A small third-generation Main Street repair business in Hillsboro has reinvigorated its financial future, thanks to a connection with one of the largest agriculture equipment manufacturers in the area.
Jost Welding, a fixture at 118 S. Main St. since 1919, is finding a new niche through its business relationship with the AGCO manufacturing plant in Hesston.
Over the past few months, the Hillsboro business has been building iron racks, dollies and carts that are being used for parts storage at the Hesston plant.
?It?s been a real godsend,? owner Todd Jost said of the arrangement. ?I feel very taken care of. The last two years have been banner, record-breaking years for me.?
About a dozen years ago, the outlook for the one-man repair and radiator shop was very different
?The years 2001 to 2005 were very, very lean years for me?to the point where I would have made more money flipping burgers,? Jost said. ?Wendy, my wife, was confident and supportive, and we got through.?
During that time, the radiator industry?a mainstay for decades at Jost Welding?was collapsing.
?Automotive radiator repair is essentially over,? Jost said. ?That was a major money-maker for a lot of businesses.
?When I came to town (in 1997) there were five pages of radiator shops in the Yellow Pages in Wichita,? he added. ?I believe we?re down to less than five shops now that actually fix them.?
Equipment repair, the other staple of his business, was fading, too.
?The local repair work dwindles a bit every year because we?re using larger and larger farm machinery, and more and more specialized machinery,? Jost said.
?Their lifecycles are so much different from the kind of machinery my grandfather and my father worked on, and from what I worked on 15 years ago.?
When Jost took over the business, he said he could count on getting at least a dozen calls from farmers needing repairs done on their field planters.
?I bet it?s been three years since I?ve had a planter in my shop, because all the little sheet-metal work we used to do?the seed boxes?are all plastic now,? he said.
?So if you?re in business, you constantly have to look for something new to do because the old stuff keeps going away.?
Jost said he believed becoming a vendor for industrial manufacturers might be the best way to keep his business going.
?Ten years ago I saw this coming and started investing in machine tools,? he said. ?I bought old, beat-up equipment that wasn?t functional, made it functional, learned how to use it, sold it to buy the next step up.?
About four years ago,?Jost contacted AGCO and took on a few jobs, but in the end not much came of it.
Then, at a Boy Scout camp?out some 21?2 years ago, Jost, a local Scout master, was visiting with the Scout master from Halstead, who happened to be an engineer at AGCO.
?He was looking for somebody to handle a little problem that his other vendors couldn?t handle in a timely manner,? Jost said.
Circumstances prevented that lead from bearing fruit immediately, but the personal connection eventually paid off.
?There?s a handful of mostly manufacturing and industrial engineers whose job is to keep the lines running efficiently,? Jost said. ?When they encounter a problem, or their continuous improvement group sessions say, ?Hey, we need a rack that looks like this??then they job that out to various places.
?That?s the niche that I?m filling.?
Jobs began coming Jost?s way several months ago after the Hesston plant reorganized its operations.
?Recently, they started a push to better utilize their paint facility, because they just built a big facility,? Jost said. ?Everything comes to assembly completely painted.?
As a result, the company needed a way to efficiently store and protect the painted parts before they went to the assembly line.
?They need to be able to be lifted in a safe way without scuffing them, and they need to be able to be handled by a forklift,? Jost said.
The parts racks were the answer.
?This is exactly what I wanted,? Jost said. ?I really wanted to hook into a larger, industrial enterprise so I?d at least have a chance.
?AGCO has plenty of vendors to do this kind of work, but they seem to be maxed out,? he added. ?I keep getting the quotes. They largely are awarded to the lowest bidder, so I must be pretty competitive.?
Expanding the team
The increasing job work at Jost Welding led to another challenge: How to complete all the work as a one-man operation.
?Starting about midway through last year, I was spending more than half of my time working on stuff for (AGCO),? Jost said. ?I was on the horns of a dilemma?I could either stop quoting stuff for AGCO, or stop fixing things for people who come in my door.
?I picked a middle way?why don?t I hire somebody??
Ray Janzen has since joined the team full time, and Jost said he plans to add his high-school age son, Franklin, for the summer months.
?If demand keeps going up, I may be looking for more help in fall?but that?s dependent entirely on what comes in,? Jost said.
Expanding the base
Meanwhile, Jost has expanded his industrial connections. Locally, he has done occasional job work for Container Services Inc. and Hillsboro Manufacturing.
But he?s also using the Internet to build his job base.
?AGCO was my No. 1 customer last year by far,? Jost said. ?But my No. 2 customer was a guy in Pennsyl?vania who makes parts for 3-D printers, and my No. 3 customer was a person in Cali?for?nia who makes parts for a different kind of 3-D printer.?
He found them via some networking and machining bulletin boards he frequents.
?Someone throws out a project, and says is anyone interested in doing this and at what price,? Jost said. ?So you quote your work.?
Jost believes he is finding direction for the future of his business by combining the traditions of the past with new opportunities in the present.
?My goal is to keep branching out,? he said. ?I want to be able to service the repair needs that are still around. There are grandmas who bring in their favorite pan when the handle falls off?I still fix that.
?I don?t know what the future holds,? he added. ?I?ve grown as fast as I can as a single individual. If we expand even more, we may have to look for a different location.?
And that would present a whole new challenge.
?I really like the nostalgic factor of working on the same chunk of concrete that my grandfather and father did before,? Jost said.