“I blew in with the storms,” quipped United States Senator Chuck Grassley as he entered Merchandising Frontiers last Wednesday on the tail of violent winds that had blasted the county all day.
Grassley said he was determined to get a look at the company he had heard about and he seemed very impressed with what he saw.
“Iowans need to brag more about what is in this state – what is manufactured here – it’s amazing and we need to let people know how many tremendous things are accomplished by people in Iowa.”
The success of Merchandising Frontiers, Inc. (MFI) is worthy of some bragging.
Located in Winterset’s industrial park, on the north-east side of town, MFI designs and builds carts and kiosks, merchandising units, wall shops, cash wraps and custom merchandise display fixtures for food service and retail shopping markets for use all over the world.
As Grassley toured the facility, owners Jerry and Janet Mayer gave him an overview of the company’s history.
In the early 1980s, in Adel, a family owned company called Ala-Carte began to design, assemble and market vending pushcarts. Sales grew to over one million dollars by 1990 when a fire destroyed all the company’s finished product, inventory and production equipment. This, combined with the fact that the founder’s health was failing brought about the decision to sell.
Jerry and Janet Mayer, who had grown up in Iowa had successful careers in Seal Beach, California where Jerry managed the organization that fabricated and tested GPS satellites. However, the couple longed to return to Iowa and contacted a business broker to help them look for a business opportunity. After 400 hours of library research, 1,200 phone calls, 1,150 business letters and 20 trips, the Mayers decided to buy Ala-Carte. The purchase was made in May of 1993 and MFI was founded.
In 1994 a new 31,000 square foot facility was erected in Winterset. As the business grew so did the need for space. In 1998, the building was expanded to 62,000 square feet.
When Grassley toured MFI, the working area of the factory was largely empty but Janet Mayer explained that there were many times when all the space was taken up.
“When we were building the units for Universal Studios in Japan,” Janet said, “this area was totally full. We had over 50 units the size of our cars.”
Grassley examined the various kiosks that were in the shop, ready for shipping. He was especially interested in a food kiosk that was going to a Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Another set of kiosks were destined for a hospital in the south.
Grassley met and chatted with all of MFI’s employees who were present on Wednesday, including the engineers who design the many merchandising items manufactured by MFI.
Janet Mayer explained that the MFI team is able to integrate wood, plastic, glass, solid surface materials, laminates, stone, metals, electrical, plumbing, graphics, and food/beverage equipment on site.
Grassley, who appeared impressed with all that he saw, asked, “Do the people in Winterset know what you do out here?”
Grassley concluded his tour saying, “There is a great deal of cynicism about government right now. I try to get out and meet my constituents so they have a chance to tell me their concerns and I have a chance to know them and respond. I think it is important and I think it is important to let Iowans and others know what great things are being done in this state.”