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Trachte Building Systems

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Trachte Building Systems
100 years and counting

Trachte Brothers outgrow their space and purchase a factory at 102 N. Dickinson St, Madison, Wis. This would be home to the manufacturing company until 1985.

Trachte Building Systems Inc. of Sun Prairie, Wis., has been a well-kept secret in the metal-building industry for the past century. From tin pans and dippers, livestock water tanks, steel garages, cotton gins, fast-food buildings and self-storage facilities, Trachte offers novice and seasoned developers an investment opportunity that can last a lifetime.

Trachte has been building more than metal structures throughout the past 100 years. The company also builds strong relationships and lasting customer loyalty--a value Trachte has upheld since the very beginning. Business partners, teachers, attorneys, farmers and blue-collar workers have all turned to Trachte to attain assistance in the development for their self-storage business, either to generate additional income or begin a new career.

"We're not just selling steel-building packages. We're selling business opportunities," says Steve Pagelow, president of Trachte since 1980. "We are dedicated to our customers' projects and their success. Our job is not finished until our customers are satisfied." Placing the customers first, providing quality products and never compromising integrity has contributed to Trachte's success since its inception in 1901, he says.

An Amazing History

Trachte enters the self-storage industry by pioneering one of the first all-steel mini-warehouses in the country.

The company was founded by George and Arthur Trachte, who named the business the Trachte Brothers Co. The owners' father, a carpenter and farmer, had sent his teenage boys to learn the tinning trade at the local hardware store in Watertown, Wis. The father figured if the boys knew the industry, it would be cheaper to create projects in-house, recalls Bob Trachte, former company president and Arthur's son.

The brothers moved from Watertown to Madison, Wis., in 1899, in search of work. With a capital investment of $200, they opened a furnace and tinsmith shop in 1901. Their first order was making pans and dippers for the Madison Candy Co. Then in 1904, younger brother, Arnold, joined the business. "The brothers were a couple of farm boys entering into something different, and they had a lot of confidence. They were very aggressive. They were ambitious. That's what made the brothers stick together," says Bob.

The family continued to manufacture a variety of products, causing the company to move into larger facilities twice before 1915. By 1912, the brothers had designed and patented the first roll-forming machine, which was used to manufacture corrugated livestock water tanks. The brothers then created the first catalog illustrating the company's line of tanks and heaters in 1915. Several original Trachte water tanks continue to stand in Portage and La Crosse, Wis.

But it was Arthur who stumbled upon the company's future--steel buildings. He developed the first steel shelter to house his new Dodge because he didn't want it damaged by weather. He rolled several straight sides and a curved top to create a garage and built it next to the cottage the family rented each year. "He was a visionary," Bob says of his father, adding that every day people would pass by asking where they could get a shelter like that for their car. By 1919, the brothers were building and selling portable steel garages for more than 20 million "cars without homes," as well as for heavy machinery.

It was in 1923 that the Trachte Brothers Co. began marketing their steel buildings throughout the Midwest and southern states. In addition, the brothers created another roll-forming machine to make larger panels for the buildings. The company also built boathouses, metal motor boats, oil tanks and the first phone-booth prototype with metal sides. It also built the first all-steel cotton mill building in Arkansas and a steel alfalfa mill in Missouri.

The company continued to expand its product line with an airplane hanger at Pennco Field in Madison to house Charles Lindberg's Spirit of St. Louis during his barnstorming tour of the United States. The following year, the Trachtes introduced the "modernistic cornice" mansard/facade for storefront designs. "We leaned more toward buildings because that was more of a production process. Today, everything is production," says Bob, who bought the company with his cousin, Len, in the early 1950s.

Trachte Brothers Co. is sold and begins to manufacture steel buildings for the fast-food industry, which becomes the company's mainstay.

