Crafts, Inc. leader plans for the future

Company thrived after leadership shakeup

Crafts, Inc.’s 70th anniversary celebration turned into a true family affair, with more than 200 employees and their families attending.

Crafts, Inc.
3403 Menasha Ave., Manitowoc
Product or Service: Roofing & sheet metal contractor
Year Founded: 1946
Founding Family:

  • Leonard “Spike” Kraft, Founder
  • Bob Weinert, Chairman
  • Steve Weinert, President


This year, Crafts, Inc. of Manitowoc will celebrate 70 years as a family business. While not without challenges, the company has grown significantly, and is now a third-generation roofing and sheet metal contractor,  serving clients throughout Wisconsin.

Steve Weinert, president of Crafts, Inc., has not only led the company through several stages of growth, he’s also led the company through a crucial strategic restructuring.

Workers install a Crafts, Inc. metal roof.
Workers install a Crafts, Inc. metal roof.

“I took over in 2010, and since then we’ve basically transformed the firm,” he said. “We are twice the size we were at that point, and have also gone through significant changes in regards to leadership – we kind of pushed a big reset button.”

The journey to a more focused future

Crafts, Inc. was founded in 1946. At the time, the company consisted of several divisions that specialized in roofing and sheet metal, electrical, and heating and appliance sales. In 1952, the company divisions separated to form independent companies.

Leonard “Spike” Kraft, Weinert’s maternal grandfather, retained the Crafts, Inc. name, and the roofing and sheet metal business.

It’s the only division of the original company still in existence.

Bob Weinert, Leonard’s son-in-law and Steve’s father, purchased the company in 1967.

Steve Weinert, president of Crafts, Inc.
Steve Weinert, president of Crafts, Inc.

Steve grew up in the business, sweeping floors and working in the warehouse. He earned his journeyman card as a roofer before enlisting in the U.S. Army.

Steve later earned his MBA in production management and took a job as lead for several shoe factories at a family-owned business in England.

“It was really an interesting job,” Steve said. “I had about 450 people working in my group of plants. I gained a lot of perspective and experience.”

He rejoined Crafts, Inc. in the late 1980s and served in various roles, including project manager and vice president.

Eventually, a breakdown in family trust forced Bob Weinert and his board to re-evaluate the direction of the company.

Key members of the family leadership team were replaced, and Steve took over.

It wasn’t easy for anybody, and the legal proceedings surrounding the issues would go on for several more years. But the company survived – and thrived.

“During that time we were really focused,” he said. “We took a look at our company and thought about our value statement – why we wanted to be in business.”

The team eliminated unprofitable product lines and market segments, and even let go of customers they couldn’t service while making a profit, he said.

Today, the company has offices in Manitowoc and Appleton, employs about 80 people and has a plan to continue its growth trajectory.

The tough conversations that must be had

The shakeup of the leadership team was eye-opening for everyone involved in the business, Steve said.

“All of our existing agreements sort of got shattered throughout the changing of roles,” he said.

After 70 years in business, Crafts, Inc. continues to innovate. Today it is one of the nation’s top suppliers of “green” roofing.
After 70 years in business, Crafts, Inc. continues to innovate. Today it is one of the nation’s top suppliers of “green” roofing.

With the help of its accounting and legal teams, and utilizing resources through the Wisconsin Family Business Forum (WFBF) at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, the family was able to not only get everything back on track, but also prepare for generations to come.

“Like so many things, this process is about communication,” said Stephen Shellman, manager at Schenck, SC, who worked with Crafts Inc., during the process. “The first thing to do is identify the stakeholder goals – not just the shareholders, but the employees, and even other family members not directly involved in the business. Those goals will help define the process.”

Just recently, the family completed the documentation that would provide Steve with options regarding the family trust and the voting shares of the company in the event something happens to his parents.

“It’s never an easy conversation to have, but everyone approached the conversation from the perspective of the business and what’s best for the business moving forward,” he said.

It’s a process that can at times be difficult, but open and honest intentions are important.

“You have to think about contingency plans for the unknown, and sometimes it’s difficult to talk about contingencies without making them sound like absolutes or scaring people to the point where they don’t want to deal with any of it,” Steve said.

This was a delicate, but important, conversation that Steve initiated with the help of the company’s outside partners, including the WFBF.

