Fort Dodge businesses: Positive changes
2017 saw many Fort Dodge businesses grow and thrive
The boom that is reshaping economic world in Webster County saw many positive changes at Fort Dodge businesses and commercial enterprises. Here are some of the year’s highlights.
Shimkat Motor Co. adds commercial trucks
For the first time in its 70-year history, Shimkat Motor Co., 3126 Fifth Ave. S., began selling and servicing commercial trucks.
Ed Shimkat, vice president of Shimkat Motor Co. and a co-owner, said adding commercial trucks to the array of Chrysler products the business handles has been under consideration for a number of years.
“It’s the perfect time,” Shimkat said. “Everything is happening and expanding around Fort Dodge.”
Shimkat Motor Co. acquired the Business Link franchised for Chrysler’s commercial division. According to officials at the dealership, Chrysler had identified north central Iowa as an underserved marketplace for RAM vehicles.
To be acquire the Business Link franchise, the dealership had to make a significant financial investment. Shimkat said the service department had to be upgraded and reworked to accommodate the larger vehicles. As one example, the business had to acquire and install a 30,000-pound hoist. Additionally, an array of trucks had to be added to the inventory on the sales lot. Folks driving along Fifth Avenue South — the city’s Corridor of Commerce — will see some of them near the roadway.
First American Bank brings
major innovation to FD
First American Bank introduced customers to the city’s first ITMs — interactive teller machines — at both its downtown and Crossroads locations.
These state-of-the-art devices have made it possible for the bank to offer interaction with tellers more hours each day and afford certain additional benefits not previously available through its drive-up windows or at traditional ATMs. The new mechanisms resemble an ATM but also have a screen that makes it possible for a bank employee to interact with the customer.
Customer convenience was enhanced because the hours of service are much more in sync with people’s busy lives, Susan Ahlers Leman, the bank’s market president in Fort Dodge and senior trust officer, said. It is also possible to conduct certain banking functions through the ITMs that weren’t possible either at a drive-up window or a standard ATM.
This isn’t the first time First American Bank has led the way in terms of innovation.
“We have a rich history of being an innovator in delivering financial services to the community,” Leman said. “We offered the first free drive-up teller service in 1953. In 1962, we had the first motor bank in Fort Dodge. In 1976, we were the first bank in Fort Dodge to install its own computer system. In 1993, we offered the first ATM in Fort Dodge.”
Starbucks is now part of Hy-Vee
All across America taking time out for a coffee drink has been revolutionized by Starbucks. In Fort Dodge, partaking of that company’s plethora of coffee concoctions and sampling enticing foods carefully crafted to accompany the beverage selected can now be part of a shopping excursion to the local Hy-Vee store, 115 S. 29th St.
Starbucks at Hy-Vee in Fort Dodge began welcoming customers since March.
“You walk in the south entryway doors and it’s a kiosk right there to your left next to the registers on the left side of the door across from floral,” Tim Flaherty, the store director at the Fort Dodge Hy-Vee, said. “You can stop in and get a Starbucks coffee and drink your Starbucks as you shop through the aisles to get groceries.”
Alternatively, one can consume Starbucks selections in the relaxed atmosphere of the store’s cafÈ – the recently refurbished and enhanced Market Grille Express.
“You can come in and get your Starbucks and visit with your friends,” Flaherty said.
The offerings are in sync what is sold at any of the more than 25,000 Starbucks outlets that are present not only throughout the United States, but worldwide. The full range of coffee options is on the menu locally but that’s just part of the story.
“We have the breakfast sandwiches,” Flaherty said. “We have the fresh breads. We have muffins. We have the different meals that they serve.”
Also for sale are assorted other Starbucks merchandise and novelty items such as coffee cups.
Flourishing business has a new name and owner
Industry Marketing Solutions, the Fort Dodge-based publishing company Steve Scanlan launched in 2003, was purchased by Randy Green and renamed RDG Media Inc. The transition to new ownership took place in late October. The company will remain in Fort Dodge at the Boston Centre location it has occupied since 2006.
“Industry Marketing Solutions is an excellent company with digital and print products that uniquely serve each of their dynamic vertical markets,” Green said. “Our goal is to continue serving the audiences with products that generate a superb and cost-effective return for our advertisers. We look forward in the very near future to introducing innovative products that will enhance advertisers’ share of market. We will continue to publish our products from the Fort Dodge offices.”
Scanlan, who continues to co-own a separate publishing enterprise also located in the Boston Centre, is providing consulting advice to the Green for a short while.
“I’m helping Randy (Green) through the transition phase to make sure everything goes smoothly as he goes forward,” he said.
