ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
It all began in 1987 as an opportunity to do some extra work on the side-painting trucks in the evening. Today, Jost Paint & Fabricating is a full-time job for Kevin and Angy Jost of rural Hillsboro.
“We really started out as a body shop when we moved back from Colorado,” Angy said.
“We started painting a few vehicles here and there. Then, you get to the place where you want to work for yourself rather than for somebody else. It slowly emerged, and it’s evolved. About every three years, the business really changes as far as what we’re doing.”
Located two miles west of Hillsboro on U.S. Highway 56, at the intersection of U.S. 56 and Goldenrod, the Josts’ business is easily found. No signage marks the spot, but customers can look for two main landmarks.
A picturesque fishing pond lies between outbuildings and the highway, and a large red barn towers over the family home and a shop.
The barn was built by Kevin’s grandfather in 1915. Kevin and Angy run a cow-and-calf operation and put up hay. They are part of a three-generation family farm. The future fourth generation belongs to sons Tracy and Austin.
Today, the Jost retail-and-service business specializes in selling, installing and customizing flatbeds. The couple also offers portable and shop welding, steel and welding supplies, trailer repair and painting, and truck hitches and installations.
“We are dealers for three major flatbed companies,”Kevin said.
“Not only are we a dealer to sell flatbeds, we also install flatbeds for these dealers. Then, if you want to make modifications to those, we’ll modify flatbeds to suit the consumer’s needs.”
A flatbed is an open truck bed or trailer with no sides. It can be used to carry large heavy objects.
“If it’s a specialized flatbed, we can start from scratch to give the customer exactly what they need,” Kevin said. “Of course, we always try to sell the product first. But, if we can’t do that, we’ll build one from ground up.”
In addition to installing and customizing flatbeds on semi-trailer trucks and heavy-duty trucks, Kevin said he takes care of farmers and ranchers needing flatbeds installed on farm vehicles.
“Flatbeds are used around the farms and ranches because they’re easy to work off of, and you’re not limited to space,” Kevin said.
“You don’t have the sides to work over, and you save a lot of money. A lot of insurance companies will give a lesser rate for your insurance if you don’t have that bed body on back, because these flatbeds will stand up to abuse much more.”
Customizing includes such additional items as tool boxes, side rails and headache racks. A headache rack is designed to carry ladders.
“As far as we know, we’re the only private business that installs flatbeds locally,” Kevin said.
“I guess, in the flatbed business, if there’s a niche, it’s because the manufacturers of flatbeds tend to shy away from customizing. They specialize in building a particular product a particular way. So they’ll refer to us, and we can sit down and customize. We can find out exactly what the customer wants.”
Kevin’s expertise has drawn clients across the country, including a popular television program in Hollywood. He customized a film-truck flatbed for the CSI series.
“The two men customizing the bed were here for three days,” Angy said.
“They were really nice guys. One was an older man, who had been in the movie business for years, and he talked about the stars he knew. We’ve met a lot of interesting people, and you learn a lot.”
With one full-time employee, the couple operate as a sole proprietorship in a team partnership.
“I remind him of that every once in a while-I’m your partner,” Angy said laughing.
Angy works with the books, answers phones, places orders and keeps track of the inventory.
Kevin handles the shop work, places orders and takes care of customers.
“He does everything,” Angy said. “But, I’ll do as much as I can on the phone. When it’s getting to the finalizing, I want him to talk to them. That way, the customer, no matter where he is, knows that Kevin is going to do the work.”
That work includes portable and shop welding.
“We’re welding anything and everything,” Angy said.
“Maybe somebody will want some pens built or fence-corner sets. Kevin says he can fix anything except for a broken heart and the crack of dawn. He loves a good challenge. Just about anything we can manufacture, we’ll do.”
Another facet of their business is offering steel and welding supplies.
“As an Airgas dealer, we carry any kind of welding supplies,” Angy said. “We can have welders repaired and we sell welders, plasma cutters and torches. If Airgas sells it, we can get it. Our representative is real good.”
The steel comes from Salina Steel and is delivered every Tuesday and Thursday. Although steel prices have risen, Angy said the couple hasn’t seen any decrease in business.
“People in construction still have to have it,” Angy said about steel orders. “We try to be competitive and fair. We try to make enough to keep the doors open. You have to make a living.”
Offering trailer repair and painting, Angy said Kevin can put goose necks on stock trailers and repair brakes, hubs and axles.
“He will paint stock trailers, but he tries not to do a lot of painting anymore,” she said. “And we do a lot of hydraulic hoists.”
The brand of hitches preferred by the Josts is B&W Hitch. “If you get on the B&W Web site, they’ll point you to us,” Angy said. “We do a lot of hitches and trailer repairs-replace the floor in stock trailers.”
In addition to individual accounts, the two handle corporate accounts.
“Our strong areas are McPherson and Salina,” Angy said. “There are three large car dealerships in McPherson that we do a lot of work for, like flat beds and hitches.”
In addition to their welding business, Angy said three or four other welders are in the area.
“I think everybody offers enough specialty, everybody has their niche,” she said. “I just don’t feel like we’re really competing. Nobody comes in and says, ‘So and so is charging this much, how much are you going to charge?'”
In the past, hours used to be by appointment only. Now, the couple is available five days a week, from about 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“We try not to be working here on the weekends,” Angy said. “But, if there’s an emergency, we’ll do it. We’re pretty much on call all the time.”
Angy attended Wichita Business College. That educational experience paved the way to be able to keep the books for her own and other businesses in the area.
“Kevin didn’t have any formal training for this, other than maybe the school of hard knocks,” Angy said chuckling. “Even the painting was self taught.”
The two Jost sons have had the opportunity to learn along side their father as Kevin did from his years growing up on the family farm.
“They grew up learning how to fix and take care of things,” Angy said. “I think one of the positive things about being out here is our boys have learned skills. They can weld, they can paint, they can fix.”
Some days the phone rings off the hook in a shop office with a big picture window overlooking the farm. Other days, it’s calm enough to work in the main shop.
“I think a lot of the reason we stay busy is because we’re diversified,” Angy said. “It evolves every few years-the demand changes.”
The work is hard, but Angy said she enjoys being her own boss.
“We take pride in what we do,” she said. “We started with nothing, and we’ve built up everything.”
For Kevin, the enjoyment comes from the variety of jobs he deals with on a daily basis.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction being able to fix something that somebody else is stumped on,” Kevin said. “There’s gratification in that.”
Kevin also talked about the pleasure of taking on the challenges in his business and referred to a motto written on their business cards.
“The boys came up with this,” Kevin said. “When we’d answer the phone and something’s broken down, the boys would say, ‘Yeah, we can fix that.'”
With that motto in hand, Kevin said the customer is a priority.
“Every customer’s problem, what the customer wants, is important,” Kevin said. “We try to do our best.”