Bob Weinert, now in his late 70s, still serves as chairman of Crafts, Inc. According to Steve, his father has been part of the business for nearly 60 years, and still works with a few of the company’s long-term clients, but mostly his role has become a strategic one.

His mother, JoAnn, daughter of the original founder, Leonard Kraft, can remember being involved in the family business since she was 7 years-old.

Steve meets regularly with his parents to discuss the business and its future.

Bob and JoAnn currently own one-third of the company, including all of the voting shares, he said.

“My father has retained the voting shares since he purchased the company in 1967.”  Today, those shares exist as part of his parents’ trust.

Crafts, Inc.’s 70th anniversary celebration turned into a true family affair, with more than 200 employees and their families attending.
Crafts, Inc.’s 70th anniversary celebration turned into a true family affair, with more than 200 employees and their families attending.

Steve currently owns two-thirds of the company, all non-voting shares. He acquired the first third when he became president, and the second in August 2013 as the shakeup with the leadership team was coming to an end.

“It really felt like part of the healing process – the culmination of the legal work and putting in place a new, formal plan to handle the estate moving forward,” he said.

Steve is currently the only blood family member involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.

He and his wife, Alison, have three adult sons. One works as a chemical engineer, a second is finishing up a computer science degree and a third is working on a degree from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in geo-spatial intelligence.

“Right now, they are doing their own things. I respect that,” he said.

A strong, flexible plan for the future

The company’s new plan provides some flexibility in regards to the next generation.

When it comes time for Steve, 57, to step away from the company, his children will have options that could include passive holding responsibilities, a purchase agreement or, if they end up taking interest in the business, an opportunity to earn a spot in leadership.

For Steve, however, the “family” in family business extends beyond blood.

“We have several second-, third- and even fourth-generations of families working with us,” Steve said. “A lot of the younger employees have expressed interest in solidifying their future with the company, and we’re definitely open to that.”

The restructuring process has allowed the company to begin making room for those changes to happen. Several individual promotions were made recently in the company to help diversify leadership responsibilities and build the management team.

In 2016, Crafts, Inc. celebrated 70 years in business.
In 2016, Crafts, Inc. celebrated 70 years in business.

Currently, Crafts Inc., is a little too small for it, but Steve said he “has a lot of respect” for companies with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in place.

“Some day, if we achieve enough growth, we can have everyone participate,” he said. “The biggest thing we’re doing is setting up a flexible program that will allow us to adjust and adapt as we grow. We want to be ready for any possibility that presents itself.”

Ready for whatever tomorrow has in store

The company is not done growing, Steve said.

Crafts Inc. has pioneered several roof systems and construction methods throughout the years, and continues to innovate.

“The demographics in our company are unique, and skewed younger,” he said. “The younger workforce here is driving change and innovation at an unprecedented level.”

The culture at the company is one of collaboration. Retirees at the company often stay on in a small capacity to help train the next generation.

“They want to be involved, they want to impart skills and ‘pass the baton,’ so-to-speak,” Steve said.

Steve recognizes that people are the company’s most important asset, and the company remains committed to ongoing training and growth opportunities.

“I’ve quickly learned that our company is much better off if I surround myself with people smarter than me,” Steve said. “Our employees are driving a lot of the change and growth in our industry.”

According to Crafts, Inc. president Steve Weinert, family is tightly woven into the company culture.
According to Crafts, Inc. president Steve Weinert, family is tightly woven into the company culture.

Since the reorganization, Crafts, Inc. has developed an online interactive web portal for clients to quickly and easily access their order and warranty information. They’ve implemented the use of new adhesives and are a leading company in vegetative and sustainable – or “green” – roofs throughout the Midwest.

“The culture of innovation and change here makes everything a lot of fun,” Steve said. “It makes you want to come to work.”

At 57, Steve has started to think about retirement, but will probably take a less conventional route, similar to those of his grandfather and father.

When Steve’s grandfather sold the business to Bob, he went on to become a successful construction safety engineer in the nuclear industry and still plays a significant role in the company. Steve envisions himself making several transitions of leadership.

“For me, it’s about disciplining myself to not ‘just do it myself,’” he said. “I have a very talented and successful team in place, and I’m going through the process now of trying to balance staying relevant while also letting them lead and grow on their own.”

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