Families can at times benefit from some separation—especially families that work together. Walz Label & Mailing and Walz Scale, two businesses owned by the Walz family, were set up so that family can work together while still maintaining some amount of independence.
The Walz brothers—Nate Walz, vice president of Walz Label & Mailing, and Matt Walz, vice president of Walz Scale—run the operations of separate companies, but at the head of each, overseeing the two brothers, is their father, Tom Walz. Some of us might bristle at the prospect of working with family, but Nate Walz fully embraces it.
“I get to work with my dad, day in and day out. Two or three days out of the week, I get to see my brother,” said Nate. “A lot of people aren’t that lucky.” That kind of affection and passion has been a leading factor in helping the Walz family businesses grow for decades now.
The business was founded in 1966 by Nate and Matt’s grandfather, Fred L. Walz, as a dealership for the food service goods manufacturer Hobart Corporation. This early incarnation sold food scales to grocery stores, but when Hobart decided to try a new business approach—one that eliminated the dealer/distribution model—Walz decided to compete with the company instead.
Today, the original company founded by Fred Walz is two companies: Walz Scale, which sells and services weighing instruments like truck scales, and Walz Label and Mailing, which sells mailing equipment such as labeling and postage meters and programs label machines. Fred’s son, Tom Walz, joined the family business in the mid-1970s and eventually took over for his father. Before Nate joined in 2000, Tom split the company and moved the label and mailing business into a new, 9,000-square-foot building in East Peoria.
Both Walz companies recently recorded one of their highest-profit years, in spite of the lingering effects of the economic recession. This success can be attributed in part to the essential nature of their products, but Nate Walz believes there is another side to the story.
“None of this can be done without good people,” said Nate. “Having products that are needed even during times of a recession helped, but we wouldn’t have those customers if we didn’t have good customer service.” That customer service is founded upon a foundation of hard work and appreciation for each of its customers, values that have been taught in the Walz family for decades.
Like Father, Like Sons…
Both Nate and Matt Walz were involved in the family business from a very young age. “My dad would always offer us jobs,” explained Nate, “whether it was stuffing envelopes for some sort of mailing…or sand-blasting an old truck scale to get it ready for sale. He always gave us responsibilities, and we were accountable for everything.”
After graduating from college, the two brothers became the third generation of Walzes to work at the family business. Nate notes that he and his brother had to work their way up from the bottom of the ladder—Tom Walz would not just insert his sons directly into the business without their having proven themselves. “They went through sales and had to pioneer some new products and go through some of the learning things that new people have to do,” Tom noted.
Keeping It in the Family
If there is one thing that defines the Walz approach to nearly everything—both in business and in the family—it’s that they are always looking ahead. While the two brothers had to work their way through the business to get where they are today, the plan was always to keep the business in the family. “Each of [the brothers] was separated for good business reasons,” said Tom, “and for perpetuation of the family business.”
That kind of foresight on Tom’s part is not limited to the family businesses, either. For years, he has planted hardwood trees on his property in Farmington with the idea that “hopefully, someday it’ll pay off for our great-grandkids,” perhaps funding their way through college. And that is an education these future Walzes will surely need should they choose to work for one of the family’s companies.
While Nate occasionally worries that too much business talk can detract from the family environment outside of work, the three Walzes have learned to accept that it will inevitably come up—after all, it’s what they are all passionate about. And that passion—not just for the business, but for family—is something that has kept the Walz companies going strong for three generations and counting. iBi