. “In 2013, we were hired to do all of the pathology for Poudre Valley Hospital; in 2014, we received the contract to do the pathology work for Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs; and in 2015, we acquired Anapath Diagnostics, which was based out of Cheyenne (Wyo.). We also acquired the contract from Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and the VA, as well as a number of other small hospitals.”

In addition to hospital contract work, Summit Pathology provides services to hundreds of outpatient clinics. It’s a growth spurt that has seen Summit’s staff of pathologists increase from six in 2004 to 17 today.

Histologist at Summit Pathology

“All of our pathologists are board certified and many of them have sub-specialty board certification, as well. We have pathologists with breast pathology specialties and dermatopathology, gastrointestinal pathology and hematopathology,” Davidson said.

Being based in Loveland has been an advantage for Summit Pathology’s growth, Davidson said.

“We have grown so much and have so many sub-specialties that we can provide state-of-the-art care here locally,” she said. “And that includes being able to handle a case from the time that it is first seen in a physician’s office until the time they are treated in one of our contracted hospitals.”

Summit Pathology has made a home in Loveland and has connected with the community as well, especially when it comes to treating patients who cannot afford medical treatment.

“We support all of the local hospitals with their efforts to treat patients that may not have funds for care. We do this through organizations like the Komen Foundation, as well as foundations at local Banner and UC Health hospitals, and we support all of those,” she said. “We support efforts with local cancer patients and we sponsor a number of other events, as well, with groups like RamStrength and the American Cancer Society.”

Davidson credited First National Bank as a source that has enabled Summit Pathology to offer more services to both employees and patients.

“One of the key things that First National Bank has helped us with is our cash payment program,” Davidson said. “That has been a huge benefit for us because we have more and more patients that are choosing to pay for services out-of-pocket up front because they get a significant discount. We’ve been able to grow that payment program, and First National has been a great help with that.”

Ho, Ho, Hops

Christmas present leads to gift that keeps on giving

 It’s been 24 years since Dick Doore opened a Christmas present from his brother that would change his life. The gift was a home brewing kit, and it began a journey for the Colorado native, ultimately leading him on a new, wildly successful career path.

Left Hand Brewing Festival Attendees

What started as a hobby for Doore – much to the delight of his beer-loving friends and neighbors – has grown into a thriving business with 125 employees and distribution to 41 states, the District of Columbia and throughout Europe and Japan. It’s called Left Hand Brewery, and it’s the 44th largest craft brewery in the United States.

Based in Longmont, Colo., Left Hand Brewery opened in a former meat packing plant next to the St. Vrain Creek near downtown. Doore and his partner –  friend and fellow Air Force Academy grad Eric Wallace – named their brewery Left Hand after Chief Niwot (meaning left-handed), a Southern Arapahoe chief whom wintered his tribe in the Boulder Valley area of Colorado.

During its 24-year history, Left Hand has merged with Denver’s Tabernash Brewing, founded a distribution company, released its famous Milk Stout Nitro, survived a massive flood and won dozens of awards at beer festivals across the globe.

Social responsibility

Throughout its success, Left Hand Brewing has focused on what it considers one of its core values, which is “do the right thing.”

Left Hand Brewing Foundation’s Hops + Handrails Event

“Doing the right thing can take on a bunch of different meanings,” said Josh Goldberg, Community and Events Manager at Left Hand Brewery. “It can be philanthropically; it can be giving back to the community and being active in your community; it can be taking care of your employees; it can be growing a business responsibly.

“It can take on a lot of meanings, but certainly doing the right thing at Left Hand has ties to being green, being sustainable, and we demonstrate that in a bunch of ways. One of the most memorable over the last 10 years was when we put in solar panels on our roof top.”

Left Hand dedicates staff to a Green Team, which takes on everything from finding ways to cut down on water use, to looking for opportunities to cut down on glue use, to limiting the amount of broken glass bottles or lost cans.

