Keizer Companies’ success has deep family roots

Dec. 6, 2018
‘It’s all about the people’

The wind swept across the Great Plains with sufficient force to whip what could be the largest American flag along I-29: 30x50 feet on a 125-foot pole.

“That’s for Dad. He wanted a big American flag—that’s the American Dream,” said Shane Keizer, president of Keizer Companies. 

The flag was a leading topic of conversation at the grand opening of company’s Sioux City, IA, facility last month, referred to as both a practical landmark for visitors relaying directions (“you can’t miss it”) and as a symbol, noted by several local officials who spoke from a flatbed trailer that served as the stage for the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“This is a company that came from very humble beginnings, and not coincidentally it was established in this country’s bicentennial,” said Chris McGowan, president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce. “Today we look around and see what it has led to, and we have to be somewhat in awe of what this family and this family business has accomplished. This truly is a real-life manifestation of the American Dream.”

Keizer Companies is a group that includes the Mid-States Utility Trailer Sales Inc division, one of the largest dealerships in the U.S. with locations in Sioux City, Sioux Falls, SD, Omaha, NE, and Des Moines, IA; Keizer Refrigeration Inc, located in Sioux City, and Transport Refrigeration of South Dakota Inc in Sioux Falls, SD are distributors for Carrier Transicold; and Keizer Trailer Sales Inc is the trucking fleet that supports the group’s operations by picking up and delivering new and used trailers from the manufacturer to the dealerships and customers. Shane’s sister, Stacy Bricker, is the treasurer and secretary.

The companies are regularly among the top-performing dealerships for both Utility and Carrier, and the business has indeed come a long way since 1976. That’s when Jim Keizer, Shane and Stacy’s father, began operating an independent refrigeration repair service from the back of his pickup. 

“He would come to you—that was his business focus,” Shane said. “He was non-stop, night and day.”

And, after their parents divorced while Shane and Stacy were young, to spend time with dad meant joining him on the road.

“When we’d travel with him we’d go to sleep at [beef processor] IBP and wake up at [dairy] Wells Blue Bunny,” Shane recalled. “That’s how we grew up.”

The senior Keizer took on a Carrier franchise in 1982 and bought a Utility dealership in 2001. The company grew steadily for a decade, building a new facility in Sioux Falls in 2010.

But when Jim Keizer passed away unexpectedly in 2012, Shane and Stacy felt the need to reconsider and regroup, “to take a step back,” as Stacy called it.

“Life is short. Do we want to keep running like this?” Shane said. “It hit us fairly hard. We needed a couple of years to reflect.”

With the support of customers and vendors, and some additional management help, they made the decision to continue to expand and pursued the Sioux City project. They bought the property in early 2017 and broke ground in the summer.

The facility

The new building replaces adjacent Carrier and Utility locations just up the road, where a pair of buildings sat on eight acres.

“We’d simply outgrown everything,” Keizer said. “Parts and service were in different buildings—things were just very inefficient. The buildings were from the 1960s, made for 42-foot trailers. We had to leave the door open for the back of a [53-foot] trailer while we hung the refrigeration unit. It was miserable in the wintertime up here. And we’d have to move four trailers just to get to one—that happened every hour.”

The new property had been available for several years, but the local government had wanted the entire site to be paved. “Obviously, that wasn’t feasible,” Shane said.

So the Sioux Falls dealership, which also needed to expand, got its new facility first before the company and the Sioux City planners eventually worked out a compromise. 

The facility follows the same general layout as the Sioux Falls building, but with additional space for the parts showroom, warehousing, and offices. Similarly, back-to-back bays, with the service managers in adjacent offices overlooking the shop floor, proved effective and was duplicated in Sioux City.

“It’s worked out great. Utility and Carrier would love us to have separate buildings, but in today’s economy that’s just not feasible. We keep things separated—separate salespeople, and even in the shop: one side’s Carrier and one side’s Utility,” Keizer said. “Both brands are amazing, and we’re fortunate to be with them.”

Additionally, as Stacy noted, it’s nice for the Sioux City natives to be able to operate the group from its newest location.

The community

The region is customer rich, with some of the largest meat processors and dairies in the country. Omaha sits at the intersection of Interstate 80 and 29, major East-West and North-South corridors, while Interstates 90 and 29 cross at Sioux Falls.

The company is facing a generational change among its personnel, with 30-year employees hitting retirement. Along with the other challenges associated with recruiting young people, Iowa has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country.

“We’d love to go to a night shift here in the service department,” Shane said, “but we just haven’t been able to find the folks.”

The company does have a good retention rate, however. “More than anything, it’s the family atmosphere,” Stacy said. “Everybody cares. It’s teamwork.”

Added Shane, “Our dad taught us, ‘don’t ask somebody to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.’ It’s a family-owned business and we try to treat them like family as much as we can.”

One in six Sioux City-area residents collects a paycheck from the trucking industry, noted Brenda Neville, president of the Iowa Motor Truck Association, speaking at the grand opening.

“It’s people like Shane and Stacy that reinvest, and not only serve the trucking industry but serve this community as well,” she said. “And when I read the motto of your father, it so appropriately summarizes trucking. It really is all about the people.”

Family commitment 

While the next generation was on hand for the ribbon cutting, Stacy’s adult daughters haven’t expressed interest in joining the family business, while Shane’s oldest of three children is just 18.

“I’m not pushing them towards it. If they want to do it, that’s great,” Shane said. “It’s hard to keep a business going, generation after generation.

“Just watching Dad do what he did, and knowing the sacrifices and the hard work that got us to this point, that means a lot. We’re a really conservative family. We don’t overextend ourselves. You start off with nothing, you don’t want to go back to nothing.”

And again Shane and Stacy refer to the saying that accompanies Jim Keizer’s picture on a plaque.

“Whether it’s our employees, our customers, our vendors—the Carriers and Utility folks, the East folks, the Landoll folks: It’s all about the people you work with,” Shane said. “We’ve had a number of opportunities to take on other lines. We stick with the best. We don’t just take on something so a competitor can’t have it. We want vendors who stand behind what they sell. It’s not about just making a quick dollar.”