DECEMBER 2010
                                        

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Midwest Equipment Sales
Jim Ashmus • 262-859-1888

“Grandpa was a gold miner,” Jim Ashmus said as a prelude to the family’s history in the recycling business, “He went into recycling after World War II.” That business started off recycling the surplus army equipment left after the war. “He traveled all over the world,” Ashmus said.

That business later transitioned into buying, selling and recycling mining equipment; a natural choice considering grandpa had worked in the mining business and had hands-on experience with the equipment.

“Mom and dad owned a sand and gravel pit,” Ashmus continued. “I was sort of born into the recycling business.” But like his father before him, Ashmus’s father also transitioned his business into something else. “In 1962, my father bought the property here,” Ashmus said, referring to his current site in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, Ashmus’s uncle started a business making conveyor belting, continuing with the family’s interest in equipment used in the mining industry.

“I worked for my father for pennies,” Ashmus said of his early years. “All I knew was that I was going to learn a trade.” His father’s business was involved in building conveyors, often for the mining industry, but also for recycling.

Ashmus said that in the 70s, the recycling conveyor business really took off. “We built conveyors for the largest recyclers in the world.” While the need for recycling conveyors ebbed and flowed in the intervening years, it always remained part of the company’s focus.

In 1996, Ashmus’s father was thinking about retirement, and Ashmus bought the business. “We’re still building recycling conveyors and recycling plants all over the world,” he said. Ashmus rattled off a mind-boggling list of countries where he has customers, and ended with “every island in the Caribbean,” an impressive accomplishment for a company that has had a maximum of 13 employees during its lifespan.

“We take new and used surplus parts from power plants, mines, iron ore plants, post offices, quarries – anyone who uses conveyors,” Ashmus said. Those conveyors are shipped out as-is, or reconditioned for resale. “There are not a lot of people doing what we do.”

Twenty years ago, Ashmus was the one who went to jobsites to tear out the equipment, but “now I instruct people how to repair it,” Ashmus said. Customers come from all over the world to buy the refurbished equipment because “it costs a fraction of what it costs new – and some of what I have is brand new.”

Ashmus said that he never did well when he was in school, but he credits a good friend and mentor for helping him learn about engineering, and for giving him an important life lesson as well. He quoted that friend, Glen, as saying, “Jimmy, nobody in the world can take away what you know.” Ashmus took that to heart and started learning as much as he could about the conveyors he was selling.

“My dad guessed at horsepower, ratios, etc.,” Ashmus said. But he wanted to do better, so whenever he did some work for Glen, he asked to be paid back in information. Glen was an engineer with advanced degrees, and he gave Ashmus lessons on horsepower, torque, ratios and how all of that related to the conveyors Ashmus was buying and selling.

Now, even though he doesn’t have a formal education on the subject, he’s proud of what he has learned. “The greatest feeling in the world is helping people solve their problems,” Ashmus said. “People call with problems and I don’t even need the fact book any more. I astonish them.”

Even though the business has been around since 1962 under his father’s ownership, and since 1996 as his own venture, Ashmus insisted, “We’re just starting – I just bought out my father, and it took me ten years to buy him out.”

“We buy it right and we sell it right,” Ashmus said of his business philosophy. “We learned by our mistakes, and that’s why we do it right, now. We stand behind what we sell.” He also said that his broad distribution is a great sales tool, because when someone comes to him to buy, “you give them references in their home town.”

The Ashmus family saga isn’t over yet. Ashmus has two sons, aged 18 and 20, who are becoming interested in the business. “They’re young, yet,” Ashmus said. “I wasn’t serious until I was 20.” Both sons are in college, and both are working part time for the business at the same time.

While his original business sold a lot of equipment to the mining industry where his grandfather started out, the customer base has shifted. “Ninety-five percent of our business is now recycling and five percent is mining. It used to be the opposite.”

But it’s not all about the business. The engineering knowledge he picked up along the way has turned into a bit of a hobby as well. “I’m kind of an eccentric,” Ashmus said, “with the things that I build.”