Regarding water usage at Left Hand, the Green Team has consistently helped the brewery stay below the industry average for water usage to make one gallon of beer, which is currently seven gallons of water. Left Hand averaged 4.08 gallons of water to make a single gallon of beer last year.

A responsibility to the community

High Five Events Volunteer

“Giving back to the community where we live, work and play has been a critical value that we base all that we do on,” Goldberg said. “Back before there was any ability to cut checks to nonprofits, back before the brewery was even profitable, Eric and Dick were still doing their best to donate cases of beer to use at fundraisers for homeless shelters and Habitat for Humanity. That was the best they could do back in the day.”

Now, as the brewery has grown, Left Hand’s ability to make grants and contributions to the community has increased significantly and allowed the company to develop programs like the High Five Event Campaign, a series of annual events that raise money for various charities in the Longmont area and beyond.

“We also really try to drive home a philanthropic attitude with our team,” Goldberg said. “We offer opportunities for our staff to volunteer with local nonprofits, to get engaged with local boards and to do their best to live the ‘do the right thing’ mantra of giving back to the community.”

A bank with the same commitment to community

First National Bank has partnered with Left Hand for numerous fundraisers over the years, Goldberg said, which has been a key reason why the business has continued to partner with the bank.

“First National Bank has also – beyond just providing the access to capital when we needed it – bought into our community giving side of things,” Goldberg said. “First National Bank has really done their best to support our events, to tie our brands together in front of the community. And with annual sponsorships, we’ve been able to hit some of the numbers and help find cures for cancer and make an impact on our greater neighborhoods because of that partnership.”

Lifelong Adventure

Owner of Jax Mercantile thrives on growth, conservation

Jim Quinlan is an explorer. Whether he’s digging through items at a military surplus sale, hiking a new trail in the Colorado mountains or searching for ways to encourage employees to practice conservation, Quinlan is always exploring.

It’s a trait that has served him well – from his days as manager at his parents’ military surplus store in Ames, Iowa, to being the owner of six Jax Mercantile stores in northern Colorado, and one in Ames.

“I’ve climbed a lot in Colorado – I just love to be outdoors, anything outdoors,” Quinlan said. “I like to fish, like to hike, like to camp, canoe, raft, kayak. I’m usually happiest when I’m outdoors.

Jax Mercantile Sign

“I think it’s a great thing to get people outdoors and close to nature. To me, it’s almost a spiritual experience, and I like to share that with other folks, especially kids.”

Colorado calling

 In 1955, Quinlan’s parents opened a military surplus store in Ames. By the time he was 18, he had become the store’s manager (and sole employee). He continued working at the store while attending Iowa State University in Ames. On breaks, he would make treks to Colorado for a weekend of hiking and fishing. By the time he hit 21, he was ready for full-time Colorado adventure.

“After going to college for three years, I wanted to get out to Colorado, so I came to Fort Collins and opened my first store in a little 2,200-square-foot building down on 272 North College Avenue. That was 1983; I was 21 years old. I had maybe about $12,000 saved up, and I got credit from a handful of vendors, and that’s how I got started.”

Quinlan named the new store, which opened on August 1, 1983, Rocky Mountain Surplus.

Growth was a goal from the start

Back in 1955, the year Quinlan’s parents opened their Ames store, another store specializing in military surplus opened in Fort Collins, a 10-hour drive to the west. That store was called Jax, and in 1988, Quinlan bought it.

Quinlan’s urge to grow continued. He acquired a store in Loveland. Colo., that specialized in farm equipment, trailers, pet and livestock products, tools and outdoor power equipment. He named it Jax Farm & Ranch when he took it over in 2002.

More properties followed, and today, Jax Mercantile Company includes 7 stores.

“I’ve been doing this now, 34 years,” Quinlan said. “And today we have seven locations and over several hundred-thousand square feet of retail space, and we just hit 500 employees last year.”

A dream job

Working at a business surrounded by the things you love – fishing and hiking gear, camping equipment, kayaks galore, outdoor clothing and shoes and boots and everything in between – is the job of a lifetime for Quinlan.

