Shining in the Spot Light

BusSpotlightSugarLoafENTaking pictures with customers, being a friendly employee, and creating a wonderful atmosphere at Sugar Loaf Ford. These are just a few of the many things part owner of Sugar Load Ford, Mike Puetz does that keeps Sugar Loaf Ford in Winona at the top of the market.

Sugarloaf Ford is the oldest dealership in Winona and was founded in 1977 by retired owner Bill Hutmacher, who grew up in Park Ridge Illinois and graduated with a Business degree from Michigan University in 1965.

Winona was a great fit for Sugar Loaf Ford, “We’ve had a strong, long run in Winona,” owner Mike Puetz says.

Puetz was hired at Sugar Loaf Ford in 2001 and became part owner in 2005. “I am lucky to get to work with a good business partner like Bill,” Puetz said, “the automobile business is without a doubt the most rewarding business one could ask for.”

It isn’t just about selling cars for Puetz, and the staff at Sugar Loaf Ford, it’s about creating a great experience for their customers. It’s not unusual to see customers stop in for a cup of coffee and lounge around in the lobby area. “Customers love to come here and we love to have them here,” says Puetz.

Sugar Loaf Ford also gives back to the community. With donations to several foundations including the Morrie Miller Foundation, Hutmacher and Puetz find it very important to give back to the Winona Community. “That’s why Merchants Bank is a great fit for us. It was an easy choice for us to bank there because of the wonderful customer and community service Merchants Bank gives,” said Puetz 

Puetz would highly recommend Merchants Bank.

“Merchants Bank is an easy choice, everyone takes care of us. They have personal service, pick up the phone when I call, and I have confidence in their ability to handle whatever comes their way. They have so far.”

Business Banker Randy Domeyer works with Sugar Loaf Ford. They have a good working relationship and have fun with each other. “Randy has helped me with many banking transactions; he takes care of business and is very professional,” says Puetz. Randy has been with Merchants Bank since 2008. You can reach him by phone at (507) 457-9310 or rjdomeyer@merchantsbank.com.

Good for the Community…

When Pete Woodworth’s grandfather’s plane landed in Winona on a Sunday in 1943 at the then municipal airport, Walker Woodworth was met by three people, including Winona’s mayor, and the President of Merchants National Bank, J.R. Chappel.

By the time Woodworth left Winona the next day, Winona had a new business, the Winona Knitting Mills, and Merchants Bank had started a long-term relationship with the Woodworth family.

The relationship has grown. Walker’s son and Pete’s father, Les, was on the Merchants Bank Board of Directors for more than 20 years, and Pete has been a member of the Merchants Bank Board of Directors and the Merchants Financial Group Board of Directors since 1988.

By the Fall of 1943, the Winona Knitting Mills was up and running, and it ran for 57 years in the same location at 902 E. 2nd Street, expanding along the way. The building went from three stories and 8,000 square feet to more than six buildings and 175,000 square feet. By 1995 the company had grown to be the third largest men’s sweater manufacturer in the United States.

By late 1995, the Winona Knitting Mills merged with Hampshire Group Limited, the largest woman’s sweater manufacturer in the USA, and by 2002, Pete and his wife Joyce, had sold their interests, but there still was the issue of what to do with the property. Pete and Joyce converted the property into a professional business campus.

“We took the chance and developed it into a community resource,” Pete said.

The campus, which includes the main building that Walker first purchased, a warehouse, and four satellite buildings on eight acres, now has more than 40 tenants. The tenants are varied. The terms given the businesses are as varied as the types of businesses themselves, including graduated rates over time and phased in rental payments.

“We’re trying to make it easier for them to get up and running so the businesses are viable for the long-term,” Pete said. “It’s pragmatic. It’s good for them. It’s good for our family. It’s good for the community, and it’s good for Merchants Bank because many of these businesses are borrowing from the bank, and we’re borrowing from the bank.”

In 2004, Pete and Joyce gave WKM Properties to their children Nathan, Jacob and Lindsay. In 2009 Nathan took over running the business, which also includes a 7000 square foot building in downtown Winona, a 10,000 square foot building in Goodview and a 40,000 square foot building in Rochester.

“I’ve always liked tweaking and strengthening things, and this has been very satisfying,” Pete said. “We thought of it as planting something that would grow, something we could pass on to benefit Merchants Bank, the community and our family.”

WoodworthsForEN

Brian’s Toys Continues to Build

Passion for Toys Leads to Success

BusSpotlightBriansToysENBrian Semling has been all about starting early and following his bliss.

Brian has been a life-long Merchants Bank customer. “I was just four or five days old when my parents opened my first Merchants Bank account,” Semling said. Semling has been with Merchants since then.

As a child, Brian played with “Star Wars” toys. In 1987, that memorabilia was sold at a garage sale. By 1992, Brian started collecting again, and by 1994, Brian opened his own business, “Brian’s Toys,” at the tender age of 16.

The business has grown from selling vintage “Star Wars” toys and collectibles, although it still does that, to selling contemporary “Star Wars” toys, “Transformers,” “Masters of the Universe,” “GI Joe,” “LEGO” construction sets, “Indiana Jones,” “Star Trek” and much, much more. They claim to offer the “world’s largest collection of Star Wars toys and Star Wars collectibles.”

The business has grown from its start in the basement and garage of his parents’ home in Fountain City, Wis., to a more than 8,000 square foot warehouse. The staff has grown to about 20 people, including family members. All sales are done online.

Merchants Bank has helped Brian’s Toys in a number of ways. In addition to providing business loans and lines of credit, Merchants has provided Merchant Processing for credit cards and Deposit on Demand where checks can be remotely scanned and deposited. Recently, Brian added ACH Block and Filters, which can block certain debits and credits from posting to an account, and can allow certain debits and credits from posting to an account while excluding others. Brian also added Positive Pay, which helps to make sure no fraudulent checks are issued on the business account.

“I feel there’s a real understanding of our history,” Semling said of the relationship with Merchants. “We’ve been very happy. If we need to discuss things, we definitely feel that there are real people that we can connect with and be treated fairly.”

Tammy Johnson, a Cash Management expert at Merchants, said that Brian is good to work with because he has an idea of what works best for him and is open to hearing about new products. The ACH Blocks and Filters and Positive Pay are relatively new products, Johnson said.

“He has a wonderful, thriving business,” Johnson said.

Semling said that he also likes the size and feel of a community bank like Merchants.

“There’s value in being able to meet with people face-to-face,” Semling said.

If you have some old “Star Wars” or other discontinued toys from the 1990’s or 2000’s, Brian’s Toys may be interested. “It could be an entire collection, or it may be just a toy or two,” Semling said. More information can be found at the website or email with any toys for sale to buying@brianstoys.com.

For Semling, he still has a number of favorite toys, and it is hard for him to choose just one favorite. He did say one of the most collectible was an Anakin Skywalker from the “Power of the Force” series in its original packaging from 1984.

“I’ll say that Darth Vader is my favorite character, and that the first Darth Vader from 1978 in its original packaging is a favorite toy as well,” Semling said.