From typewriters to time tracking, family business shows staying power

June 3, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by the Prairie Family Business Association.

Chances are anyone who began in business selling typewriters isn’t still in business today without the ability to evolve with the times.

Fittingly, tracking time itself happens to be an ingredient behind the success of Time Management Systems, which has grown into a multistate organization now in its second generation of leadership.

Its roots are in typewriter sales, which Tom Rademacher and his wife, Carol, started almost 45 years ago as Midwest Typewriter Co. in Sioux City.

“In the ’70s, everybody had typewriters,” Carol Rademacher said. “And as those changed, we had to change. We got into electronic typewriters and word processors, and then we got into calculators and the copiers and things to keep the business moving forward.”

They bought a mechanical time clock company and in the mid-1980s were introduced to “the latest and greatest electronic time-keeping system” at a trade show.

“It was amazing, and we decided to become dealers,” Rademacher said.

At the time, she was teaching preschool two days a week, and Tom was handling the entire business: selling, installing, writing programs and maintaining the services for customers nationwide.

“So he was gone and needed someone to help the customers,” she said. “When I joined, I did a lot of jobs because we were small and family-owned.”

When Tom’s father, Otto, retired as a school superintendent, he bought into the business and worked there until he died in 2009.

The business, which had evolved into Midwest Office Automation, quickly became an endeavor for the entire family, including the Rademachers’ four children.

Their oldest, Jen Vanderloo, was part of what the family dubbed “the cleaning crew,” which involved cleaning typewriters for school clients throughout northwest Iowa during the summer.

The youngest, Mindy Kroll, sat by her mother’s side at the age of 3 helping test time clocks.

“We’ve always been part of the business, whatever needed to be done,” Vanderloo said.

She joined full time after college in 1998, working in bookkeeping and other administrative areas, and now is the chief financial officer.

“I like that while it’s a family business for us, literally, it also feels like a family business because of our employees,” she said. “You get to find people who really fit your culture, and we have. Our employees are near and dear to us, and we’re one big family with them as well.” 

Second generation leads next-generation approach

The mid-2000s brought significant changes for the family business. The Rademachers acquired a time management business in Florida and decided to split their businesses, with Tom focusing on copiers through Midwest Office Automation and Carol leading Time Management Systems.

“I was also able to steal Jen,” Rademacher joked, “because I was an upstart company and needed an expert to help me.”

She then snagged her youngest daughter, Mindy, who was living in Sioux Falls and transitioning out of radio sales.

“I was looking to try something different, so I sent my resume to my mom to look at and help me,” Kroll said. “And she said, ‘This looks good, but will you work for me?’ And we laughed because I lived in Sioux Falls and we weren’t really looking to move. But they came up with a sales plan for me to work from home.”

That was in 2007. Two years later brought a different, more challenging transition, when Otto passed away.

“That really taught us a lot,” Rademacher said. “He was part-owner of the company and didn’t have everything quite as organized to transition ownership as you would have hoped, so that opened our eyes and was one of the main reasons we joined the Prairie Family Business Association.”

The family joined the association for help with structuring an eventual transition from Tom and Carol to Jen and Mindy.

“Prairie Family Business really opened up to the doors to have the conversations that are hard to have,” Kroll said.

“You want your parents to know you want to buy it, but you don’t want to push them out. You want to share ideas and input, and going toward retirement is a different mind-set than coming in and growing. They weren’t at all stuck in the old days, but we wanted to talk about the vision, and Prairie Family allowed us to have those difficult conversations most families are probably afraid to approach.”

One conversation came as a bit of a surprise to their parents.

“They told us when the time is right they’d be very interested in purchasing the company,” Rademacher said. “They made it easy for us. They had helped build it to what it was, and Prairie Family helped us through how to do it. You hear a lot of horror stories about how families divide a business between kids who work in it and those who don’t, and they didn’t expect us to hand it over. They purchased it from us and are now the owners 100 percent.”

The family sold Midwest Office Automation in 2009 and opened a Sioux Falls office for Time Management Systems a year later.

The sisters bought the business in 2013, but the family didn’t immediately tell its employees until eight months later at the company Christmas party.

“We didn’t want them to panic or think there would be this crazy change,” Vanderloo said.

“And I think that created quite a bit of stability and reassurance that our culture isn’t changing, our commitment to giving back to our communities isn’t changing, and we only plan to build on what was started before us.”

Rademacher also continued to work day-to-day in the business until late last year, when Kroll became CEO.

“I told them I would stay as long as they wanted me to help but didn’t want to impede progress,” Rademacher said. “They had new and young ideas and exciting things they wanted to do.”

The transition was invaluable, Kroll said.

“To have her experience and expertise was so helpful, and now her and Dad are just a phone call away, which is so nice because they have all the experience we can rely on.”

Expanded services

The internet has opened up vast new directions for the business. The company that evolved from typewriters to time clocks now also operates in the cloud, saving it significant travel and equipment expenses while opening up the potential to do business anywhere.

That includes schools, where the Rademachers established many early relationships and where the era of lockdowns and heightened security led to a different line of business.

“Four hundred school districts in the Midwest use our time systems,” Kroll said. “And when the schools wanted to lock down, they asked Tom and Carol if they would do access control. So that’s how we landed doing door access control, and in the last two years we’ve really grown that division and added video surveillance and intrusion alarms for commercial clients and schools.”

Time Management Systems also expanded to offer payroll and other HR services. A new area of growth involves white labeling its time services for other service providers.

“Why be competitive when we can partner,” Kroll said. “We offer amazing time services, but we don’t offer recruitment software, for example. Most companies want a single source they like and trust, and they buy as much as they can of the service that source offers. So with our time app, we can white label it and other providers can utilize it within their platforms.”

The company has grown to support more than 6,000 customers, ranging from five to 10,000 employees, across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. It has offices in Sioux City, Florida, South Carolina and Sioux Falls, where it’s outgrowing its space at 7505 S. Louise Ave. and is considering options.

For Rademacher, who had sold other businesses before selling this one to her daughters, it has been a uniquely rewarding experience.

“Often you say goodbye and toss the keys, but it’s been so fun to see this company grow and expand and change with the things Mindy and Jen are doing. We’re so proud of them.”

It has been a learning process for the new leaders too. For instance, when they bought the company in 2013, “we cut every expense,” Kroll said, explaining they were extra cautious because of the debt they had just assumed.

That included their membership to the Prairie Family Business Association.

“And then in 2018, we joined again,” she said. “We were in a good spot, and I just saw so much value in it. We understood it was really something worth being part of. The webinars they offer are very informative and helpful. And you go to the annual meeting and it’s invaluable because it gets everyone off-premise and you meet people you can talk to. No one understands family business unless you’re in a family business.”

Her most lasting lesson, though, was from her mother and predecessor.

“She’s always taught Jen and I to lead with integrity and to be honest and kind,” she said. “Kindness goes a long way, and empowering people is really what built this company. We’ve worked hard, but at the end of the day, we surrounded ourselves with wonderful people and empowered them to run and lead the way. That’s where our success comes from today.”

The Prairie Family Business Association is an outreach center of the USD Beacom School of Business.

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From typewriters to time tracking, family business shows staying power

The family started its business selling typewriters and evolved with the times into Time Management Systems, a terrific under-the-radar success story now in its second generation.

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