Vollrath fills middle of restaurant niche

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:59 am

Vollrath Co. has a history stretching back to 1874, when it was called Sheboygan Cast Steel Co. and manufactured enameled cast iron utensils.

The Sheboygan-based company has gradually expanded its kitchen product line to more than 10,000 SKUs. It now has 12 locations and about 1,300 employees worldwide.

Paul Bartelt has been president and chief executive officer since 2009. He has honed in on the company’s “center of the restaurant” niche.

“About five years ago, we set out on focusing on a special part of the restaurant that we wanted to consolidate our sales into,” he said.

The center of the restaurant is where food is prepared, cooked and served. Vollrath makes products for every part of the restaurant, except the storage and front of house areas.

Rick Gustafson and Jim VanDeelen move steam table pans off a conveyor.

“The industry is consolidating, so restaurants and chains want to have fewer and fewer suppliers, so we’re trying to eventually become the one-stop shop for that part of the restaurant,” Bartelt said.

Its main customers are restaurants, food service operations, public schools, universities, museums, hotels, stadiums and large restaurant chains.

Vollrath has been acquiring other food service products manufacturing companies to expand its reach. It purchased Dane-based Traex Smallware in 2011 and Kiel-based Polar Ware Company, Kiel-based P.W. Stoelting LLC and Sun Prairie-based Acry Fab Inc. in 2012.

“We were fortunate enough to enter the recession with a pretty healthy balance sheet and there were some good bargains to be had,” Bartelt said.

Vollrath can manufacture custom mobile serving stations like this one.

This year, Bartelt has been taking the foot off the accelerator while the acquired firms are integrated.

“I would anticipate less acquisition activity since the economy’s coming back,” he said.

Instead, he is focusing on adding new segments.

“We’re going to grow where we have a less significant presence,” Bartelt said.

Vollrath is also putting the finishing touches on a 160,000- square-foot addition to its distribution space in Sheboygan.

As a whole, the company now has a total of 1.6 million square feet of facility space. The Sheboygan headquarters, manufacturing and distribution complex encompasses 800,000 square feet.

Each of the company’s plants specializes in a material set and type of manufacturing or equipment, Bartelt said. The Dane, Wis. facility focuses on plastic injection molding, while the Menomonee Falls plant does high-volume stamping, for example.

Vollrath’s kitchen products include everything from stainless steel utensils to plastic dishwashing containers to large mobile serving stations.

The company has manufactured the carts and kiosks used for concessions at Lambeau Field and the hot dog rollers at Kwik Trip.

In some areas, like steam table pans and bundt pans, Vollrath has up to 60 percent of the market share. In others, it has less than five percent, Bartelt said.

Vollrath recorded its third record sales year in a row in 2012. The company has annual revenue in the mid-$300 million range, Bartelt said.

It has added about 100 positions since the beginning of the year, not including the acquisitions, and is in the process of hiring for 30 open positions.

The last two acquisitions brought on 318 employees. Bartelt works to keep the company’s culture focused on the four stakeholders: ownership, employees, customers and the communities they live and work in.

In recent years Vollrath has also been insourcing some of its production from China as it becomes less expensive to manufacture at home. About 20 percent of the company’s production is still outside the U.S.

“The (insourcing) trend is still continuing as the sourcing dynamics in China slowly continue (and) as the Chinese government continues to slowly raise the cost of doing business in China,” Bartelt said.

Vollrath can also respond more quickly than Chinese competitors to menu changes at large U.S. chain restaurants and quickly manufacture the new equipment, he said.

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