RDG Media publishes business-to-business publications. These magazines are essentially advertising mechanisms through which products and services are offered to specialized markets.
Green has a long history in this field as a key executive at BNP Media, headquartered in Troy, Michigan.
“I’ve been in publishing for 27 years,” he said. “I’ve always been an employee of a publishing company. I wanted to make the transition to ownership.”
The new company president has big plans for the years ahead.
“I plan to supplement what we do right now in print with additional digital products, digital deployments to complement the print,” Green said. “It’s a digital world. We’re developing more of those products to bring digital solutions to our customers. In addition we want to develop more association and industry partnerships to be more entrenched in each of our current markets.”
RDG Media currently has four publications. Green said he is in the process of making changes in those highly successful products.
There’s new hotel brand on Corridor of Commerce
A new hotel brand arrived on Fort Dodge’s booming Corridor of Commerce early in 2017. Comfort Inn, 2938 Fifth Ave. S., was renamed Baymont Inn & Suites.
The hotel was previously part of the Choice Hotel Group. According to Paresh Bhatt, who owns the hotel, his establishment is now a part of the Wyndham Hotels system.
“Wyndham has more than 7,500 hotels,” he said. “We have the brand name Baymont Inn & Suites. It is a growing brand with more than 425 hotels. They are nationwide. They are midscale.”
Bhatt said his hotel was the eighth hotel in Iowa to become part of the Baymont brand.
A change that Bhatt said many guests who travel a lot will find appealing is that they will now be able to participate in the Wyndham Hotels frequent traveler program.
“They have the largest frequent traveler program in the USA,” he said.
Another longtime business has a new name
Mad Rabbit Dezign is the new name for a long-established Fort Dodge business — Double M. Signs and Graphics, 709 S. 25th St.
“The reason we changed is we wanted to freshen things up. We wanted to show our customers that we are the best in the area at branding or re-branding,” said Jerry Garrett, Mad Rabbit Dezign’s general manager. “The logo is edgy and sounds cool. The name change came from us wanting to be fresh and up-to-date and a little bit edgy — to create a little buzz about the business. And that’s also what we want to do for our customers.”
He said helping clients sell products or ideas is at the heart of the service Mad Rabbit Dezign offers.
“We’re a full service vinyl and screen printing company as well as signage,” Garrett said. “We do everything from commercial printing to window decals. We print on all kinds of materials. We print on numerous different substances. We do any and all kinds of promotional printing. That’s your cups, pens, headbands, Frisbees. There is a long list of those kinds of products.”
Adding words, logos and/or graphics to apparel is a major component of the work the six-person team at Mad Rabbit Dezign undertakes. Signs, banners and vehicle wraps are all part of the agenda.
Guthrie and Associates Real Estate grows
Slightly more than two year ago, a new era began at Guthrie and Associates Real Estate, Scott and Katie Underberg became the new owners of one of the town’s oldest real estate firms. Both Underbergs were real estate agents affiliated with the agency prior to taking the helm of the enterprise.
The business has undergone changes with the Underbergs in charge. In November 2016, it moved from 7 N. 18th St. to 1302 Central Ave.
“We wanted to purchase our own spot and remodel it the way we wanted it to be,” Scott Underberg said. “The building we were in had been rented for many years.”
The result is a new home for the agency in a structure that has been massively renovated.
The business has flourished.
“We’ve grown a lot,” Underberg said. “We about doubled production in the first year we owned it and it’s grown even more this year. We’re slated to be about triple what the year before we took over was.”
An additional business venture has also been added.
“We started Connections Property Management Group in September 2016,” Underberg said. “We own that along with a property manager who is a partner in that, Kaylee Christensen.”
He said property management is a logical companion business for a real estate agency.
“We service the properties,” Underberg said. “Everything from maintenance to move-in and move-outs, collecting rents. All the management aspects. We do both residential and commercial properties.”
Another new name
Drivers along Second Avenue North will have noticed a change to one of the newer convenience stores in town. It’s only a change in the sign, though. Although the former Kwik Star Express is now called Tobacco Outlet Plus Grocery, everything inside has stayed the same.
“Same products, same store, the only thing changing is the signage,” said Steve Wrobel, spokesman for Kwik Trip and Kwik Star. “Hopefully it’s a good change.”
The store opened in February as a Kwik Star Express.
Fort and Schlegel agency expands
For more than 30 years Michael Fort has helped small businesses navigate the regulations, rules and requirements through his financial planning agency. Fort has been joined by his new partner, Jeremiah Schlegel, as the agency continues to grow. The name of the firm is now Fort and Schlegel. It is in the heart of downtown Fort Dodge at 800 First Ave. S.