The cousins continued with the family philosophy of finding needs and filling them. By the 1960s, Trachte Brothers Co. began manufacturing standard parts for its buildings. The cousins reasoned that if the company could create most of its product in-house, eliminating the middleman, it would generate more revenue and provide better and quicker service to customers. In the mid-1960s, Bob bought his cousin out of the company and, in 1967, sold the business to Paul Lindau. Bob retired in 1978, the same year Pagelow began working with the company. Lindau kept the Trachte name, but changed the company to Trachte Building Systems Inc.

In 1968, Trachte introduced the Image Era mansard/facade for fast-food restaurants. The company used the design to construct Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy's and Dairy Queen restaurant buildings. It wasn't until 1974 that the company found its niche in the self-storage industry by pioneering one of the first all-steel mini warehouses in the country.

In order to ensure quality and offer the convenience of purchasing a complete self-storage facility from one source, Trac-Rite Door, a Trachte subsidiary that manufactures steel roll-up doors, was created in 1981. In 1984, Pagelow bought Lindau's share of the company and is currently the majority shareholder. As a result of the company's phenomenal growth, Trachte moved to a larger plant in the Sun Prairie, Wis., Industrial Park in November of 1985.

Trachte Today: Investor Focused

"We are really focused now on our core competency--providing a good investment opportunity for entrepreneurs," says Pagelow. The company offers self-storage facilities that are erector friendly, low maintenance and aesthetically pleasing. The pre-engineered buildings are designed for flexibility and durability. The in-house engineering department can also tailor the facility to meet the customer's needs.

Trac-Rite Door is incorporated, a wholly-owned subsidiary that manufacturers steel roll-up doors.

Trachte always has its investors' best interest in mind. Each regional manager acts as a consultant and walks the investor through the development process. "What we hope to do is help these people minimize their mistakes and maximize their investment," Pagelow says.

The company is a full-time manufacturer of self-storage products, which enables it to make everything under one roof. It offers a complete self-storage product line, including single and multistory self-storage systems, movable micro-storage buildings, corridor and partition systems, and roll-up doors. The buildings are built to last with zinc-coated structural steel and no exposed structural fasteners. The product is carefully packed to prevent damage during shipping, and Trachte provides all the building materials in one package from the concrete up, including installation and management manuals.

"We are not the low-price supplier in the industry; however, we are the low-cost provider," says Pagelow. Sales peaked in 1988 when Trachte grossed approximately $10 million, but dropped slightly during the Gulf War. In 1991, sales began to increase again. "It's been a decade of continued growth and prosperity," Pagelow says, adding that last year was Trachte's best year in sales at $35 million.

As the company heads into the next decade, it is adjusting its products and services to meet the changing demands of its customers, the market and technology. "We're definitely positioning Trachte to be in business for another 100 years," declares Pagelow.

100 Years and Counting

Trachte purchases 6 acres of land in the Sun Prairie, Wis., Business Park and begins construction on its new manufacturing and office space.

"One key thing a company has to do is adapt to change. We welcome change. If you don't, you're going to disappear," says Pagelow. Trachte buildings are currently located in every state, but a majority of its storage facilities are concentrated in the Midwest and northeast regions. Trachte has also provided services to several countries, including Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama, and Pagelow envisions Trachte expanding its international presence.

"Technology has been instrumental in our growth," Pagelow says. "We are always looking at how technology can help us and our customers benefit in the future." Since the recent implementation of the company's website, Trachte has received inquiries about its product and services from Portugal, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Sweden and Brazil. Presently, Trachte will continue to be based in Wisconsin, but a day may come when another plant may be required to meet growing market demands.

"We see the market demands growing for storage facilities, plus more people will become entrepreneurial in the future; however, the marketplace is changing and becoming more challenging with respect to designs and barriers to entry," says Pagelow. No matter how much Trachte transforms its product and services to meet the changing marketplace, its commitment to the customer to provide satisfaction and quality products will never be compromised," he adds. "People, whether they are customers or employees, are and always will be the real key to Trachte's success."

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