Service sector reports a steady 2001

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Service businesses in Hillsboro reported a steady to slightly better year in 2001, depending on the arena of services they provided.

Building and remodeling

The building and remodeling industry was steady and in some cases up from the previous year.

Kunkel Construction, owned by Bruce and Sherry Kunkel, had a good report.

“I think construction wise, business was probably better in 2001,” Sherry Kunkel said. “We had quite a bit of work and actually quite a few jobs coming in.”

The Kunkels work in Hillsboro and in the communities in Marion County in house construction, additions and remodeling.

“We had the same size crew and the same machinery last year as we did the year before,” Kunkel said.

When interest rates went down, people who had put off doing something decided to move ahead, she said.

“I know interest rates are low, so a lot of people are doing something now while they can get low-interest loans,” Kunkel said.

She said she felt the construction industry in 2002 is going to be “about the same” as last year.

Wiebe Siding & Remodeling owner Jake Wiebe said 2001 was a good year for his business.

“Windows have been selling real good because we have the windows with the highest R-values in the industry in the nation,” Wiebe said.

“Also, our siding is solid-back vinyl siding instead of hollow. You can drive a pickup over it, and it’s 300 percent more impact resistant and four times more insulation.

“Those two items right there have just kept us so busy I added one more hourly employee and then some subcontractors.”

Wiebe said he looks for things to be even better this year.

Heading into the winter at the end of this year, he said he expects gas prices to “go through the roof” because the gas companies are not making any money this winter.

“They will hold back production and claim there’s a shortage,” he said. “If you think about it, they have to make up for this winter.”

New products are on the horizon this year include Fiberglass windows, which are stronger than vinyl.

“It will be paintable and stainable, and does not conduct heat or cold like aluminum windows, and does not rot like wood,” Wiebe said.

Striving to keep “upper-end quality and workmanship,” Wiebe said he doesn’t want to grow much bigger.

“We’re going as fast as we can, and I appreciate everybody’s patience that’s been on our list for houses to side,” he said.

Jon Hefley, president and manager at the Lumberyard, said business in 2001 was “down a little bit” but overall it was steady and good.

“Our rentals equipment picked up steadily in 2001,” Hefley said.

The Lumberyard added the Stanley Hardware line last year and brought in Makita Power tools so they could have more comparison pricing for people, Hefley said.

“And we’re bringing in more rental equipment every week.”

The number of employees at the Lumberyard did not change last year, but Hefley projected some possible changes in 2002.

“We’re thinking about putting up a new building across the street for storage for lumber and stuff,” he said. “And we’re looking at different lines-always just looking for what’s best for people around here.”

Ken Koslowsky, co-owner with brother Tom of Hillsboro True Value Hardware, said their business saw a “very, very slight increase” in sales last year.

“It was nothing to brag about, but nothing to complain about,” Koslowsky said. “Gross dollar amount of sales was up a just a very little bit but not enough to keep up with inflation. But we didn’t lose ground anyway.”

The brothers expanded their business into the former Goertz Furniture building next door in late 2000.

“Along with that change, and what we moved over to that building, we freed up some space in the back of our existing building and opened up more retail space back there in the spring of 2001,” Koslowsky said.

The Koslowskys filled that new space with expanded lawn-and-garden department lines.

They also expanded several product lines last year.

“We didn’t add any new departments, but we did put in several items in plumbing that we did not stock before,” he said.

The outlook for 2002 is to continue with the successful formula used in the past years, Koslowsky said.

Matt Hiebert, owner of Jost Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, took over the business in August 2000.

He said overall, business in 2001 was about the same as in 2000. Repair work was about the same, but the remodeling jobs were down last year, he said.

Hiebert remodeled the interior of his storefront last year.

“It was pretty much a complete overhaul on the inside,” he said. “We carpeted it, painted it and put a drop ceiling in.”

Hiebert said he wants to hire more help and see more repair and remodel business in 2002.

“I would like to stress to people we are not just new home plumbing and heating contractors,” Hiebert said. “We have always done repair and remodel as well.”

Financial services

A change was under way in 2001 at Claassen Financial Services, which is owned by Dianne Claassen.