“We’re just expanding,” Fort said. “You have to take care of your clients. The clients I’ve had for all these years, they ask ‘What do we do if something happens to you?’ … With our staff, with Jeremiah and Wendy, they’re in great hands.”
Schlegel grew up in Iowa Falls, where he attended high school, and finished his education at Drake University. He spent six years in the U.S. Army, and then worked in Des Moines for a CPA firm.
Fort has run his own agency since the mid-1980s.
There are changes at Earl May
A remodel allowed a local gardening and landscaping store to provide more options for its customers. Earl May Nursery & Garden Center, 168 S. 25th St., remodeled its store over the course of three days in July and added a number of products and improved services for its customers.
“We wanted to better serve the Fort Dodge community with all their landscaping, gardening, outdoor living needs,” Manager Kim Bloomquist said. “So in order to expand on those areas, we had to remove the pet department.”
But while the store lost its pet selection, it was able to add other services.
“We doubled our indoor house plants,” Bloomquist said. “We doubled the outdoor living, casual furniture departments. And it’s freed up a lot of time to do more landscaping jobs.”
The outdoor furniture selection, in particular, was expanded upon and improved.
“We offer a large variety of services, which include landscape design, landscape installation, tree planting,” Bloomquist said. “All the employees are certified in product knowledge.”
She added that the store is also able to offer assistance even if they can’t help the customer directly.
“If we don’t have the answer, we have an awesome home office that will help us find the answers to all your gardening, landscaping needs and wants.”
Renovated Mikos and Matt reopens
Mikos and Matt Furniture has reopened after the roof was partially ripped off the building during a devastating storm that struck Fort Dodge about six months ago. The storm swept through the area on May 16. It caused significant damage to the interior of the family-operated store, located at 3336 Fifth Ave. S. The store is owned by John Mikos. He and his sons — Justin Mikos and Chris Mikos — run the enterprise.
For the next six months, the family had to rebuild. Some business was conducted out of a separate warehouse near the store. Customer service continued a minimal amount of furniture wa sold during the repair and remodel.
The layout of the store has been modified.
“Just about everything has changed,” Justin Mikos said. “The only thing that hasn’t is the exterior walls and concrete floor.”
Walmart updates store
The Fort Dodge Walmart, 3036 First Ave. S., spent 12 weeks remodeling the store in 2017. Store Manager Brad Henderson said there were a number of reasons for the remodel.
“With our ever-changing business and wanting to always renovate and have the best environment for our customers and associates, we always are looking at ways to improve and get better,” he said. “And, obviously, renovations we do on a regular basis. The last one was seven years ago. It’s a pretty consistent thing we do as a company to stay on the cutting edge of technology.”
A number of changes to the store were meant to update the store’s appearance. One of the major changes was to the electronics department.
“We have a new state-of-the-art electronics department, a lot of interactive displays,” Henderson said.
The pharmacy also got an enhancement. Lighting and signage throughout the store was also upgraded, particularly in the grocery department.
“The produce and meat areas have a lot of new state-of-the-art LED lighting,” Henderson said. “New floors and lighting are both up in the produce and fresh areas up there.”
Another significant change is the relocation of the area where customers can pick up their online orders to a more convenient spot near the front of the store.
Henderson added that Walmart is continuously looking for ways to make the lives of its customers easier. The new changes make shopping more convenient, he said, and improves the shopping experience.
“It’s more of a seamless shopping experience, whether you’re doing in-store, online or a combination of both, to be able to get in and out quicker,” he said.
Two downtown stores combine
Mother and daughter business owners teamed up to combine their downtown stores.
Fit This and Xessorize! are now one store named Rush Hour Clothing Co. Jill Bush, who owned Xessorize!, and her daughter, Amanda Bush, who owned Fit This, created the new enterprise at 1208 First Ave. S.
“We are a boutique that specializes in trendy women’s clothing and accessories,” Amanda Bush said.
There’s a Hardware Hank in Fort Dodge
A Hardware Hank affiliation was added to the already successful Iowa Outdoors Store at Third Avenue Northwest and U.S. Highway 169.
Having the hardware store and the Iowa Outdoors Store under the same roof has proven beneficial for both, according to store managers. There is still a full selection of guns and ammunition, fishing supplies, archery equipment and other outdoor needs such as clothing. In fact, since the hardware store opens earlier, the outdoors section now has longer hours.
Hardware Hank is a buying group. The store is locally owned.
Hailey Brueschke, Hans Madsen, Peter Kaspari, Joe Sutter and Chad Thompson contributed to this story.