Feature Story

It’s All in the Family

Herman Manufacturing is a family-owned, family-run business. Pictured above are four generations of the Herman Family. Pictured, from left to right are John P. Herman, Joann Schroeder, Mark Herman, Zack Kuhns and John F. Herman.

There is something special about a business that has stood the test of time. For more than fifty years, Herman Manufacturing has remained a family-owned and family-run business. In a time when corporate mergers and buy-outs seem to be the norm, this hometown business continues to flourish after years of flying under the radar in the community of Wells, Minnesota. What makes this business exceptional are its underlying values of family, community, employee satisfaction and customer service.

Herman Manufacturing Co., Inc. started on the farm of John Francis Herman in 1971. The part-time business consisted of the production of snow blowers for tractors and hog gates.

“It was just winter work for him,” said John Paul Herman of Herman Manufacturing. John Francis was primarily a farmer but started his side business with the basic understanding of manufacturing he carried with him after building mini-bikes and snowmobiles for a time at Herter’s Outdoor Goods in New Richland.

John Paul (JP) left Wells as a young man to work in a machine shop in Minneapolis for a couple of years, where he helped to build many machine parts, including parts for the first Pringles Potato Chip machines.

“After a couple of years, I figured if the guy I worked for could do it, so could I,” JP said. “At the ripe old age of 21, I ventured off to start my own manufacturing business.”

JP returned to Wells, and in 1978 he transformed his father’s small side business into a contract machining and welding company. What he initially thought would be a one-person shop grew quickly. The need for his services soon outweighed his solo abilities, so after six years in business, he recruited his brother, Mark Herman, to help him run and develop his business further.

Fast-forward to 2023. Herman Manufacturing now has 44 years as a custom manufacturer under its belt and has made a name for itself doing specialized contract work for a wide variety of companies.

“We predominantly work with companies that are building machines that are not going to be used in-house,” JP said. “They are going to sell it to somebody who makes a product.”

Hayden Anderson prepares custom products for shipment in the packaging area of Herman Manufacturing.

For example, these companies may sell a machine that labels pop bottles or fills food trays. Each machine needs frames, pieces, bars, and other components, all of which can be created at Herman Manufacturing.

“A lot of these places do very little machining in-house,” JP said. This is because many types of machining and welding equipment are required to make the different parts of each product. For instance, a bottle labeling machine needs various tooling to label different sizes and bottle configurations. So, it’s more cost-efficient to hire an external manufacturing company to provide machining and welding services.

The products created at Herman Manufacturing are used predominantly in the Upper Midwest; however, custom items ship to customers all over the country, and even the world. These customers send Herman Manufacturing detailed blueprints or Computer-Aided Design (CAD) drawings detailing the specifications for the part they need. Machinists and welders fill custom orders using manual machines and Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) machines. CNC machines are utilized specifically for complex pieces and cuts.

“When I joined the company, we had five employees,” Mark said. “I wanted to join the family business and help it grow.”

And grow, they have. As the business evolved, it needed more space to house new machining and welding equipment, some of which is large enough to build a car. So whenever a building became available in Wells, the Hermans acquired it and expanded their enterprise further. Today, Herman Manufacturing has grown from one shed on John Francis’ farm to seven shops in and around Wells.

Along with its expanding physical space, the demand for Herman Manufacturing’s services has required many more people to join the team. The total number is now approximately 50 full-time and part-time employees. Together, the Herman team builds a diverse product line customized to meet their customers’ needs.

“We make everything from parts for doors that go on an airplane hangar down to pieces you can hold in the palm of your hand and everything in between,” JP said.

Over the years, Herman Manufacturing products have included specialty tools for space shuttle fuel tanks, awnings for race car trailers, parts for food machines, parts for food packaging, parts and components for doors and computer chips.

JP puts the technology into the layman’s perspective.

“We make parts for machines that make breakfast cereal shapes, and the technology behind that is just like a Play-Doh fun factory,” he said.

Over the decades, JP has seen many changes in the business world. Perhaps Herman Manufacturing’s steadfast values have allowed it to stay the course while other companies succumbed to sales, mergers and the like.

“I’ve seen a lot of businesses around that get sold and aren’t run the same way. They have changed dynamics incredibly,” JP said.

Even with all these changes, the strong relationships built by JP, Mark, and the team have prevailed. Although business names and owners have changed through the years, Herman Manufacturing still has customers today that started back with them in 1978.

“I have several companies that I started with right at the very beginning making parts for, but none of them are owned by the same people or same corporations,” JP said.

“Word of mouth is our best advertising,” chief financial officer Cindy Herman said. “Our partners continue to send work to Herman even if they change companies.”
Many manufacturing companies limit their business to specific industries, such as agriculture or automotive, but Herman Manufacturing has found success in diversification.

It works with approximately 30 businesses in varying industries. In addition, they have diversified even more by customizing their services.

“We have our eggs in a whole lot of baskets,” Cindy said.

Andy Stenzel, a 33-year veteran at Herman Manufacturing, prepares stainless steel bars for welding.

This business model has kept the business safe during trying economic times.

“We are in so many industries that it has helped us through recessions quicker because different facets of the economy are affected at different times in the recession,” JP said.

“I started this business in the middle of a recession and didn’t even realize it.”

In addition to diversification and customization of services, the values held by JP and Mark have stayed consistent – family, community, employee satisfaction and customer service. Of all the lessons learned to pass along to the next generation of Herman Manufacturing, perhaps the most important are the unchanging values that have made their business stand the test of time, the first of which is family.

