Their motto says it all: “Generations of family, opportunity and relationships.”
Since 1952, ownership at Associated Finishing Inc. has remained deeply committed to its family of employees, providing opportunities for growth whenever possible. When it’s time for one generation of owners to pass the torch to the next, there’s always a family member or seasoned employee waiting in the wings and ready to rise to the challenge.
When John Kapsner decided it was time to sell his interest in AFI last year, he didn’t have to go far to find buyers. The AFI management team jumped at the chance to purchase his stake in the company and put some skin in the game.
In January 2021, majority owner and President Ted Schreyer welcomed a young but seasoned group into the ownership circle. They are operations manager Jammey Harroun, controller and human resources manager Ryan Kapsner (John Kapsner’s son), sales and marketing manager Matt Miller and facilities manager Mick Rykhus.
“I’m proud to be an owner,” Ryan Kapsner said. “We have a great group with a good age gap. Matt and Mick are in their 30s, Jammey and I are in our 40s and Ted is in his 50s. Together we have a lot of experience, and a good plan to continue to grow and keep this a family-run business into the future.”
60 Years of Growth
AFI originally started as Associated Engineering, shifting its focus to painting and powder coating and its name to Associated Finishing in 1976. Today, it is one of Minnesota’s largest metal finishing companies, with 110 employees and three locations – two in Mankato and one in Litchfield.
The company’s niche is providing industrial finishing services, from the simple to the complex. Simple services include powder coating and liquid painting. Complex services are, well, complex. It’s a one-stop shop offering a full spectrum of finishing options, from surface preparation to assembly.
“We get into all kinds of different things: different pre-treatments for different metals, complex masking, special dye cuts, silk screening and pad printing,” Miller said. “We’re known around the Midwest as the best masker around. We take on some pretty tough jobs and make them our own.”
Ivy Halvorson silkscreening text onto a part.
The majority of AFI’s customers are located in Minnesota, Iowa or South Dakota, within a 150-mile radius of one of its plants. However, it also attracts requests from clients across the U.S. that require a unique process that only AFI can provide.
“We have long-standing relationships with our customers. Most have been with us for five-plus years, 10-plus years. Some have been with us for 20 to 30 years,” Miller said. “We have lots of loyal customers.”
The company serves various industries, including agriculture, construction, transportation, medical and the military. Many of their customers are household names, like John Deere and Caterpillar, that require vigorous vendor qualification processes.
“We have to get certified through our entire process to be a John Deere vendor,” Ryan Kapsner said. “After we coat the part, it goes through multiple tests, from salt spray to gasoline to oil to impact resistance testing.”
AFI prides itself on its family-oriented service, flexible approach, and ability to process any volume and any size parts.
“That combination is what sets us apart,” Miller said. “Other companies might be able to be flexible, but they can’t process any volume, any size like we can, or they can’t offer the kind of personalized service we can. That’s what makes us unique.”
Providing family-oriented service is the heart of the company’s culture. The AFI owners view their team and loyal customer base as extended family and strive to treat them with the respect and dedication that family deserves.
“Relationships are a big deal for us,” Miller said. “This is our passion; generations of family, opportunities and relationships. So we really look out for each other.”
“I can go around and call everybody by their first name, and I pride myself on that,” Ryan Kapsner said. “They’re not a number, they’re people, and we treat them as individuals.”
A Flexible Approach
Flexibility is a core value at AFI, and it’s part of every process, from hiring to equipment selection to scheduling. On the production floor, modular and mobile equipment allows the company to adapt its lines to fit each project.
“If you build a piece of equipment or a line or a station only to do one thing or so it’s set in one place, then you can’t ever change it. It’s hard to be flexible,” Miller said. “A lot of the stations we set up are movable. A lot of the equipment is on wheels, or it can do multiple processes. So we can switch back and forth for whatever comes in that day.”
AFI’s 110-person workforce is also flexible. It takes a certain kind of employee to deliver on that promise. Ryan Kapsner said he looks for specific qualities when he is hiring.
“We follow the acronym FARM: flexible, attention to detail, reliability and motivation. Those are our four core values,” Ryan Kapsner said. “It takes the right person to work in a manufacturing plant. When I do interviews, I base my questions on our core values, so we hire individuals who are a good fit for AFI. One of our mottos is: You’ve got to get the right person in the right seat, or the bus doesn’t drive.”
Once hired, all employees are trained in multiple areas to meet whatever tasks the day might bring.
“We require everyone who works here to be flexible. You can’t just be good at one job and that’s the only thing you do. You have to be able to change and move,” Miller said.
This principle applies to company management, as well. When things get busy, you’ll find them all out on the line, doing whatever it takes to get projects out the door on time.
“That’s just who we are,” Miller said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re not afraid to get dirty.”
Project scheduling is flexible, too, to meet customers’ demands for rapid turnarounds. To accommodate them, the AFI team works seven days a week.
“We run three shifts: first shift, night shift and then a weekend shift, as well. So we’re basically running 24/7,” Ryan Kapsner said. “Customers like our weekend shift. If their project is really hot, we can turn some parts on Friday and get them back to the customer on Monday. So we can help them out that way.”
Any Volume, Any Size
AFI is also flexible in the type and scope of projects it can tackle. It offers a full spectrum of services that can take a component from raw, unfinished metal to a beautifully finished product with custom branding that is ready for market.
“The finish is the last process, but it’s the first thing that the customers see. So it has to be a nice, smooth finish. It has to look good,” Ryan Kapsner said.
The company accepts project quantities from a single unit up to a huge production run. It can accommodate component sizes ranging from 1-by-1-inch screws to 40-foot dump truck beds.
“That’s something that sets us apart from our competition,” Miller said. “We can do any volume from one to 10,000 and any size up to 40 feet long.”
AFI’s strategy appears to be working. The company has seen a surge in demand and is planning for future growth. It has the equipment and the capacity to deliver more. Moreover, once it outgrows its current space, there’s room for expansion on its Mankato campus.
“If you’re not growing, you’re going backward,” Ryan Kapsner said. “That’s part of business. It’s a fun ride. We’re definitely growing; we’ve just got to be smart when we grow.”
The management team is also looking for opportunities to broaden its geographic footprint into other parts of Minnesota and Iowa.
“Up to 35 to 40 percent of our work is ag-related. We’re very good at it,” Miller said. “So it makes a lot of sense for us to be looking throughout the Midwest’s GreenSeam for more opportunities.”
Associated Finishing Inc.
320 Mallard Lane
Mankato, MN 56001
Phone: (507) 345-5861
Photography by Jonathan Smith