By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN In its 40-year existence, Industrial Louvers has made a bright splash on the city of Delano, offering a distinctive shade of excellence.
“Everything is custom,” President Jo Reinhardt said. “We really don’t do any two projects alike.”
Reinhardt’s father, Jim Sterriker, founded the company in 1971, when his former place of employment sold its industrial division.
“They gave him first opportunity, along with a couple other investors, ” Reinhardt said. “That’s how it got started.”
Back then, louvers and vents were the primary focus.
Today, the 60-employee company also designs, develops, and manufactures equipment screens, decorative grilles, sunshades, and column covers.
“Louvers are still our number one,” Reinhardt said, explaining that it is between 50 to 60 percent of their business.
Louvers are angled slats that allow air flow while keeping out direct sunlight and rain.
Although the louver manufacturing industry tends to be male dominated, Reinhardt hasn’t let that stop her from achieving success as company president.
Her first jobs after graduating from Hopkins High School, were for other companies, where she gained experience in administration and customer service.
In 1982, when Reinhardt was in her late 20s, there was an opening at her father’s company for a part-time draftsperson, and she was hired.
About six months later, she started doing bidding and estimating for projects.
Later on, she became the estimating/marketing manager, and also helped to develop the company’s first website.
Reinhardt’s father retired as president in 1988, and employee Barry Ecklund was chosen to fill the position.
Reinhardt was also interested in moving into increased responsibility; so, in 1990, she began working toward a degree in business management at the University of St. Thomas.
“I knew this was the career path I wanted,” she said.
Although it wasn’t easy balancing a job, school, and family, the reward was worth it.
Eleven years later, when Ecklund retired, Reinhardt took over as company president.
She was elected to the board of directors for the Air Movement Control Association in 2000, and became president of the international organization in 2006.
“I was the first and only woman to run the association,” she said.
Reinhardt said she is glad she learned the business from the ground up, so that she has a thorough understanding of each aspect.
“There’s a tremendous amount of product knowledge,” she said.
Industrial Louvers sells nation wide, and is continually adapting to market demands.
“Styles have changed, and the building codes keep changing,” Reinhardt said.
In the 1970s, much of the demand was industrial, but now, many louvers and sunshades are also used for aesthetic purposes.
Louvers also undergo impact tests, to ensure that they will hold up, even in hurricane areas.
In the past four decades, Industrial Louvers has been added onto five times, and another expansion is planned in the future.
Reinhardt’s father, Jim Sterriker, has been retired for more than 20 years, but he’s in the office two mornings per week.
“He still very much likes to see everything that’s going on,” Reinhardt said.
Reinhardt’s other family members also have successful manufacturing careers.
Her sister, Terri Bourgeois, is in charge of a company called Precision Air Products, and her brother-in-law, Tom, runs Protean Construction.
Reinhardt’s husband, Keith, operates Specialty Systems.
“We all have something in common,” Reinhardt said. “It’s all architectural work.”
This is part of a group of stories being developed for a “Best of Highway 12” booklet to be published in coming months and distributed to readers all along Highway 12.