Photos by Hillary Ehlen
How do you make the jump from startup to scaling a business? That’s what Nate Leister and Brian Rinke are accomplishing with Leister Custom Machining.
Small Town Roots
Nate Leister couldn’t escape his hometown and, in fact, he didn’t want to. This Hawley, Minn., native was working as a machinist in Grand Forks for 18 years when his wife Tori and him decided they wanted their kids to grow up in a small town so they moved back to his hometown and decided to go all-in on pursuing their dream in September 2014.
“We basically sold our house and went for broke. We used the money from the profit of the house to invest in our business,” said Leister. “We tried for a business loan, but as a startup, nobody really wanted to take a chance on us so we kind of went for broke, started small and gradually started with the one machine and then have gradually been doubling the size. We’re up to three CNC mills now and the kids are loving the school.”
Since opening his shop, he has no regrets about opening up for business in his hometown.
“When we were in Grand Forks, it just seemed like you didn’t get a chance to know anybody,” he said. “That’s definitely a big factor in why we came down here because we were doing well up in Grand Forks too and I had a successful job but it was mainly for our kids.”
Brian Rinke, their CEO, also recognizes why Hawley is such a good spot to live and own a business.
“Why Hawley?” he said. “It’s really about where you want to raise your family, the kind of environment you want to grow up in and the kind of community you want to be a part of. At the end of the day, it comes down to community because Nate and Tori not only live and operate in this area, they also do a lot for the community.”
Leister also owns TNT Gym and Fitness Center in Hawley and supports the local school and police department. In fact, he actually works with his old high school shop teacher to bring in high school students to learn more about the trade. He even has a couple high school kids working in his shop.
The Next Stage
For the last five years, the company has been chugging along and steadily growing. Currently, with three full-time and a couple part-time employees, they are aiming bigger and Brian Rinke hopes to take them there.
Rinke, a Fargo native, was a business coach in Dallas for the last nine years before moving back a couple years ago. He began to work for Leister and would come in to do some consulting for the last 18 months. In May, they had a conversation about bringing Rinke in full-time. It was an easy decision for Rinke to come onboard.
“Having worked with Nate and Tori over the last 18 months, I feel like I have a really good understanding of them as people and what they were going to do with the company,” said Rinke. “I also knew that one of the things that we’ve been talking about over time is growth. We need to grow this business. We need to diversify and increase our customer base so it was either hiring somebody to get out there on the sales side of things and really be that advocate and spokesperson for the business, but I also knew that I liked the business and I like Nate and Tori.”
While Leister Custom Machining has been growing, Leister realized they were missing an integral part of the business component.
“We’ve never really got a chance to look at numbers and efficiency and he knew that we could get to the next level,” said Leister. “I know from my previous employment, if it’s one guy, it’s way too much work doing quoting and invoicing. You need somebody looking at the metrics.”
And Rinke isn’t all talk, he’s backing up what he says by bringing essential business practices to the company.
“Part of what I bring to the table is an external perspective that’s been missing. Somebody out driving new business, building relationships, and being external facing for the company while doing our networking and marketing. Also making sure we have an understanding of our finances and doing everything we can to increase our operational efficiency.”
Rinke’s job is to bring smart business practices to the company. Some of the things he is implementing include installing a new enterprise resource planning system that incorporates directly with Quickbooks, and allows them to focus on efficiency, especially with scheduling and incorporating key performance indicators into the company.
As the company makes custom parts for other manufacturer companies through CNC milling, precision machining and other services, they continue to grow. In fact, last year, they saw about a 35 percent growth, but through the talents of Leister, the business practices of Rinke and the support of their small town, they’re just starting.
“I think the angle of the story is really about people and taking control of your own destiny…” said Rinke. “It’s really a story of the American dream.”
Fundamental Business Practices
For nine years, Rinke was a business coach working with small businesses around the country. After starting with Leister Custom Machining, he is bringing a handful of fundamental business practices to the company, including instilling a business philosophy. This is meant to align everybody to the vision and ensure everyone is on the same page. To learn more about how they hope to grow, let’s look at their guiding principles.
Why we exist
Purpose: We exist to support our local community, to build a company legacy and to provide our employees a platform to create meaningful success and opportunities for growth.
What we do
Mission: Leister Custom Machining provides our customers with precision machined parts that are crafted to exacting specifications. Our vast experience, attention to detail and fast lead times differentiates us from our competition.
Our 3-year vision
Vision: In the next three years, we will construct and occupy a new building, be recognized in the marketplace as a premiere CNC machining company and will triple our annual gross revenue by year 2023.
How we know when we are succeeding
- KPIs: Increase gross revenue
- Increase net profit
- Improve production efficiency
- Increase number of customers
- Employee and customer satisfaction
112 15th St. S, Hawley, MN