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Standing the Tests of Time

Standing the Tests of Time

  • Photos by Lana Eklund
Standing the Tests of Time

Columbia’s business landscape features vibrant old-timers.

There’s a myth in the business world that multigeneration businesses are doomed to fail — that barely one third of family-owned businesses last through the third generation. That conclusion, based on a study in the 1980s, has been quoted and rehashed by sources as reputable as the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

A Brazilian proverb (yes, the myth seems globally pervasive), goes something like this: Rich father, noble son, poor grandson.

Recent studies, including an analysis by the Harvard Business Review, revealed a refreshing new conclusion: Family-owned, multigenerational businesses actually have a leg up on single-entity or corporate-owned businesses primarily because a family-connected business is in a better position to react and respond to market forces, has better relationships with customers and employees, and has more of a vested interested in success.

Columbia is home to several multigenerational businesses. Four of those companies are highlighted here: Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms (with direct roots back to St. Louis in 1849), Witt Print Shop, Columbia Welding & Machine, and one of downtown’s most iconic stores and signs — Dryer’s Shoes.

Witt Print Shop is one example of a multigenerational business that was sold by one generation of owners to another business with multiple family roots, while embodying the best ideals of small business and family success.

“Having a small, family-owned business has been a blessing in so many ways,” says Brian Kirmse, owner of Witt Print Shop. “It not only has allowed me to stay involved with my kid’s extracurricular activities due to flexibility of work hours, it has allowed me an avenue to teach and raise my children to understand the importance of hard work and relationships as well as money management, deadlines, scheduling, responsibilities and other lessons in life.”

Topping it off, Kirmse explains, “I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to purchase a well-respected generational business that had a long-standing good name like Witt.”

Quick Links:

Witt Print Shop

Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms

Dryer’s Shoes

Columbia Welding & Machine

Witt Print Shop

Derek Schlueter, Brian Kirmse, Caroline Scott, and Kyle Sheppard
Derek Schlueter, Brian Kirmse, Caroline Scott, and Kyle Sheppard

How many years has Witt Print Shop been in business?

Thomas Witt started the business in downtown Columbia in 1926. My uncle, Harold Nichols, purchased it in 1963 from Mr. Witt, an addition was built to the Missouri Press building, and the Witt Print Shop moved to that location on Eighth Street.

My cousin Ray Ash and I purchased the business from Uncle Harold in 2000 and when my cousin retired, I became sole owner in 2016 and moved the shop to its current location at 1901 Vandiver Drive in 2017.

How many different generations have owned Witt Print Shop?

Technically, three generations have owned Witt Print Shop, as Thomas Witt was not a family member.

What is your main product or service?

We’re a commercial print shop that handles anything from envelopes, letterhead, business cards, postcards, brochures, mailings, booklets and magazines, to specialty products, laser engraving, and all sorts of signage.

Tell us something that you think everyone knows about Witt Print Shop.

That we’re a small, local, mom-and-pop print shop that has great customer service and turns professional products quickly.

What everyone might not know.

That we’re the oldest print shop in Columbia and do work for businesses across the country in about 30 different states. 

Brian Kirmse - Witt Print Shop

How many employees do you have? 

There are only four of us full-time: Myself (owner since 2000), my “right arm” and general manager, Caroline Scott, and production specialists Derek and Kyle. My wife and two sons, and sometimes friends, will come in to help us out with big jobs that require a bit more help. That’s what a family business requires sometimes.

Keys to success and longevity.

Customer service has been the biggest key for Witt Print Shop over the years. My desk is at the front door and I, the owner, greet people as they walk in the door. I also answer the phone and deliver products from time to time.

What sets Witt Print Shop apart from your competitors? 

Every print shop nowadays produces great products. That’s no secret or advantage. What sets us apart is consistent great service and quick turnarounds. 

What were your COVID pivots?

During the pandemic, I was a bit defiant in that I considered Witt Print Shop as an essential business even when the government said otherwise. We stayed open and took care of our clients while other print shops shut down. Since the work was slow, we operated with two employees for months on end as we alternated time off.

Tell us about some other challenges over the years.

During the end of 2008 through 2016, the push for “going green” literally created a decline in printing like I’d never seen before. Even though the paper mills plant more trees than they harvest, and recycling was implemented years prior, the media and politicians put multiple local print shops out of business during that time or caused us to think outside of the box to keep our doors open. That’s when we branched out to other services and print options.

Describe your community involvement.

We give back to organizations that are customers by being a print sponsor, donating jobs, and/or discounting their printed materials. We work with over 50 different nonprofits — churches and organizations that really do good things in our community.

What is the long-term vision for Witt Print Shop? 

God has been good to me and in turn I just want to do my best for my employees and clients while doing a job that I love and am passionate about.

