In 1985 two young men from Iowa ventured north and purchased a business together. Tired of toiling on the farm, Jeff and Tom looked for a way to escape rural life and fulfill their dreams of building something of their own. Previously, Jeff had experience selling straw and harvesting wheat and considered starting his own business in agriculture. Farming, however, didn’t offer the same level of opportunity as other industries. Instead they looked at two different companies, one a furniture manufacturer and the other a landscaping company. Manufacturing in particular interested them because it had the same values as farming but in a more technological way. One day Tom and Jeff looked at an old bindery called United Ruling and Binding. The company produced binders with vintage equipment but there was a lot of opportunity to improve the business. Three months later they bought it and the rest is history.
Iowa farm life
Buying a business for the first time and at such a young age was gratifying for the Polacek brothers but it didn’t come without its challenges. For one, they didn’t have much prior business experience. Both of them studied agriculture at Iowa State and while they experimented with different ventures, they never ran such a large operation. The biggest issue initially was that they didn’t know anything about the industry. Things like the target market, vendor relations, economic trends and best practices eluded them and they had to learn on the fly. Jeff even admitted that at first he thought that the company was getting rich after seeing money in the bank account increasing but he later found out that no one was paying the bills. Mistakes like these made things difficult but Jeff and Tom battled and began to understand what Trendex was good at and how to improve.
Early Trendex Plant
Life at the factory proved to be the right decision for the two owners. Helped by the stability of an existing business and old employees who had experience in the industry, Jeff and Tom learned how to thrive as managers. They relished the challenge of competing against other companies and having to take quick and decisive actions. Their ability to think outside of the box and add new product lines created new opportunities for the business. Investments in new machinery increased efficiency and expanded capabilities. Most importantly, they created a distinct company culture that set the foundation for the entire business. When hiring new employees they made sure that candidates had integrity, desire to work, a great attention to detail and were committed to delivering results. They then managed through what they call responsible independence. Employees can do their individual jobs better than managers. Never micromanage; just help and steer them toward success. These kinds of improvements are why Trendex has survived to this day and will continue to live on in the future.
Jeff and Tom in 2017
Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks for Part 2 of our series: History of Trendex. We will discuss how Trendex has managed to grow in a shrinking industry.