By the first of the year, Adams, Brown, Beran and Ball, a firm of certified public accountants, assumed the tax and accounting components of Claassen’s business.

Bill Glazner, partner in charge of the Hillsboro office, said: “We are very excited about our merger with Diane Claassen and Claassen Financial Services.”

Claassen will continue to operate the investment-planning component of the business from her home.

“I will continue to work with Adams, Brown, Beran and Ball, introducing them to clients,” Claassen said.

“In addition, I will be preparing income taxes during much of this tax season.”

Local financial institutions, however, dealt with the impact of falling small-loan interest rates, a sluggish economy and stock-market losses, but reported an overall healthy year.

Carl Long, president of Hillsboro State Bank, said, “The bank had another good year as far as earnings, and had a little bit of asset growth. Basically I would say it was fairly comparable to the previous year as far as the success of the bank.”

“In the year 2001, we experienced one of the fastest rate changes in the last 30 to 40 years,” Long said. “We had a drop in rates of over 4.5 percentage points from the first of the year to September or October.”

Prime rate in New York went from 9.5 percent as of January 2001 to 4.75 percent in January 2002.

“Mostly that’s short-term rates,” Long said. “Long-term mortgage rates don’t move that fast-they have a mind of their own.

“The drop in interests rates was probably the biggest thing that happened in the year 2001,” Long said.

“I don’t look for a big change in interest rates-if it does, it would be in the last quarter of 2002. And if it did then, it would probably be small, maybe one-half a percent.”

Long said a lot of these changes depend on what the economy does.

“If the economy starts heating up again, you can see the Feds probably nudge rates up a bit,” he said. “But if it doesn’t, rates will probably stay pretty close to where they’re at.”

Bob Watson, Emprise Bank vice president, reported a good year in 2001.

“I think banks in general probably had lower earnings because of the rapid drop of interest rates, but otherwise it was good,” Watson said. “Loan demand seems good, and I haven’t had very many loan problems.”

Watson said he also had to address the unusually rapid drop in short-term interest rates during the year.

“Borrowing rates dropped really fast, and it took awhile for deposit rates to come into balance with them was the situation,” Watson said. “We’ve been reviewing budgets, and we anticipate it will be another good year.”

Mike Padgett, president of Central National Bank, saw the bank begin to remodel a former fitness center in late 2001. It will be turned into a new CNB facility this year.

“It was good year overall,” Padgett said, reflecting on the past year. “There were certain sectors of customers who were affected later in the year by the downturn of the economy, and then there were other customers who seemed like they were stronger than ever.”

“It’ really depended on what business they were in. The ag sector continues to struggle somewhat. We haven’t seen a huge deterioration in that area yet, but it’s definitely not gotten any better over the past year.”

The big news was renovating the facility on North Main Street, Padgett said.

“We actually started construction in November, and we’ll essentially be doubling our size,” he said. “We may have to hire some part-time assistants primarily due to the extended hours in the drive-through.”

Padgett said he hopes to have the project completed by the end of May.

And the prospects for 2002?

“We hope we’ll be able to provide some additional services through the new bank and look to continue to grow with the community,” Padgett said.

Commercial Federal Bank agent Delores Dalke had a glowing report for the loan department in 2001.

“On the consumer loan side, it was tremendously good. My office increased our consumer loan production by 186 percent over last year,” she said.

“On the savings side, in 2000 we had an increase of 44 percent and last year we had a decrease of 32 percent because we weren’t offering as high an interest rate based on the economy.

“People tended to do other things with their money besides leaving it savings, so we did have a loss,” she added.

Dalke summarized the current economic environment as negative for people with money for savings, but a boon to people who need to borrow money.

Commercial Federal gained new customers again last year, Dalke said.

“We were the No. 1 agent in consumer loan production for the year in the state of Kansas,” she said.

Dalke sees a positive 2002.

“I believe that as interest rates are starting to go up on the savings side, we’ll probably see some of those customers coming back,” Dalke said. “And we are still offering very good rates on mortgages and consumer loans, so I am sure that we will have a very good year again this year.”