Witt Print Shop
1901 Vandiver Drive, Ste B

Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms

Chloe Schmidt Internet Sales And Daughter Of Fred Fred Schmidt Owner And Generational Owner Jeremy Miller Operations Manager Mikayla Miller Sales Associate And Daughter Of Jeremy.
From left: Chloe Schmidt, internet sales and daughter of Fred; Fred Schmidt, owner and generational owner; Jeremy Miller, operations manager; Mikayla Miller, sales associate and daughter of Jeremy.

How many years has Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms been in business? 

Schmidt Billiards & Game Rooms (SBGR) has been in business since 1983 in Columbia. The founding company, A.E. Schmidt Billiards in St. Louis — which is run by my cousins — has been in operation since 1850. I am a fifth-generation member and my daughter, Chloe, is sixth generation of the Schmidt ownership line. She is working with me now as the second generation at Schmidt Billiards & Game Rooms.

What is your main product or service?

We sell new and refurbished, previously owned pool tables and install them. We also sell billiard lamps and game room decor, foosball tables, and shuffleboards, darts and dart boards, poker tables and supplies, pool table lighting, and amusing bar signs.

Tell us something that you think everyone knows about Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms.

Everyone knows that we provide excellent service on pool table installations and repairs, and we stand behind our work.

What everyone might not know.

Not everyone knows we can provide all the accessories for your game room, including bar furniture, decor, darts, casino supplies and lighting.

Who is the current owner and leadership team?

Fred Schmidt, president and owner; Jeremy Miller, operations manager; and Linda Cheatham, office manager and accountant. We have seven full-time and three part-time employees.

What are some of the keys to the success and longevity of Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms?

Billiards ebbs and flows. When the country is in recession, people tend to buy necessities over entertainment. However, during the pandemic, many customers were looking for home entertainment options and we were quite busy supplying them.

Keys to success and longevity.

Providing expert service and quality items. The Schmidt name is well-known worldwide for creating some of the finest furniture-style pool tables with exceptional performance.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

Our longevity in the business, exceptional quality of our products, unparalleled workmanship from start to finish, and our ability to service the hundreds of models of tables that exist in the marketplace.

What were your COVID pivots?

We were concerned when the COVID shutdown occurred but were pleasantly surprised when the demand for our products skyrocketed. People were investing in their home environment and our game room selection figured prominently in many peoples’ plans. 

Tell us about some other challenges over the years.

Occasionally, new games come along that supplant pool, like arcade games in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, X-Box PS 2,3 and 4, and now virtual reality. But there is no substitute for the feeling of performing a perfect billiard shot in the company of friends.

Jeremy Miller Mikayla Miller Chloe Schmidt And Fred Schmidt
Jeremy Miller, Mikayla Miller, Chloe Schmidt, and Fred Schmidt

Who have been some of the key players in the success of Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms?

My dad, Harold Schmidt, was a wonderful mentor, having also grown up in the billiard business from the 1930s up through the early 2000s. I trained with his mechanics, working on a variety of billiard tables. I also get good advice from my cousin, Kurt Schmidt, who heads the A.E. Schmidt factory in St. Louis and my brother Bob Schmidt, who runs a billiard dealership in North Little Rock, Ark. (Jones Brothers Distributing Co.).

Describe your community involvement.

SBGR has always supported Columbia schools with contributions to fundraising events and has been involved with many charitable organizations over the years.

What is the long-term vision for Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms? 

We are in the process of erecting a new building to house our greatly expanded showroom, office, and warehouse. We will also have a building to display restored antique pool tables and a museum to display all the antique pool memorabilia that I’ve collected over the years.

Fun facts.

Our best contract was with the Dave & Buster franchise. The founders of D&B were acquaintances of ours in Little Rock. Dad designed the pool tables used by D&B based on an older model with a modern twist. Brother Bob sold the tables to each franchise location; cousin Kurt made the tables in St. Louis; and I typically did the table installations all over the U.S. and two locations in England: Bath and Birmingham.

We were fortunate to get the contract to restore the 1882 pool table that resides in the Missouri Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City. My expert wood refinisher, Tom Gatzmeyer of Columbia, performed a minor miracle, meticulously restoring every inlay and chip in the table frame and legs.

Schmidt Billiards and Game Rooms
601 N. Route UU

Dryer’s Shoes

Justin Riley And Rebecca Rudd Dryers Shoes
Justin Riley and Rebecca Rudd

How long has Dryer’s Shoe Store been in business and how many generations are represented?

Dryer’s Shoe Store has been in business and in the same location — 7 N. Ninth St. — since 1956. Dryer’s Shoes has had two owners and three generations involved in running the business.

What is your main product or service?

High quality footwear that provides comfort and function while still providing a modern style.

Tell us something that you think everyone knows about Dryer’s.

Dryer’s sells great quality products and still gives customers a full-service experience. 

What everyone might not know.

The founder opened the store at the age of 20 after working at a Dryer’s Shoe Store in Lebanon, Mo., during his high school years. 

And the staff goes through a thorough training process that may take a few months to learn.

How many employees do you have? 

Five — but range from five to eight on average.