“It’s important to me to have this business be in Wells and stay in Wells and to give employment to people and my family if they want it,” JP said.

Of the nearly 50 people JP and Mark employ at Herman Manufacturing, many are from Wells, and others are drawn from the surrounding communities of Blue Earth, Austin, and Albert Lea. As a family-owned and family-run business, it also employs many members of the extended Herman family.

“If I can find work for my family, I will,” JP said.

Currently, there are ten family members in the business. Each family member has a role to play in the business, although neither JP nor Mark wants to put a label on those roles.

“I don’t like titles,” JP said. “Just do your job.”

Learning the business from the ground up is something of a tradition as well.

“We have several generations of family working in the business,” Mark said. “This ensures that the company will continue into the future, when according to JP, it will still be family-run.

For the duration of the business, each generation of the family has trained the next. For example, Helen Herman, JP and Mark’s mother, trained JP’s wife, Cindy, as a bookkeeper. Now Cindy is training her grandson’s partner to do the same.

JP has realized in recent years that he needs to take all the business knowledge he’s stored away in his mind and convert it into accessible information and training for the family members that will carry on his legacy. According to JP, when his grandson Zack Kuhns saw him up in a cherry picker in one of the shops, he hollered: “Grandpa, be careful. I have an awful lot I have to learn from you yet!”

While the business has grown significantly over the last 44 years, it remains something of a mystery to the region.

“We don’t make anything with our name on it. Everything we make is for somebody else,” JP said.

Although residents of the region may not fully understand what Herman Manufacturing does in its machining and welding shops, everyone in the Wells area knows that the two brothers who run the business are equally passionate about their commitment to the community.

Born and raised in Wells, JP and Mark came back after a brief leave to the Twin Cities to run Herman Manufacturing and raise their families.

“We want to be an important business in our community by providing jobs for the area residents,” Mark said.

The brothers are also active in the community. Mark has spent many years on the United South Central School Athletic Boosters Board, was on the St. Casimir’s Catholic School Board and coached several sports teams through the years. In addition to 23 years as a volunteer ambulance driver, JP has represented his community on the City Council and the Economic Development Commission. However, he noted with amusement that some might claim he’s bad for economic development due to his tendency to buy up any available business property.

Because family is important to JP and Mark, they provide flexibility to their employees so they can also dedicate time to their families and achieve work-life balance. This policy has proven to be a key component of employee satisfaction.

“We have always been a family-oriented company,” Mark said.

Employees at Herman Manufacturing enjoy flexible start and stop times for their shifts with the expectation that they will put in the required hours for their jobs. This flexible scheduling allows employees to create a schedule that works best for them and their families, with flexibility for school pick-ups, appointments and other essential activities. It also works out well for the business because when some employees start early while others finish late, it essentially creates a shift and a half of production hours.

“I want the employees to live their job around their life,” JP said. This includes employees being able to attend events and appointments for their families during work hours.

At Herman Manufacturing, they are conscious of the comfort and health of their employees. Each of the seven buildings is air-conditioned, and air quality is maintained with special masks, testing and machines that clean the air around the welding machines creating a healthy work environment.

Customer service has been another steadfast commitment for the Herman Manufacturing team. It’s easy to see why they have retained customers for over 40 years. JP, Mark, and Zack divide their customer base between the three of them in order to cultivate quality one-on-one relationships with their customers.

“It is a small business type attitude,” JP said. “Between the three of us, we make it flow altogether, but as far as from the outside in, customers are dealing with the same guy all the time, and they know if they need something, we can help them.”

They also always give their customers a fair price, are upfront and honest with them, don’t require a lead time and, perhaps most importantly, strive to be a resource for their customers.

“If you don’t have a source or know a source, send it to JP, and he will do it or tell you who can,” said Cindy. “JP bends over backwards to keep his customers happy.”
Mark agrees: “We go above the expectations that our customers have for us.”

Being a resource for customers also means being a good business partner to other businesses in the machining and welding industry. Collaborating instead of competing is key to Herman Manufacturing’s success.

“We have strived through the years to not have anyone be our competitor,” JP said.

“They do work for us, and we do work for them,” Cindy said. “If there is something that we can’t do, we’ll send it on to somebody that does work for us or that we do work for.”

One good example is the partnership Herman Manufacturing shares with Winnebago Manufacturing.

“We send parts back and forth all the time,” JP said. “We do stuff that they don’t do, and they do stuff that we don’t do. So I am a customer to them, and I am also a supplier to them.”

These types of partnerships allow the company to be more versatile. It can offer so much more to its customers because of the many partnerships it has developed, bidding on work that is partly done in-house and partly outsourced. As a result, it makes the company a one-stop shop for its customers.

“The more versatile you can become, the more work you can do,” JP said. That also includes outsourcing services such as powder coating or painting.

JP believes Herman Manufacturing’s strength lies in its ability to do so many different things for its customers, which is undoubtedly true. Still, it could be argued that its greatest strength is its commitment to long-held principles in a world that is changing fast. The values of family, community, employee satisfaction and customer service are modeled from the top down. For years to come, these values will continue to allow this humble business to fly under the radar as it provides quality service and an employee-friendly work environment to southern Minnesota.


Herman Manufacturing
650 3rd St NW
Wells, MN 56097
Phone: (507) 553-6241
Web: hermanmfg.com

Photography by Susan Bottin

Christine Nessler

A freelance writer from Mankato.