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After 51 Years Running the Family Business, Marvin Schumacher is “Still Evolving”

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Opened in 1936, Schumacher’s Machine Shop specialized in farm-equipment repair.

Family, faith, hard work, innovation and industriousness have always been cornerstones of Schumacher Elevator Co. William Schumacher and his sons, Elmer and Earl, founded Schumacher’s Machine Shop in 1936 in Denver, Iowa (population 1,700), as a farm-equipment repair specialist, designing their first lift for a chicken hatchery and later building lifts for funeral homes. The early 1960s marked a turning point for the five-person shop. It was then that Elmer’s son, Marvin, took the company in a new, passenger-elevator direction, eventually growing it to the 200-employee operation it is today. The company is still based in Denver, and Marvin; his wife, Helen; and their children still hold fast to family values.

Blending those values with adaptability has proven to be a good formula for Schumacher Elevator President Marvin Schumacher. “We are now four times as big in volume as we were in 2001, and we’ve become profitable,” Schumacher said, referring to a pair of critical yet expensive decisions the company made around that time – installing a new software system and building a new, 55,000-sq.-ft. facility. “I didn’t think that would ever happen,” he recalled.

Helen and Marvin Schumacher have three children: Jeff, vice president and chief financial officer at Schumacher; Ann, a realtor in Chandler, Arizona; and John, who is in the Information Technology department at Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, Iowa. They have eight grandchildren, ages two to 18. The family enjoys getting together. They host an annual Fourth of July celebration at Clear Lake, Iowa, and take regular winter vacations to tropical locales such as Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Hard Work, Farming and Family

Schumacher comes from a long line of inventive, industrious problem solvers. Born and raised in Iowa farming country, Marvin’s grandfather William Schumacher, developed a farm-door latch, a strain of seed oats sold at county fairs, a honey-butter spread, a homemade tractor and a manure loader. He and his wife, Bertha, traveled the country in a customized vehicle William built. While traveling, the couple sold and installed lifts in about 200 funeral homes across the country from 1937-58. Schumacher is proud of this heritage, and said he knew he would one day run the family business.

After graduating from Denver High School, Schumacher attended DeVry Technical Institute for two years and was in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, stationed in South Korea. Once discharged, he attended Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, before transferring to the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The summer after his discharge from the Army, he met Helen at her sister’s wedding. They were later married at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Denver, which they still attend. Schumacher said Helen, a former teacher who now works part time at the company, stood by him through thick and thin. When Schumacher Elevator Co. was making its initial push into passenger elevators, for instance, the couple lived on Helen’s teaching salary.

 Tough Start, Remarkable Growth

Despite a tough start, which involved pounding the pavement to overcome his company’s lack of name recognition, Schumacher said the decision to focus on passenger elevators was the right one. He assumed presidency in 1965. By the mid 1970s, employment had grown to 50, and by the mid 1990s, to 120. By the mid 1980s, in addition to manufacturing, Schumacher had come up with its own elevator microprocessor control system. Its factory, toured by Elevator U attendees in June (ELEVATOR WORLD, September 2013), boasts a laser sheet metal cutter and press break metal-bending machine. “We install and service elevators in Iowa and the surrounding states and sell elevators to about 19 other states, and we’ve sold some in Jamaica, China and the Far East,” Schumacher said. Schumacher Elevator Co. services about 5,000 elevators in all. It also manufactures products for other companies, some of them international.

The company counts many hospitals as clients, many of which have come to rely on his company’s frequent maintenance and attention to detail, according to Schumacher. “It’s a little more expensive, but that’s because our focus is quality service and customer satisfaction. Hospitals don’t want people getting stuck or any safety issues.” The company has even collaborated with a hospital to build an elevator with an operating room inside.

Schumacher said he is proud of his company’s personnel lifts that facilitate the fast transportation of workers and equipment up and down grain elevators. Schumacher Elevator Co. has designed and built lifts for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and DisneyQuest® Indoor Interactive Theme Park in Orlando, Florida. Schumacher manufactures elevators for universities, churches and a range of commercial buildings. It also designs, builds and installs home elevators.

Schumacher said through the decades, he has held fast to a strong work ethic, a willingness to modernize, an unwillingness to cut corners and a personal approach to sales – something he learned from Jack Andrews, a retired salesman who worked for Standard Steel Specialty and later, Monteferro. Due to Andrews’ mentorship, Schumacher personally calls clients to thank them after big sales, a gesture often met with surprise in this day and age. Schumacher said he has drawn inspiration from other mentors too, including Walter Glaser, executive vice president of GAL Manufacturing Corp., who helped him with challenging technical problems in the company’s early days and remains a key Schumacher supplier, and Mark Traetow, vice president of field operations at Schumacher, who has been with the company nearly 40 years. Traetow, Schumacher said, brings “good, honest Christian values” to everything he does. Plus, he said, “he really knows the elevator business.”

As for trade shows, Schumacher said they are invaluable for staying on top of trends, and forming new business relationships and holding onto existing ones. On his list each year: the National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) Expo (“one of the best shows that we have –  I’ve been going for 49 years,” he commented), state hospital shows, grain industry shows, and the American Institute of Architects convention. He and Helen have also been to trade shows in China and Europe, which he said are typically much bigger than shows in the U.S.

Never Stop Learning, Giving Back

When he is not at work, Schumacher decompresses by spending time on his boat and relaxing at the family vacation home on Clear Lake. He admits he does “probably too much” volunteer work. He started the Denver, Iowa, chapter of Junior Achievement and sits on its board, is past president and sits on the board of the local Boy Scouts of America chapter, started a program that encourages high-school students to pursue manufacturing careers, helped the Denver Activities Foundation raise US$2.3 million for a library/community center/athletic complex, donated and helped install an elevator in a school for disadvantaged children in Guatemala, and assists the Bremer County Foundation in distributing some US$100,000 a year in gambling proceeds to nonprofit organizations. His latest efforts involve increasing housing options for the elderly. He is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who founded the Denver Sunset Nursing Home and tended the grounds there for as long as he was able.

 Schumacher said he has never stopped learning, and he’s ready for new challenges. “I keep thinking there is nothing new but then something comes along to prove me wrong,” he said. For example, he worked with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, on a plan that would have included elevators and underground moving walks to move doctors quickly throughout the clinic. Schumacher said it would have involved designing a subway system for the moving walks and integrating them with an elevator system, a vast undertaking that he said his company was ready to take on. The funding wasn’t there, so the project didn’t materialize.

The elevator industry has been rewarding, Schumacher said, and continues to offer surprises. “I’m glad I got into this business,” he said.

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