Kathy Decker, branch manager with Great Plains Federal Credit Union, said her institution grew in 2001.

“We grew member wise, and we’ve grown in our assets,” Decker said.

No major structural changes occurred at the Credit Union during the year, and the number of employees stayed the same, she said.

“January of 2002 was a very good month for us compared to November and December, and that’s a good sign for us,” Decker said. “We plan to keep things going in 2002.

“With the economic situation the way it is now, you have to really keep on your toes, but from all indications of things that have happened in here, the economy is picking up.

“You don’t know if that’s true outside of what we do in here, and that’s the only thing I have to gauge it by.”

Insurance

Financial Partners’ new agent, Kakim Kunantaev, came on board in December and covers the Hillsboro territory. Prior to accepting this position, he was with Prudential Securities in Wichita for eight years.

“I would say it’s steadily growing for Mennonite Mutual Aid and several areas they cover which are financial, life and health insurance,” Kunantaev said.

“We directly represent MMA, which is a fraternal benefit organization, but it is not limited to members of the church so financial advice is available to anybody.”

Kunantaev is one of two counselors with Financial Partners.

“I cover Hillsboro and Moundridge, and the other counselor covers Hesston.”

Kunantaev has a positive outlook for 2002.

“It’s most likely going to be a better year than 2001,” he said. “We’re hoping the economy is going to pick up in the middle of this year.”

In January 2001, Jonathan and Dana Maxfield bought the Bartel Insurance Agency from former owners R.J. and Tillie Bartel, who had owned it for 40 years.

“It just kind of fell in my lap,” Jonathan Maxfield said.

Previously a consumer loan officer at Central National Bank, Maxfield said he was looking for an opportunity to own his own business.

As well as continuing to handle the staple of Bartel Insurance-Mennonite Aid Union of Kansas/Max Insurance Services-Maxfield said he also offers a variety of other insurances, too.

“Sales were up in 2001,” Maxfield said.

Funeral home

In October, Jared Jost, 24, became the new owner of Hillsboro Memorial Chapel. He graduated with a degree in Mortuary Science in 1998 from Kansas City Kansas Community College. In 1999 he began working at the chapel until he purchased it from the former owner two years later.

“Things went real well last year,” Jost said. “And this year, I plan to be more active and get more involved in the community.”

Printing and publishing

Local printing and publishing companies reported a good year, expanded their services and products, and voiced optimism for 2002.

Joel Klaassen co-owner of Print Source Direct, which publishes the Hillsboro Free Press, said business “was definitely up last year.”

“We do a lot of books for people, and we seemed to have a lot of activity with books last year so it’s continuing into next year,” Klaassen said.

The company added several digital cameras, a server to help manage files, and 12 new computers to set up some additional work stations.

Klaassen also became a reseller for Prairie iNet, a broad-band, high speed Internet service provider.

“And of course the Free Press grew,” Klaassen said. “The page counts are up a lot from what they were before.”

Last year, the company acquired mailing equipment and in June brought addressing and inserting services in-house.

“Our ad counts are up, and we added some good people on staff,” Klaassen said. “There are always new opportunities out there.”

Jim Baker, owner of Baker Bros. Printing, said, “It was a good year, but it wasn’t anything fantastic. Sept. 11 seemed to affect us like it did everybody else. People lost focus on projects. People spent time thinking about Sept. 11 and where the country was headed.”

Due to the loss of Sunflower Office Products in Hillsboro, Baker added color copying during the later part of 2001.

“And we’re also doing black-and-white copying for the public, whereas before we were sending them to Sunflower,” he said. “We have the capabilities of going right from the computer to the copier so we can go from disc to color copying.”

Vehicle care

Results from a poll of local car-service businesses ranged from below average to exceptional.

Lowell Jost, owner of Jost Service Station, continued to offer full-service-gas amenities to his customers in 2001.

“Sales were down just a little bit, but I don’t know that I can necessarily contribute that to anything,” Jost said. “Probably higher fuel prices could have cut back on some peoples usage or consumption.”

Jost said in the spring of last year, prices went up to the $1.30 to $1.40 per-gallon range.

