MITCHELL — Tom Patzer has seen it all while running his woodworking business for the past 4 years.
From devastating floods that destroyed his equipment and wreaked havoc on his facilities, to a fire and an epidemic, Patzer faced many challenges that tested his willingness to succeed as a local business owner. But every time he encountered major obstacles, Patzer always found a way to overcome them.
His ability to stand up to adversity helped Patzer Woodworking reach a 40-year business milestone this year. Thursday was a moment to celebrate a milestone for Patzer’s new facility, which was submerged in more than a foot of water three years ago.
“But we’re still stronger than ever,” Patzer said of the past three years of struggling with flood recovery efforts and supply chain wars sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s a big smile on Patzer’s face as he recalls what Patzer Woodworking has accomplished since its founding in 1981, when a small garage was an office and production facility.
As Patzer puts it, starting a woodworking business was a “leap of faith.” Friends doubted his business would last more than a few years, and banks were reluctant to provide the loans he needed to start work in the early 1980s.
“Some of my friends say they’ll give me two years until I go out of business. They know it’s hard to run a woodworking business, but here I am 40 years later, and it’s still buzzing,” Patzer said. “I found a bank in Mitchell to lend me a loan and thought they really trusted me a lot. I’m glad they did because it worked.”
What started as a one-person woodworking business in a 650-square-foot garage is now a company of more than 20 employees producing custom cabinetry and countertops in a 32,000-square-foot facility in downtown Mitchell.
“I’m lucky to have a wife who has been by my side since the beginning,” he said of his wife, Shirley Patzer.
After gaining a reputation as a talented cabinet and countertop craftsman, Patzer began welcoming large-scale commercial jobs. Acquiring Avera Health and Puetz Construction as clients is a proud moment for Patzer.
Watching the company’s success has left Patzer with many fond memories, but seeing his son Ryan Patzer and daughter Amanda Neppl join the team was “one of the proudest moments” for the company founder. Ryan and Neppl’s decision to work for the company turned Patzer Woodworking into a family business spanning generations, something Tom has been dreaming of since the beginning of his journey.
“I always thought Ryan would be back here, but I never thought Amanda would be back. It’s a blessing to have them all back and make us a second-generation family business,” Tom said.
The brother and sister duo are jointly responsible for overseeing commercial projects, design work and client relations. The addition of Ryan and Neppl has translated into success as the company has been expanding its footprint into neighboring states such as Iowa, Wyoming and Minnesota.
While Patzer’s first building burned down due to a fire and has dealt with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic for the past two years, there’s little doubt that the 2019 floods submerged the business in more than a foot of water, the family said. This is one of the toughest business challenges ever faced.
The Patzer family has fresh memories of the natural disaster. The annual work party is scheduled for September at Patzer Woodworking’s showroom. 12 that year, but Mother Nature had other plans.
The Patzers didn’t walk into the lobby with a plate of appetizers and refreshments to wait for employees to celebrate another year of opening, and they couldn’t even get into their building because the entire area was flooded with more than a foot of water from the start. The morning downpour brought 8 to 10 inches of rain.
“The water was higher than the windows on the building. Our computers were floating. Someone even had a boat float next to the building,” Tom said of the images he recalled from the flood. “We lived in a partial showroom for three years.”
Unlike structural fires, insurance barely covers any flood damage. It forces the family business to pay for most of the damage repairs and equipment replacement out of pocket.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40% of small and medium-sized businesses never reopen after a natural disaster takes a heavy toll. According to FEMA, 25% of businesses that reopen after a natural disaster close within a year.
The Patzer family business is bucking the trend and entering its third year since the 2019 flood.
“There were a lot of sleepless nights,” Ryan said of the night after the flood.
The floods severely damaged one of the most important pieces of equipment Patzer Woodworking produces. For three days after the flood, the wood cutters were unavailable, bringing production to a standstill.
Although technicians estimated the logger had a 40 percent chance of surviving when it came back to life, the production team managed to fix the machine until the new logger arrived a few months later. With equipment damaged and facilities destroyed, the woodcraft manufacturer’s crews ship products to customers and make a comeback.
Neppl praised the dedicated team’s ability to improvise and tackle post-flood challenges as key to helping Patzer Woodworking emerge from the wreckage.
“Every single one of our employees is exposed to this job. It really takes a team effort to make a business like this successful for so long,” she said. “We couldn’t get through this without them.”
Community members and business leaders gathered in the showroom on Thursday to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, and there was no sign that the room had been submerged in more than a foot of water three years ago.
Among the many challenges Patzer Woodworking has faced over the years, Tom has always instilled confidence in overcoming obstacles with a phrase his family often hears: “It always works out.”
“He always said that when we were worried about everything,” Ryan said of his father. “it has.”
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