Balancing act

Elliot and Margaret Zander – second-generation owners

Zander Press, Inc.
Product/service: Commercial printing, newspaper
Headquarters: Brillion
Year founded: 1899
Founder: Otto Zander
Current leaders: Kris Bastian, Darcy Zander-Feinauer and Beth Wenzel

Growing up, the three daughters of Zane Zander spent their time at the family’s commercial printer and newspaper business, but never gave much thought about someday running Zander Press themselves. Those thoughts, however, began to change as they got older.

“I think we all needed to spread our wings and then come back to the business,” said Kris Bastian, who purchased Zander Press with her sisters, Darcy Zander-Feinauer and Beth Wenzel, in 2005. “We sometimes joke that this place is like the Hotel California – you can check out, but you can never leave.”

 (L - R) Kris Bastian, Darcy Zander-Feinauer and Beth Wenzel – fourth-generation owners
(L – R) Kris Bastian, Darcy Zander-Feinauer and Beth Wenzel – fourth-generation owners

The trio are the fourth generation of family members to own the business in Brillion, a small Calumet County city that sits between Appleton and Manitowoc on U.S. 10. Just three percent of family-owned businesses make it to the fourth generation, putting the sisters in rare company.

Wenzel, the oldest of the three sisters, serves as company president, while Zander-Feinauer is a graphic artist and Bastian works in printing and sales. When asked how she became president, Wenzel replied “the other two ganged up on me and said, ‘You do it.’”

Co-owners and sisters, 24/7

Owning a business is challenging enough, but add in working with family members and the stress level can really rise.

Elliot and Margaret Zander – second-generation owners
Elliot and Margaret Zander – second-generation owners

Fortunately, the three sisters successfully pull it off while still maintaining tight family ties. Wenzel gives credit to their community, which she says is very supportive of family owned companies. Brillion is home to several well-known family businesses, including the Ariens Co. and Professional Plating.

Upbringing also plays a key role. “We know the right way to talk to people, thanks to how we were raised,” Wenzel said.

As for mixing family with business, talking about work is not off limits during family gatherings.

“When you gather with family and friends, you usually talk about work. When you’re at work, you talk about your family. It’s no different with us,” Wenzel said. “We don’t avoid the topic. We’re sisters 24 hours a day and we’re co-owners 24 hours a day.”

Bastian said another key to their success is their leadership style. “We’re all laid back and very Type B,” she said.

Like when most sisters get together, there is plenty of good-natured ribbing that takes place. Wenzel said it’s probably a good thing they don’t work together too much.

“We’re all doing very different things and have our own areas where we focus,” she said.

A rich family legacy

But as an owner of a family business, there is still that pressure to be successful and “not mess up,” Zander-Feinauer admitted. “You don’t want to be the generation that failed. There’s a rich family legacy and it can be a huge burden to carry,” she said.

Zander Press was founded in 1899 when Otto Zander purchased The Brillion News for $450. A teacher who was fluent in German – which was key, since the community had a large population of German immigrants – Zander grew the paper’s circulation. His son, Elliott, came on as editor in 1927.

After Otto Zander’s death in 1944, Elliot and his wife, Margaret, continued running the newspaper. Their son, Noel, joined The Brillion News in 1959 to cover sports. Elliot’s oldest son, Zane, also joined the family business in 1960 after finishing college and serving in the Army.

Elliot, Zane and Noel Zander incorporated the printing company that had sprung up alongside the newspaper, and in 1965 changed the company’s name to Zander Press Inc. Zane Zander focused on expanding the company’s growing commercial printing business.

Noel and Zane Zander (seated) – third-generation owners
Noel and Zane Zander (seated) – third-generation owners

Today, commercial printing is Zander’s core business, providing printing services to not only local businesses but also state and national customers with both offset and digital printing. The company still publishes The Brillion News and Lake to Lake Shopper.

The Great Recession was challenging as companies cut back on printing, but Zander-Feinauer said the sisters weathered the change by being frugal and “holding on tight” through industry changes.

“We owned everything here,” she said referring to the building’s furnishings and equipment.

Fully recovered now, Zander Press just completed its best five years in business, Wenzel said. Being flexible and forming partnerships with other companies has been key to Zander’s success.

“We’re proud of being able to produce high-quality items at affordable prices,” Wenzel said. “We’ve stuck to our roots.”

That includes being a part of their community. Zander Press is frequently approached to donate to local endeavors, whether it’s in-kind printing services or a cash donation.

“Since we’ve been more successful these past few years, we’ve been able to support what’s important to us and our customers,” Wenzel said. “It’s important to us to give back to the community.”

Planning for the future

Like many other family-owned businesses, planning for the future – including future leadership – is critical.

For the sisters, it’s one of their biggest challenges. They know it’s one of the most important things they can do to ensure a fifth generation of family ownership, but so far the trio does not have a plan.

“We haven’t addressed it. We should, but we haven’t yet,” said Bastian, adding that the next generation currently ranges in age from 15 to 30 years of age.

Zane Zander, who studied to be a teacher before joining the company, never pressured his daughters into joining the family business – something his daughters appreciated.

“There’s still time for them (the next generation) to become interested in the business,” Wenzel said. “It’s important they go out, spread their wings; maybe they’ll come back here. Our father never forced the business on us; our interest developed over time.”

Growing up, all three worked at the company doing a variety of jobs, whether it was taking folders off the press while their grandfather watched – “We got paid 25 cents an hour and then would go get ice cream,” Wenzel recalled – or helping out in the office as needed.

Otto Zander and his press, 1926.
Otto Zander and his press, 1926.

Zander-Feinauer was the first sister to officially join Zander Press. She began working at the company during high school and started full-time after studying graphic design in college.
“I had the privilege of working with my dad for 19 years,” she said. “I watched him and learned a lot.”

When Zane and Noel Zander were getting close to retirement, they approached Zander-Feinauer and her cousin about buying the business. After that plan fell through, Zander-Feinauer approached her brother, who wasn’t interested. Next, she came to Bastian, who had worked outside the company before returning to Zander Press. She agreed to sign on as co-owner. The two then approached Wenzel, who had helped out in different areas through the years.

“Our dad wasn’t surprised that all three of us wound up here; he was very pleased we got involved. It just took 20 years,” she said.

The sisters hope members of the next generation will eventually take an interest.

“There’s still a lot of time,” Wenzel said. “Succession planning should be a process, not an event.”

Wenzel said the sisters have learned a lot from their participation in the Wisconsin Family Business Forum. She said the group provides not only education, but also a network that connects owners of other family businesses.

“The peer groups have been invaluable and you can speak freely,” Wenzel said. “No matter what kind of business it is or what the family dynamics are, we all have the same problems and the other members provide great feedback and advice.”

Zander-Feinauer said connecting with other family business owners has been especially important to their small enterprise, which does not have the specialists on staff that a larger company does.

“We may have an HR question. None of us are really HR specialists, but a larger company may have dealt with the same issue or have someone on staff they can ask,” she said. “The other members have our backs.”

The sisters also look out for each other. “Half of the people working here were here when Dad ran the place,” said Wenzel. “We’re all like family and that’s why we’ve been successful.”

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