“I think some of it may have been some speculation that the producers, as far as OPEC and such, were talking about the possibility of them cutting back production, which would in turn make our prices higher,” Jost said.

No other major changes happened at Jost Service Station last year, but Jost did have a prediction for gas prices in 2002.

“They’re talking about the possibility of prices going back up again coming in spring but not anything really big,” he said. “From what I’ve heard in the spring, it may go up a few cents.”

Todd Jost, owner of Jost Welding and Radiator Service, said, “Things were average, I would say, but they were definitely improved over 2000. It wasn’t anything I could put a finger on-people just spent more money.”

Jost said his most successful tool for advertising and bringing in new customers has always been the phone book, and that didn’t change last year.

“Once something breaks down, where do you turn?” Jost said. “It’s the only one that works for me because you don’t preemptively work on stuff that’s not broken.”

Foth’s Service Center owner Lowell Foth said business was down last year. He kept his services the same and had the same employees but he said, “I don’t think the economy was that good.”

Foth said his goal for 2002 is to continue offering ‘honesty and the same service” as he has in the past.

Rod Koons of Rod’s Tire and Service, said his three-year-old business had its best year in 2001.

“It was very exceptional-I’m very happy with the results last year,” Koons said. “And we look forward to be telling you that again next year, too.”

The basic focus of Koon’s business is sales and service on tires from small lawn mower tires up to large earth-moving tires.

“We also do a lot of tire-related services-alignments, brakes, shocks, things that we’re going to see when we take tires off, and that’s the focus of our business,” Koons said.

His company added additional full-time help in 2001 and now has a total of four full-time employees and three who work part time.

“We also added custom exhaust work last year,” he said.

“And we added a new storage building to store additional inventory in.”

Koons said he’s well into changes this year with the addition of a new tire-service truck this month.

“So we now have two service trucks that we can go out off-site and do tire repairs, whether it’s at farm or construction sites,” Koons said.

Processing plant

The owners of the meat-processing plant in Hillsboro saw growth in 2001. Matt and Nikki Hiebert have owned Hillsboro Refrigerated Lockers since August 2000. She said 2001 was definitely better than the previous year.

“It’s picking up,” Hiebert said.

Their customer base increased locally, and they picked up new customers outside the Hillsboro area, too.

“We’ve been working hard over the last year to gain customers and offer an honest service to the community,” Hiebert said.

In 2001, the Hieberts put a new wall in to separate the lobby from the processing floor, relined the coolers, put a new roof on the building and added one more employee.

She said they don’t plan any more remodeling in 2002, but they do plan to continue to offer good service to their customers throughout the year.

Dining facilities

Hillsboro developed a taste for the Orient when China Buffet III opened in 2001.

The owner is Qiu of Park City, who also owns China Buffet II in Park City and China Buffet I in Burlington.

“Business has been good,” said Juan, a waitress/hostess at the restaurant. “We have kept busy since we opened.”

The restaurant will continue to feature an all-you-can-eat buffet for lunch and dinner or customers can order from the menu.

Daylight Donut owner Dan Janzen said last year was pretty good, for the most part.

“It was the same as in 2000 until the school year started in the fall, and then it was substantially better than a year earlier from September through December.”

The purchase of a bigger donut cutter in 2001 meant 15 percent bigger doughnuts for his customers, but Janzen didn’t raise his prices.

“My plan right now for 2002 is to go on as we have,” he said.

Linden Thiessen, co-owner of Olde Town Restaurant said business was good last year.

“It was fairly strong until Sept. 11, and I noticed a definite downward trend,” Thiessen said. “But December was better, and the new year is looking better.”

At the end of 2001, the restaurant added new appetizers to the menu.

“And then also we put in a new air-conditioning and heating system,” Thiessen said. “Our back rooms are much more climate controlled now. It’s not as cold in the winter, and it’s not going to be as hot in the summer. “

Thiessen said they are always looking to make changes, and 2002 won’t be an exception to that rule.

“We’re probably going to expand our baking line,” he said. “We’re thinking about adding loaf breads. I’ve started a little bit of it here at the restaurant, and if I can, I’m going to see if the grocery stores will take that on too.