Fishing Products at Jax Mercantile

“I am very fortunate that I get to work around products that I love,” he said. “I also have a great staff that loves the same things that I love, and I’ve been a very, very fortunate individual to be surrounded with people – very high caliber people – that are passionate about our business and the products,” Quinlan said.

Working at Jax is not just another retail job. In addition to a shared love of the outdoors, the employees at Jax stores are partners with the business in the sense that they dictate what new products are added to the inventory. Most important, Quinlan said, is that they listen to the customers when they make requests.

“Customers will tell you what they want to buy,” he said.

Jax tries to source local products whenever possible, which means having a variety of different products unique to each market.

“We aren’t just a big box where every store is exactly the same. We have department managers within every store that are critical partners in product selection, and they get to run their own little business within our bigger business,” Quinlan said. “That’s how we try to structure it, and I think it makes for an environment that a lot of people enjoy. Every day is different.”

Encouraging care for the environment, community

Jax offers its employees “CO2 credits” for riding their bike or walking to work each day. The credits add up to additional cash in their pockets – and a bonus for Mother Nature, too.

“We try to be a socially responsible company. Nature and the natural environment is very important to me,” Quinlan said. “It’s kind of a fun thing, and every year we award CO2 credits for the person in each location that has traveled the furthest over the course of the year.

“I feel like the natural environment is critical for all of us. To me, it’s the most important thing – that we as humans take care of the earth.”

It’s a love for the environment that carries over to the communities in which Jax does business. Quinlan said Jax supports land conservation and preservation of species native to the northern Colorado area.

“We like working with local nonprofits, and Idea Wild (a Fort Collins-based conservation group) has been a partner with us for probably 20 years. So that’s one that we’ve worked with for a long time and feel really good about,” Quinlan said.

Jax also participates in several ongoing community events that are held at the Jax locations. “We partner with kids’ education, whether it’s fishing days, hunter safety courses, etc. We try to partner with the communities to have a venue where people can come in and give talks and give classes.”

Exploring growth in the future

Employees, members of the local communities, relationships with conservation groups – these aren’t the only partnerships that Jax embraces. The company also has a strong partnership with its bank.

“I would say the partnership with First National Bank has been really critical to our growth,” Quinlan said. “There was a time in our history where we were with a large national bank, and the difference between dealing with a large national bank and First National locally is just night and day.

“I mean, I can pick up the phone any time and I can call Mark Driscoll (First National Bank president in Colorado) and he’s there as a resource to help us to bounce things off. We don’t have to talk to 10 different people to get decisions made. I would say the bank is a partner we value very much and very much appreciate having a local bank that we can depend on.

“It’s not only for us, but they give some nice benefits to our staff as well. So they’re a critical component of our success.”

3 Generations of Innovation

Forward-Thinking Key to Suter Company’s Ongoing Success

Ever enjoyed canned chicken? How about an entrée salad – like tuna, ham or egg – in a can? Or maybe you’ve grabbed a convenient on-the-go lunch kit from a vending machine. If so, give a virtual high-five to the Suter Company.

For the past 90 years, the business, based in Sycamore, Ill., has led innovation for prepared food products – innovation that has spurred the Suter Company to the forefront of the industry.

Three generations of Suters have led the business since it was founded in 1925. First, it was Charles B. Suter, who led a small team of employees that provided chicken and eggs to restaurants in the Northern Illinois area. He handed the business off to sons George and Chuck in the 1950s. They, in turn, passed the baton to the third generation, which is now led by Tim Suter.

Members of the Suter Company Team

With each Suter generation, the number of employees has grown as well, from about 30 in the 1950s to nearly 80 in the 1970s and 1980s to 250 employees today.

The beginning of significant growth

“The first major change in the company was when they started canning in the ‘50s,” third generation owner Tim Suter said. “They were canning everything from chicken meat to chicken and dumplings and chicken broth, and pretty much any sort of poultry-based item … they experimented over the years and grew the company that way.”