Justin Riley and Rebecca Rudd Holding photograph of R Newton Riley
Justin Riley and Rebecca Rudd holding a photograph of R Newton Riley.

Keys to success and longevity.

Continuing to grow and change based on customer needs and wants, and being able to separate what we offer from other businesses in the field.

This is why we have always put a very high emphasis on giving a hands-on full-service approach to shopping. The amount of people that are wearing the wrong shoe size alone would shock you. That’s where we come in.

What sets Dryer’s apart from the competition?

It’s simple. We sell brands that want their customers properly fitted in-person, so these brands are not found in every store. Employees are trained to know about the brands, foot ailments, and proper foot sizing, an important skill that is often overlooked and not offered in many places.

What were your COVID pivots?

We were ordered to shut down for six weeks, which was very hard on our staff and customers who still needed their work footwear as essential workers. We reopened by appointment-only for the first several weeks and finally fully opened after that.

We had to alter our store hours after reopening as the customer flow had changed and continues to do so today. I guess some things are just the ‘new normal.’

Tell us about some other challenges over the years.

 Making sure we continue to grow with the demands of customers. Sometimes this means bringing new brands in and letting some go.

Not everyone is excited about change, but new trends and footwear technology offer better products for our customers. That’s something that we constantly are evaluating and adjusting to best serve the business.

Who have been some of the key players in the success of Dryer’s?

Our late founder, R. Newton Riley. The DNA of who we are and what we do here was instilled by him and continues to stand true all these years later.

Describe your community involvement.

It’s important to Dryer’s, since this is who has supported us since 1956. We donate to many different educational organizations as well as taking part in employee health and wellness fairs to further educate the community. We are animal lovers at Dryer’s Shoe Store and have an annual blanket drive for the Central Missouri Humane Society just before the cold weather sets in each year.

What is the long-term vision for Dryer’s?

Continuing to provide the mid-Missouri area with a true, full-service store – something that is becoming harder and harder to find as more stores like ours are closing every year across the country. 

Our strong community and customer support gives us the ability and motivation to keep an iconic business like Dryer’s Shoe Store around for generations to come.

Dryer’s Shoes
7 N. Ninth St.

Columbia Welding and Machine

Jesse Jay Curry Jr, Steve Curry Sr, Randy Ham, and Jesse Curry Sr
Jesse Jay Curry Jr, Steve Curry Sr, Randy Ham, and Jesse Curry Sr

How long have you been in business?

Columbia Welding and Machine has been open for 100 years. Four generations of the Curry family have worked at or owned our business. The business was started in 1923 by two generations of the Higday family until the late ‘70s.

We’ve been at 1333 Business Loop 70 East since the early ‘50s, and on Seventh Street across from the old fire station from 1923 to the ‘50s.

Tell us something that you think everyone knows about Columbia Welding and Machine Co.

Prompt service and knowledgeable staff.

What everyone might not know.

We are a retail business. Our shop is for steel cutting; we do not have a welding or machine shop. But we can refer people to actual welders and machinists.

How many employees do you have? 

The ownership team: Steve Curry Sr., Jesse (Jay) Curry Jr., and Randy Ham.

Randy Ham, Steve Curry Sr, Jesse Curry Sr, and Jesse Jay Curry Jr
Randy Ham, Steve Curry Sr, Jesse Curry Sr, and Jesse Jay Curry Jr

Keys to success and longevity.

Knowing our customers and their needs and an “always glad to see you” attitude. And knowing how to keep the box stores and nationwide companies from taking too much of the market.

What sets Columbia Welding and Machine apart from competitors? 

There is no one-stop shop like ours. Our competitors have some facets of our business but not the wide range of in-stock items and quick access to non-stock items.

What were your COVID impacts and pivots?

We were deemed essential during COVID. We have medical gases and construction supplies. We would take phone orders and leave them outside our door for pickup. Pre-covid, two employees took other jobs so that’s when we became three and we have been that way for a while.

Tell us about some other challenges over the years.

Through the years we have prospered through hard times and disasters, depression, and recessions, floods and storms. People need our goods to work and repair things. Our diversity in goods keeps customers coming in.

Who are the key players in the success of your business?

Andrew Higday, founder; Paul Higday, owner; Amonette Curry, shop foreman; Jesse Curry Sr., my great uncle; and uncles, cousins, wives, and some of our children have worked at CWM.

Describe your community involvement.

The Paul Higday music trust, and we donate to charities of our choice yearly.

What is the future of Columbia Welding and Machine?

The future is good for CWM. If family can’t continue the business, hopefully someone can purchase it and keep a good thing going.

Spicewine Ironworks
Spicewine Ironworks

Fun fact.

We have a second business out of the same place: Spicewine Ironworks barbecue sauce and rubs. We are former world champions on the pro barbecue circuit and a couple of our sauces have won world championships with the American Royal. 

Columbia Welding and Machine
1333 Business Loop 70 E

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