“But other than that, I’m looking forward to a good year.”

Pizza Hut in Hillsboro, owned by Bob Navrat of Marion and Carol Schroeder-Dahlsten of McPherson, is managed by Toni Williams of Galva.

The business in 2001 compared to previous years was “down or somewhat slower than last year’s,” Williams said. “We kept the same number of employees last year which was from 20 to 32.”

This year, the new item on the menu is called the Pzone, which made its debut on Jan. 28.

“It comes classic, pepperoni or a ‘meatie,'” Williams said. “It’s a pizza made like a sandwich.”

No other changes are anticipated for 2002, but Williams said they always enjoy introducing new menu items throughout the year and continuing to serve their loyal customers.

Dan D’Albini, McDonald’s franchise owner in Hillsboro, had good reviews for 2001.

“Business was better,” D’Albini said. “We’re up in both sales and customer count. It was a promising year.”

D’Albini said the store was getting a breather from remodeling projects, but he added to his staff.

“We increased the number of employees probably about by 10 percent,” D’Albini said. “We’re up to about 37 employees.”

The Big N’ Tasty and the breakfast buffet were the biggest sellers in 2001.

And the forecast for 2002?

“It has started off very positively,” D’Albini said. “What I would look for is that it keeps going like that.”

David and Carol Pantle, managers of Sonic Drive In, said last year’s business was down until the end of the year.

Winter months are usually slow, but due to the mild winter, David Pantle said he was pleased with the way it closed out.

“The year as a whole was not better than the year before, but then it’s hard to beat an opening year,” he said. “The main thing in 2001 was the toaster sandwiches, which were new.”

And this year they plan to have a new toaster sandwich to offer on the menu and a new menu board.

“I expect to have a good year,” Pantle said. “When you have a mild winter, people have not gotten out of the habit of coming out here as much.”

He said he anticipates business picking up earlier than usual this year if the mild weather continues.

“January and February will be slow, but if it stays decent like this, March should look good,” Pantle said.

Subway’s Cindy Maynard, manager of the local franchise, said sales were about average last year.

“We have new menu items every month,” Maynard said. “They’re not exactly new, but we advertise a certain sandwich a month, and we have different sandwich promotions every month.”

She said they didn’t change employee numbers or do any remodeling or redecorating last year.

“The only thing we did do at the end of 2001 is join the Chamber of Commerce, and that did help with the sales in the community. The schools are a big seller-they’re really big supporters of Subway.”

Maynard said the trend at Subway for 2002 has to be the diet sandwiches.

“It seems to me like we had a lot more people coming in who were on diets right after the new year,” she said.

Cooperative Grain & Supply

Cooperative Grain & Supply experienced a difficult year because of the agriculture economy, but saw growth in their marketing alliances.

CG&S general manager Lyman Adams said the agricultural economy is struggling overall, and 2001 was a “very volatile year” for it.

“Fertilizer prices, starting in January, rocketed to all-time highs and a question of supply issues and fuel prices rocketed up.”

Costs went up and income maintained the same, he said.

“With the ag economy being depressed, it just affects everybody’s businesses accordingly,” Adams said. “Structurally at the Co-op, our TEAM marketing alliance and our grain marketing alliance continued to improve throughout the year.

“We just completed our first year last Feb. 28, and it’s been a good move for us.”

TEAM marketing is a grain marketing alliance between the five co-ops based out of Moundridge.

“We’ve seen the results we’ve wanted out of combining our marketing efforts,” Adams said.

“Countryside Feed out at the Industrial Park is our feed alliance with four other co-ops. It has had a good year, and that’s been very positive.”

Two major changes occurred in 2001 at the CG&S, Adams said.

“The two biggest changes we’ve made is we’re expanding into the bulk-seed business out at the Industrial Park at our seed cleaner so we’re going to be able to handle bulk seed for our producers.”

“And then we added a new dry fertilizer applicator machine to improve our fertilizer application. We actually added that last September.”

Restructuring within the alliances has been positive and they continue to look at ways to serve the membership better this year, Adams said.

“We’d like to see the ag economy get better and rain in 2002,” he said. “We’re just trying to move forward.” n

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