The Suter Company continued to evolve, and by the 1970s, entrée salads were introduced. “That continued the evolution to what we are today, which is more of a prepared foods company,” Suter said.

With the Suter Company’s snack kits and lunch kits the result is always the same: making life easier for today’s on-the-go society.

Filling a niche in the competitive food industry

“Everything we make today is ready to eat and makes life easy for today’s busy consumers,” Suter said. “That’s really what’s driven our growth: American consumers’ demand for convenient, ready-to-eat, portable, high-value products that just help with the busy lifestyle.

“People don’t like to spend the time preparing foods and cooking these days the way that they used to, with dual-income households and kids running everywhere these days. So that’s really driven our growth over the last 20 years or so.”

The Suter company has been successful by creating relatively new and unique products that fill a niche – a segment built around convenience.

“We fill that niche, and we fill it very well with competitive pricing and excellent service, and a just sort of a can-do, whatever-it-takes attitude to take care of the customer,” Suter said.

Bringing the DeKalb County community together

The Suter Company is well connected with the community in which it operates. The most significant connection is the annual Feed My Starving Children event, which takes place over a four-day weekend. The Suter Company brings more than 5,000 volunteers from the community together to pack meals that are distributed globally to those in need. Last year, the company and its volunteers packed just over 1.25 million meals.

Volunteers Gather for Feed My Starving Children Event

“This will be our eighth-annual event this coming year,” Suter said. “It’s really a way for the community to come together and understand the importance of not just giving here locally, but giving outside our community; giving back, making the world a better place, so to speak, and really teaching people to step out and volunteer and serve others.

“If this is going to be a great community to live in and to work in, we need to do our share of giving back. So we support any number of non-profit agencies locally, whether that’s through donations of food, whether that’s through donations of people’s time to serve on boards or volunteer, or whether that’s financial donations.”

A financial partner in growth and in community awareness

Through the years of growth, First National Bank has been a partner in “every sense of the word, every step of the way,” Suter said.

“Whether that’s through loans for building expansions, whether that’s through a short-term line of credit for inventory and receivable means, whether that’s just sitting down a couple times a year reviewing our business plans and going through Q-and-A sessions with their team,” he said.

“They administer our 401(k) plan, they’ve just recently become our broker for health insurance. Really, the services have just grown as we’ve grown,” Suter added. “And our need for their services have grown, and as long as we have a supplier who is competitive and does a great job from a service standpoint, we want that relationship to last a very long time, and First National Bank is definitely a shining example of what it means to have a great partner.”

From Motorcycles to T-shirts

Four generations of Lawlors have created a trusted brand in Nebraska

The name “Lawlor” is synonymous with athletic apparel in Nebraska. But before Lawlor’s Custom Sportswear became an official team gear supplier for Division 1 schools like Creighton University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Lawlor family sold Harley-Davidsons.

Lawlors Harley motorcycles

The Lawlor Cycle Company was opened in Lincoln, Neb., in 1896 by Nicholas Lawlor, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland. The cycles he first sold were of the pedal variety, but when Harley-Davidson motorcycles came along a few years later, Nicholas became the first Harley dealer west of the Mississippi River.

“During the depressions and wars, Lawlor’s sold everything from the ‘20s to the ‘70s. It was a full-line department store, really,” said Pat Lawlor, who owns and operates Lawlor’s Custom Sportswear. “They sold bikes, toys, sporting equipment. We had a lawn division, a gift shop. We were an Ace Hardware; we sold everything.”

Emphasis on sporting goods, growth

In the 1970s, Lawlor’s shifted its focus to sporting goods and, with three stores in Lincoln, branched out to Omaha by adding a retail location at Westroads Mall. More stores followed at Oak View Mall, and later near 120th Street and West Dodge Road. In 1990, Lawlor’s opened a t-shirt shop in Omaha as well.

Pat Lawlor, who had a career as a youth worker for 10 years prior to joining the family business, took over the screen-printing division in 1995.

