While every manufacturing company has an abiding interest in making
money and turning a profit, this isn’t the
whole story. Every manufacturer is part of
a chain or a network that strives to make
better products that ultimately make the
world a better place. Whether the latest
innovation saves labor, provides more
convenience, enhances safety, or offers advancement in some other area,
manufacturers are part of a continuous
progress that improves people’s lives by
bringing better products to market.
This isn’t the only way a business can
improve the world, of course. A little
generosity can go a long way, and a lot of
generosity can do wonders. This is a core
value of U.S. Venture, Appleton, Wis.
One of the largest privately held companies in the state, it has exhibited unwavering generosity since it was established, a hallmark that has accompanied
the firm on its decades-long course of
growth and prosperity. Founded in 1951
by the tirelessly entrepreneurial Schmidt
brothers—Art, Ray, and Bill—the company relies on values the brothers learned
from their parents, Albert and Margaret
A Foundation in Fuels
Albert Schmidt’s career planted the seed
that eventually would become a vast
corporate entity. He had a fuel delivery
route, and his sons started a company
that is still heavily involved in fuels to
this day. Founded as Schmidt Brothers
Oil in 1951, the company was renamed
U.S. Oil in 1966, and then in 2010, the
company rebranded itself as U.S. Venture
Inc., with the vision to be the very best
value-adding distributor of products that
vehicles consume in North America. In
addition to distributing fuels and lubricants, it is nationwide distributor of products that are needed under every passenger car and light truck: tires, brakes,
handling components, and exhaust.
The company’s vision describes its
market, and the Schmidt brothers would
have had trouble finding a market that
was destined for greater expansion. The
nation’s automobile market nearly tripled
since the company was founded, increas-
ing from 6.275 million units sold in 1951
to 17.865 million in 2016.
Throughout decades of growth, the
company has become four separate entities.
• U.S. Oil is a value-adding distributor, marketer, trader, and terminal
operator of fuels and renewable energy
products. As such, it moves 28. 5 million
barrels of oil per year through pipelines,
1.8 million barrels by barge, 1 million
by rail, and nearly a million by truck. It
also operates 21 terminals, 18 of which
it owns. Products include refined petroleum products, oil, and biofuels.
• U.S. AutoForce® distributes more
than 12 brands of tires for applications
as varied as passenger, recreational, light
truck, performance, commercial, and agricultural. It also carries brake systems,
suspension and ride control products,
exhaust systems, and lubricants.
• U.S. Lubricants carries lubricants
for essentially every application imaginable: automobiles; heavy equipment
used in construction, forestry, mining,
military, and marine applications; and
industrial and metalworking lubricants
for manufacturers and paper mills.
• U.S. Gain provides compressed
natural gas to fleet operators. The company is building a network of stations
along major trucking corridors to provide
easy access to its fast filling stations. Its
short-term goal is to establish 100 stations throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Hard work, integrity, and a willingness to take calculated risks were the
values that the elder Schmidt instilled in
his sons, and that mindset is what pushed
the brothers and now a team of dedicated employees to grow the business to
become a much larger and diversified
company with more than 1,300 employees across the country. The growth came
from a combination of relentless efforts
to explore new business opportunities
and careful financial planning.
Fabricating Steel Pipe
For a company turning over more than
30 million barrels of oil annually, run-
ning 21 oil terminals, and keeping an in-
ventory of nearly 90,000 tires in its ware-
houses, not to mention countless brake
calipers, shock absorbers, and myriad
other suspension and exhaust items, it
seems almost beyond belief that it would
have a pipe fabrication shop. Yet, it does.
The company has always been a distributor of nationally recognized automotive products, but decades ago when
it saw an opportunity in the exhaust
business, it decided to make its own exhaust pipes. Dick Vosters, who manages
the pipe shop that operates as part of the
U.S. AutoForce business, recalled that
the pipe shop opened in 1980 and, as
a recent high school graduate, Vosters
was hired to fabricate pipe in 1983.
Under the guidance of Ray Schmidt,
U.S. AutoForce purchased its second and
third bending machines late in 1983, and
the company needed to ramp up its staffing in the pipe shop quickly.
The timing was good. The price of
crude oil, which had doubled in 1979,
was falling rapidly, and the two back-to-back recessions of 1980 and 1981 were
history. The 1980s would be a decade of
growth and prosperity. The next recession, which occurred in 1990, was a long
Technical conferences, educational
books, and instructional videos about
bending tube were a long way off, too.
“We did a lot of learn-on-the-go in the
early days,” Vosters said. In those days,
most automakers outfitted cars with exhaust systems made from steel. They
didn’t last long, so business was good.
The fabricators at U.S. AutoForce did a
lot and along the way they learned a lot,
both in fabricating and management.
Over the decades, the pipe shop personnel have applied the entrepreneurial
spirit exhibited by the Schmidt brothers
as the industry and U.S. AutoForce have
Fabricate and Verify. Making an exhaust pipe is one thing; verifying that it
will fit is something else. The pipe shop
needed check fixtures, and many of
them. Because automotive exhaust systems have a little leeway, the fabrication
staff knew they could handle making