Behind the List with Nelson Zimmerman
vice president of Paul B. Zimmerman Inc.’s powder coating division, Keystone Koating
Q: Tell us about your company's history and when you joined.
A: Paul B. Zimmerman Inc. was founded in 1947 by my father as a small general repair shop and hardware store that shared one location in a small, 3,200-square-foot building. We lived adjacent to the business, so it was an integral part of family life. Officially, I became employed in my late teens, but all members of the family were involved in some way at a much younger age.
In 1986, the Keystone Koating division was formed to apply powder coatings to provide a better finish for the cattle equipment we manufactured. A significant step of growth took place in 1992, when a new hardware store was constructed off Main Street, Ephrata, along Wood Corner Road.
Currently, we have retail hardware stores, PaulB Hardware, in two locations; manufacturing, PBZ, in two locations; and powder coating, Keystone Koating, in three locations. Our hardware stores service businesses in agriculture, construction and industrial sectors. Homeowner trade is also a significant portion of sales.
In addition to manufacturing crop spraying and vegetable harvesting equipment, our manufacturing division also offers job shop services in welding, laser cutting and bending. The powder coating division offers job shop powder coating and related services. We currently employ more than 250 people.
How many family members are still involved and in what capacities?
Currently there are 15 family members included in ownership, with several additional family members who are not owners. Family members hold positions in all levels of management and leadership. It has been a priority to integrate family members into the business in positions and responsibilities that best fit their strengths.
Our mission statement reflects these values: “Paul B. Zimmerman Inc. is a family business with a tradition of serving people and helping customers in the spirit of Christ. We are called to use our God-given talents and ingenuity to benefit our customers, employees, the church and community.”
How has technology changed the industry since the company was founded and since you've been involved?
Through the 38 years I have been involved in the business, technology has changed exponentially. Use of computers in everything — from accounting to machine controls and automation — has affected the way business and manufacturing is done. Vast amounts of information and data is readily available to help in making business decision and forecasts. Sometimes we may be less inclined to make decisions on intuition than we have in the past as we become more reliant on the information available to us. However, a healthy balance between technology, information and intuition is important in making business decisions.
Computerization and automation is also a significant part of the crop-spraying equipment we manufacture. Tractors and spray equipment can now be controlled and guided using GPS equipment. This brings a high level of accuracy in applying chemicals to crops, increasing environmental safety and effective control of pests.
Did the weather over the past few growing seasons have a major impact on your business?
The weather has had minimal direct effect on our ag-related business. Poor yields of crops in the Midwest have made it much more costly for farmers to purchase the grain needed to feed their cattle. Federal mandates for ethanol production have also added to the high cost of corn for most farmers.
Since a significant portion of our customer base is either involved in agriculture or ag support businesses, these challenges do eventually affect our business.
What challenges have your companies faced recently?
An ever-changing economy requires an ever-changing business strategy. Reduced inventories, shorter delivery cycles, adjusting employee work hours and the number of employees are a few of the areas that have been affected. We care about the families of our employees, and any time changes are needed that make life more difficult for an employee's family, it does not feel good.
Our businesses are very diverse, serving a number of sectors of the economy, which tends to reduce the overall impact on the business as a whole. We also have been blessed with an outstanding team of employees that are dedicated to serving our customers.
About Nelson Zimmerman
Nelson Zimmerman, 55, lives in Ephrata Township with Judy, his wife of 34 years. They have four children, ages 20 to 31. “I deeply appreciate my family and the love and support we can be to each other,” he said.
His interests include community and church involvement, aviation — he is a private pilot — and photography.