Lawlors Grand Opening Summer 1963

“When I came in I grew that part of the business, and it was the struggling part of our business at that time,” Pat said. “But by 2000, the sporting goods stores were the ones struggling because of larger big-box sporting goods stores entering the market in Omaha and Lincoln.”

Lawlor’s closed the sporting goods stores, while Pat continued to operate the t-shirt business in an industrial warehouse in Millard along with stores at Oakview Mall and Westroads Mall. In 2009, Lawlor’s purchased a new building at 84th and J Streets to operate both their screen printing business and retail store. Today, Lawlor’s is a leading apparel provider for Creighton, UNO, the Omaha Storm Chasers and the Omaha Lancers, supplying screen printing and embroidery services for those teams and hundreds of local youth sports teams.

“I never intended to get involved in running a business,” says Pat. “I was a youth worker and would always glibly say, ‘God didn’t put me here to sell jock straps.’ I was a religion major in college – English and religion. I was your basic liberal arts guy from UNL.”

Building on a name

Pat Lawlor grew Lawlor’s Custom Sportswear – which currently employs 30 staff members at its print shop – with the help of a name that had been part of the Omaha-Lincoln landscape over four generations.

“Lawlor’s is a sporting goods brand,” Pat said. “To this day, that’s still the biggest asset I have. For generations, we have been focused on taking care of customers, being honest, doing what you said you’d do, things like that. For me, that’s our single biggest asset we possess as a company.”

Lawlor’s reputation as a trustworthy business spurred representatives at Creighton and the University of Nebraska to contact Pat regarding apparel for their sports teams.

That reputation has also led to several local non-profit organizations reaching out to Lawlor’s for help with fundraising, donations, etc., something Pat said he and the company are happy to do in an effort to give back to the Omaha community.

“At least 95 percent of our customers are universities, high schools and non-profits,” Pat said. “Our biggest customers are people like Creighton, UNO, and then you get into the YMCAs, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Special Olympics, Boy Scouts. They’re all civically minded organizations that we help as much as we can.”

Making it easy to conduct business

Lawlor says First National Bank has been crucial to the ongoing success of his business and has helped Lawlor’s Custom Sportswear continue to grow.

“Phil Moyer, one of the commercial bankers at First National Bank, helped put things in place for me to start Lawlor’s Custom,” Pat Lawlor said. “Phil is the person who put together loans for me to get embroidery equipment. He’s where we started.”

“Then, with (First National Bank’s) Kevin Thompson and Steve Eck, they have helped me with all my financing through my building mortgage, credit lines and equipment loans. Steve and Kevin have always been very responsive to whatever it is that I needed, and they’ve been very upfront with me about how things would work. They just make it very easy for me to conduct our business.”

A Gail Force: Focus on growth, community fuels Harley-Davidson dealership

Gail.

Just Gail. It’s all you need to say – everyone knows Gail by that one name. And if you’re familiar with Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealerships in the Midwest, you’ve no doubt heard about Gail’s Harley-Davidson in Grandview, Mo., just outside of Kansas City.

“It makes me feel so good when I walk into a [Harley-Davidson] dealership anywhere in this country and I mention that I’m from Gail’s Harley-Davidson and they light up,” Gail said.

Feel the Power

No one will ever accuse Gail of being a low-energy person. Never. Gail is packed with zeal for her dealership and for the team she has assembled, which has helped her become one of the country’s leaders in Harley-Davidson sales.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my team,” Gail said. “Because it’s not me, it’s this team. It’s the whole team. This dealership is full of incredible people that got my back. And they are why Gail’s is amazing. It’s this whole thing. It’s awesome. It really is. It feels so good to be part of it. I’m very blessed.”

The logo for Gail’s Harley-Davidson features a pair of eagle eyes with the slogan “Feel the Power.” And it’s not talking about the power of a 103-cubic-inch twin cam motorcycle engine.

“Now, the Harley-Davidson is very cool, very powerful, but we’re talking about feeling the power in our heart,” Gail said. “Feeling that power that kicks us in the butt every morning and says, ‘Go out there and make a difference.’”

