Miller Products is as good as gold in the industry.
This month, the company is celebrating its 50th, or golden, anniversary of its location in Osceola.
“The longevity is kind of a special treat to be able to have stayed in business with all the competition and all of issues and all of the obstacles that get thrown at you over the years,” said Jack McFarland, president of Miller Products. “It’s quite a while to be in a community, too. It’s been very good for us.”
Miller Products was founded in 1936 as a bicycle dealer and kick-stand manufacturer. The business has evolved into a supplier of screw-machine products.
Miller Products manufactures a line of stock nonthreaded pins. This line includes a wide range of lock, hitch, bent and tension-lock-hitch pins. In addition to its stock line, they also manufacture custom-turned machine parts.
Fifty years ago, Miller Products was headquartered in Des Moines. However, it was decided the state’s capital wasn’t the best location or work climate to be headquartered at the time.
The options for the new Miller Products were the surrounding county-seat cities of Creston, Chariton, Osceola, Winterset, Norwalk and Perry. Eventually, the top two choices were narrowed down to Osceola and Perry.
The deciding factor was a stretch of newly-opened road.
“At that time, our biggest customer was in Des Moines, and just at that time in 1964, they opened and completed the first section of I-35 from Des Moines to Osceola,” McFarland said. “We knew we were going to be on that road every day making deliveries.”
Not a lot has changed in 50 years.
“We don’t make much noise,” McFarland said. “We’re about the same size we were when we came down here. Dollar volume is greater, but we don’t vary a lot in employment.”
Their products aren’t typically used locally and are shipped out all over the country.
Currently, Miller Products has approximately 40 employees. It does vary, though, from the low thirties in slower times to 99 employees at its peak.
McFarland said there is still work to be done with Miller Products letting people know the company is a mainstay here in town.
“That there is some really good opportunity,” he said. “We’re working harder now at trying to do that. But, for many, many, many years, people drove right by the plant to go get a ‘good’ job in Des Moines. Our jobs were as good or better. But, nobody stopped.”
Now, McFarland said, with the addition of other big businesses in Osceola, people will interview around town more often.
There are multiple reasons Miller Products has been in business for so long, McFarland said.
“I think the way we treat people, whether it’s customers or employees, has been a very strong factor,” he said. “We actually build relationships. I have several employees who have been here nearly as long as we have been. Several 40-year employees.”
He added, it’s a big deal when people stick around in a certain job or company for that long.
“We brought some things to town when we came to town that there wasn’t a lot of, as far as group health insurance and paid vacation time,” McFarland said. “There wasn’t a lot of that from other employers in town.”
What’s to come in the next 50 years for Miller Products? The future is still undecided.
“If it was up to me, I’d just work another 50 years, but that’s probably not a likelihood,” McFarland said with a smile.
Currently, McFarland is working with an outside firm that specializes in succession planning. They are putting together different scenarios of a succession plan to maintain the business and employment when a transition occurs.
“More common in closely held family businesses is if there’s a family member that would be involved,” McFarland said. “There isn’t. My daughters don’t have an interest in the pin business or the machine shop. So, probably not a family member.”
The next step would be to find a suitable business partner or purchaser of the business, either a person, group of people or another company.
“We really don’t know yet,” McFarland said. “We’re trying to position ourselves so we’re desirable for that to happen.”