Marking its 75th year, Midwest Unlimited, a family-owned Lincoln-based small equipment supply shop, has grown into a global distributor of contracting equipment and supplies, rigging, fall protection and safety equipment, tools, hardware, and workwear. Owner Jim Krupicka, an employee who bought the firm in 1999, credits its longevity to taking the time to understand customer needs and explaining the many products and solutions available.
“What we’ve built this business around is tower (cell) erectors, linemen, contractors, arborists, and rigging, general sporting professionals with fall protection, rigging and tower safety equipment and protective workwear,” Krupicka said.
The 15-employee firm, headquartered in 20,000 square feet at 1750 West O St. in Lincoln, earns about half its annual revenues from the sale and leasing of fall protection equipment.
Investing in Tech
Midwest Unlimited took an important growth step in 1992 by affiliating itself as a distributor of personal fall protection equipment from Alabama-based Elk River.
“Back in the ‘90s, as we grew, our customers ranged from Lincoln area roofers to bridge contractors,” Krupicka said.
Since then, Midwest Unlimited has invested heavily in the technology that enables it to sell or lease equipment to customers from throughout the U.S., the Caribbean, Mexico, and beyond. That geographic market expansion is also augmented by the annual production of a 200-page product catalog with a press run of about 20,000 copies.
Krupicka, a native of Wilbur, said Midwest Unlimited was on track for profitability in the early ‘90s as a three-employee firm in a 5,000-square-foot building when the decision was made to invest in the emerging online technology.
“Eventually the implementation of software enabled us to sell beyond the local roofer and contractor,” he said. “Eventually we were selling to customers all over the world.”
By managing sales in-house, including accounts payable, Krupicka found the technology could be used to get to know the newest customers and for Lincoln-based personnel to use weekly calls to foster growing relationships.
However, he said Midwest Unlimited has also harnessed technology to improve its operations day-to-day.
Midwest Unlimited does a lot of sales to the cellular phone industry to aid service technicians within a 400-mile radius.
“On a daily basis we get calls from the jobsite,” he said. “We get calls at 2 p.m. and by our shipping by air they will get what they need the next day.”
Software that monitors inventoried items available has been important to such rapid responses. Not only has electronics enabled Midwest Unlimited to increase the scope of its business throughout the country, it also aids local customers in getting their orders more rapidly — often the same day.
Drop-shipping —a supply chain management method in which the retailer directs their suppliers to ship directly to a customer — was used recently when a Kentucky cable installer’s tools were stolen from his truck.
Krupicka was a spunky and rebellious 20-year-old who enjoyed the outdoors and was planning to go to Alaska as a hunting guide, when he saw a job ad in 1992 for a mechanic at Midwest Unlimited.
“I had never seen a jackhammer, professional rigging and many of the other higher-end items we sell today,” he said. “In high school I was relatively smart but out of the 35 in my senior class I was not one of those expected to succeed.”
Krupicka, who had honed his mechanical skills at age 13 working part-time on stock cars at area racetracks, saw potential in doing repairs on lower-end equipment that was being leased, knowing that it would eventually be obsolete.
When Midwest Unlimited’s owner offered Krupicka, then 21, general manager responsibilities, he decided to give it a try.
Seven days after joining the business, Krupicka along with two of his closest friends, were seriously injured when the car they were in was t-boned by a drunk driver.
“During my recovery I was told that I would never recover from my back injuries or be able to lift more than 25 pounds,” Krupicka said. “That was not the life I wanted to live so I became determined to overcome my injuries.
“I stopped going to the doctor and did my own rehab just working hard … as I look back, this was a driving force at the time that caused my advancement at Midwest, as well as life in general.”
Back in the fold, Krupicka remembers several changes he made at Midwest Unlimited. First, he moved the firm from its building at 22nd & Y streets to a location that gave the company greater visibility.
Secondly, items that were the most requested were regularly moved within the display area in favor of introducing additional new merchandise to increase awareness of the depth of inventory carried. Third, he placed more emphasis on in-store demonstration of how concrete tools could be used.
He admits there’s been a lot of changes since original owner Dorothy Boyle opened the doors of Midwest Machinery & Supply Co. in 1947. “Midwest Unlimited” reflects a new direction and philosophy.
“We remain a small business that keeps its pencil sharp and aggressively works on operational efficiency,” he said.