It Didn’t Happen Overnight

Gail inside her Missouri-based Harley-Davidson dealership

The stereotypical idea of a person who rides a Harley-Davidson used to be a burly tattooed guy in a black leather jacket and boots. The image of a sunny, energetic petite woman doesn’t necessarily come to mind. So Gail – whose first motorcycle was a dirt bike – had barriers to jump when she began her ride to success in a traditionally male-dominated business.

Gail started her career selling Harley-Davidsons while filling the role of finance manager at her parents’ dealership. She sold so many Harley-Davidson motorcycles that the corporate office took notice and invited her to give a seminar at the company’s annual convention. They wanted her to teach other finance managers – nearly all men – how to be as successful as she had been.

“At that time, it was the stereotypical biker-looking people, that was who the dealers were,” says Gail.

She walked into the seminar and got the stink eye from those in the room – dealers who were skeptical of a young whippersnapper who also happened to be a woman.

“I had to give this seminar three times,” Gail said. “And every single time I went to a back room and cried. Because I was so intimidated. I got on the plane to come home, and I decided that I would never put myself in that situation again. Meaning, I would never not be prepared for my audience again. I would always be ready.

“And so, I took every class I could possibly find on selling myself and speaking in public. The next time I was faced with something like that I was ready. I think that that experience helped me immensely in life.”

Looking back, Gail views the challenges in her life as rungs on a ladder.

“As long as you step on that rung, and conquer it, and step to the next one, then you’re going to continue to go on up to the stars,” said Gail, who now rides a brand-new ice-pearl white Fat Boy Harley-Davidson.

Growing Into a Harley-Davidson All-Star

A close-up of a motorcycle offered by Harley-Davidson

Gail bought her parents’ Harley-Davidson dealership, located in Benton, Kan., in 1999. It consisted of two 5,000-square-foot buildings, side by side. By 2004, Gail had outgrown the modest space.

“I had to expand. I had to grow,” she said.

Gail found a 10-acre parcel of land in Grandview, Mo. It was an ideal space to build her new 55,000-square-foot dealership. Next, she began assembling a dream team –  from expanding her staff to hiring an architect, builder and a bank.

“That was all an interview process,” she said. “There were several banks who applied for the team to build Gail’s Harley-Davidson. First National Bank got the job because they had this power in them. This feeling that when they walked through the door and said, ‘I want to be your partner.’ They meant it.

“It wasn’t a corporate saying. It is how they feel inside and out … And it’s a really great relationship. I would not be where I’m at today without them. They’re part of the team.”

The Extended Harley Family and Its Community

From charity rides and fundraising events held at the dealership to donating gifts to local nonprofits, Gail’s Harley-Davidson has made a mark on the local Grandview-Kansas City community.

“I believe that the good Lord puts us on this Earth to do something, to make a difference. And that’s why I believe that we should help our community as much as we possibly can,” says Gail. “I believe everybody should help their community as much as they can. This is my city. This is my home.”

“Anything we can do to help Kansas City grow and be even more spectacular than it already is … That’s what I want to do.”

Things close to Gail’s heart? Animals, first responders and members of the military. Each year, Gail’s Harley-Davidson honors those who lost their lives in the attacks on September 11, 2001.

“It’s a full-day event,” Gail said. “Our parking lot is full of first responders, first responder vehicles, military and military vehicles. We have a helicopter in the sky. It’s an amazing day and it’s a very heartfelt day.”

Still Growing

Now, after building and growing her business in the Kansas City area, Gail is in expansion mode. She recently purchased an existing dealership, Gateway Harley-Davidson, in St. Louis. When it came time to finance her new endeavor, Gail started making calls.

“My first phone call, of course, was to First National Bank and their response was, ‘Absolutely, how can we help?’ And we sat down, put together a business plan and they’re our partners at Gateway Harley Davidson,” Gail said. “And when we open our next dealership there is not a doubt in my mind that First National Bank will be there. Because they’re part of the whole thing. They get it. They understand growth.”