Small business owners say 2018 looks bright

By Brandon Anderegg

Jan. 3, 2018

 William Cody operates an 1375 ton brake press at the Weldall manufacturing plant in Waukesha.
Submitted photo

WAUKESHA — With a new year beginning, small business owners in Oconomowoc and Waukesha are reflecting on the year, a changing political landscape and new consumer trends. Weldall Manufacturing, Inc., a full-service large-scale welding and large fabrication manufacturer out of Waukesha, has seen a boost in business and employment in 2017 and they expect to grow more in 2018, according to plant manager and co-owner David Bahl.

“We’ve brought on 60 people because of an increase in business,” said Bahl. “Next year, we’re forecasting a 20 to 25 percent increase in sales.”

Weldall, which now has 215 employees, spent $1.75 million on equipment and facility improvements, said Bahl. For the new year, the company will hit the ground running with five new employees this week, a reflection of this year’s growth, said Bahl. If the 20 to 25 percent increase in sales holds true, he said, jobs would follow.

However, acquiring 60 workers was not an easy task for Weldall. Bahl said finding skilled welders, machinists and fabricators has been a hurdle for the company in recent years.

“That wasn’t with a flick of a switch,” said Bahl. “We had to search them out and in a lot of cases, train them.”

Tax overhaul’s impact

Moreover, Bahl said keeping up with the rising cost of health care has proven difficult for small businesses, making it tough to provide quality health care policies for employees. Bahl said, however, President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress’s new tax overhaul may help remedy some of Weldall’s challenges when it comes to health care.

“It’s definitely a bottom-line changer,” said Bahl. “How much and where we invest it, we won’t know until we see what those numbers are.”

While Bahl said he is not sure how the company will spend new dollars, he said money could be allocated to strengthening health insurance polices for employees, employee compensation and reinvestment into the company.

Nonetheless Bahl said he’s confident that the local and national political landscape will help Weldall thrive in 2018 between state leadership’s pro-growth approach to job creation and the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s efforts to help small businesses become competitive.

With the tax overhaul in its infancy, the notion of “we know it’s good, just not sure how good” appears to be a common theme among small business owners. Ray Hoffman, senior director of the Oconomowoc marketing firm Paragon Marketing Group, said the expectation is the tax law would benefit his company though he’s not sure to what extent.

“Still waiting to hear from our accountant but from what we’re told it’s going to help us dramatically,” said Hoffman.

Like Weldall, Paragon Marketing Group expects to bring on more employees and even expand in the new year. The company only has 10 employees; however, Hoffman said Paragon Marketing Group opened a new location last month in La Crosse, has plans to open a Madison office in March and three more locations throughout Wisconsin by the end of 2018 or first quarter of 2019. With three employees at each location, this would more than double their staff.

“We’re excited to expand into the Wisconsin area, but we are very big community advocates,” said Hoffman

Community involvement

Lori Boldig, owner of The Gallori in Oconomowoc, said her business has grown every year since she first opened in 2009. She attributes growth to community involvement, the movement to “shop local” and the interpersonal relationships she creates with her customers — a keystone of Boldig’s business model.

“People are looking for a more personal experience,” she said. “More people are coming to their neighborhood and their community for better customer service.”

However, it’s more than just the warm environment and customer service that is bringing people to her store, said Boldig. She said she recently read that consumers are losing interest in mall shopping and bigbox stores because the products aren’t as unique.

“I think that’s why people are shopping in their back yards,” said Boldig.

The Gallori features a variety of hand-crafted arts, framing and gifts created by over 100 artists. Boldig said one-of-a-kind products like the ones found in her store are peeling people away from larger stores.

“When it comes to something unique, they need that personal touch,” she said.

Boldig said downtown Oconomowoc events have also been a big booster for her business. She sat on the board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce for six years and is a member of the Downtown Oconomowoc Business Association. She said events like the German Christmas Market and the Oconomowoc Festival of Arts bring people to the area every single month.

“It showcases the community and exposes them to what businesses are downtown,” said Boldig. “When people see that you’re active and that you give back to your community, that’s a bonus for your business.”