A lot of people seem to think that American manufacturing died and disappeared years ago, especially in our more rural areas.
Of course, there are many cases that reinforce this notion, with shuttered factories and shuttered industries all over the country. But the Manthei (mon-tie) Group is a good example of how this story is far from universal. Today, the company is headquartered in Petoskey, Michigan, a popular resort area in the northwest corner of the state’s Lower Peninsula, and operates in five distinct business segments: Heavy Construction Services, Forest Products, Mobile Homes and RV Resorts Southwest division, real estate portfolio business, and licensing business that creates business opportunities for global concrete producers. To balance this, one of the cousins runs a successful microbrewery. With over 400 employees and over $100 million in annual sales, the company has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and has a long road to growth.
It all started with a couple of German immigrant farmers.
Constance and Ferdinand Manthei immigrated to the United States at the turn of the last century, settled in the Petoskey area, and started farming. It was Constance who established a flower-growing business specializing in asters that lifted her family out of poverty. Her sons, Ted and Ernie, continued farming, successfully growing beans after some difficulty and starting strawberries.
To support the fruit business, the brothers decided to create their own baskets for customers to carry their purchases in. In 1942, they went to purchase wooden basket making equipment. Things didn’t end the way they planned. “They bought a laminating machine by mistake,” said Jake Manthei, president of Aster Brands, one of the company’s business units. “So they built a veneer factory on Lake Walloon.” Although the mill burned down not once but twice in the decades since, the family continues today with a still-growing veneer business .
It was the generation after Ted and Ernie that expanded into the sand and gravel business, concrete precast and construction. They are also the ones who get into the resort business. “Ted and Ernie bought land on the other side of the hills in Joshua Tree National Park,” Jack explained. “It had natural, sulfur-free hot springs.” Eventually, the family realized they had an opportunity to run the resort and set up an RV park. Over time, it has grown into parks with more than 2,000 spaces that continue to grow.
Jake’s father, Ben, and Ben’s brother and cousins took over the company after the first veneer factory burned down. They rebuilt the factory on the original site and later added a second factory a few miles down the road. They also expanded their concrete business when they had the opportunity to build a wall for a local developer. Unable to find the right material for the large wall they were building, they designed their own, which eventually led to their Redi-Rock brand of retaining wall blocks.
Following the second factory fire in 2017, Jake’s generation took over the factory, consolidating operations into a state-of-the-art site. The business also expanded to include plywood products, adding a lumber company through the 2013 acquisition of Techniply.
Specific aspects of the business have also been expanded. As the Redi-Rock business grew steadily, a new generation realized that while heavy concrete blocks couldn’t be transported very far economically, the machinery and intellectual property could. Manthei Group forms the Aster Brands business unit to market its Redi-Rock retaining wall block technology, Rosetta residential wet-cast hardscape products for swimming pools, decks and walls, and its Pole Base precast lighting pole base manufacturing system world of concrete precasters. “Our motto is, ‘Change the world in concrete ways,'” Jack said. “We’re really about building partnerships, not just deals. We merged these separate companies into a joint sales, marketing and intellectual property company to develop opportunities for precast concrete. We make them a destination for growth by empowering our licensed network. “
Their clients are true believers. “I’m excited about this because it opens up so many opportunities for me,” said Jon Lowrance, owner of Excel Retaining Walls in Nashville, Tennessee, and a Redi-Rock licensee. “It has impressed everyone we have installed it. It looks great and it goes up really fast. A lot of stuff people build is a planned obsolescence – it’s a one-off. This will be in my Show up after leaving.”
Irvin Vittitow, co-owner of Redi-Rock KIT in Mount Washington, Kentucky, is another satisfied licensee. “I went to World of Concrete in 2006. I picked up one of their blocks and said, ‘I can sell this,'” he said. “I gave it a shot, and within a few months, I was a client. It’s been a really good partnership over the years. I started in Louisville, expanded to Indiana, and then down to Tennessee. They have Their Redi-Rock University, we go every year.”
“Again, this is about partnerships, not just deals,” Jack added. “We actually became friends.”
So do their clients from all over the world. They often host them in Northern Michigan and build a community with these business partners. For Jack, it’s an integral part of doing business. “I don’t need a bigger house,” he said. “It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself.”
The Mathei family has a deep Christian faith which they believe is the main reason their business remains successful when it is finally handed over to the fifth generation. “The quest for meaning is what really makes you feel fulfilled at the end of your career,” says Abe Manthei, president of The Manthei Group. “The mission of being united in business is what keeps our families together.” He points out Set an example early in the family. “Our grandparents were very invested in making sure they actually paid tithes — 10 percent of every dollar they made. They sponsored Christian broadcasts and PTSD counseling in postwar Japan.”
Jack agreed. “Our generation is picking up where the previous generation left off. We’re trying to grow so we can create more jobs and give back to the community.” If Manthei Group looks at future opportunities, he says that will be a central theme. “We went to business school and learned that the purpose of business is to maximize shareholder value. However, that definition really misses the point. Maximizing value is necessary to sustain a business. That’s like saying the purpose of a human being is to breathe. You need To breathe is to live, but the purpose of living is not to breathe, right? The purpose of business is to apply your beliefs to help others, to give back to something bigger than yourself. This is the intersection of success and meaning.”