It’s difficult to survive as a company without innovation and without trying new things. And it takes a heaping of creativity to not only survive, but flourish, over a thirty-year time span. Minimizer, a Blooming Prairie-based company, was built in 1984 on a solid foundation of entrepreneurship. One of the best kept secrets of southeast Minnesota, Minimizer has revolutionized semi-truck fender manufacture, earning them a spot as a Minnesota Business Magazine Finalist for the 2016 Manufacturing Awards.
Minimizer is a second-generation, family owned business that was built on innovation. The whole story starts with one man, Dick Kruckeberg, and his truck. Specifically, his truck fenders. Dick was a truck driver, hauling machinery for Caterpillar, Inc., who had a problem. His truck fenders just kept getting dinged up and damaged. Like many of these stories begin, Dick just thought there had to be a better solution. There had to be some way to make more durable truck fenders.
One day, Dick’s wife accidentally flattened their garbage can while backing out of the garage. Dick picked up the garbage can and was able to punch out the dents, making it look as good as new. If he could do that with something as simple as a garbage can, why not with his truck fenders? Dick had a friend carve out a simple mold and started making fenders out of the same material as the garbage can. He ended up just driving around selling these fenders out of the back of his pickup truck to people with the same problem. Eventually, he landed a major deal with a garbage truck manufacturer who kept getting their fenders damaged by dumpsters. That was enough for Dick to sell his trucks and jump into manufacturing fenders full time. Minimizer was born.
Dick continued to run the company for twenty-two more years until his son, Craig, purchased Minimizer from him in 2006. As his father innovated in the 1980s with the launch of Minimizer, Craig continued to develop the company and take risks to launch the business forward. The same year he purchased Minimizer, Craig changed the business model from selling directly to consumers to selling exclusively through distribution.
“It was risky because when we sold direct, we sold at retail levels. So, the margins we made were big. And then when we started selling to dealers, we took a big cut in margin,” explained Steve Hansen, Minimizer’s Director of Marketing.
But the risk paid out big in the end. This shift allowed Minimizer to build out a network of over 3,000 distributors across Northern America. It transformed the company into a manufacturer of a single product, the poly semi-truck fender, to a post market producer of multiple semi-truck parts. Minimizer now manufactures a whole line of products with the same “tested and tortured” quality and lifetime guarantee as their fenders, including floor mats, long haul seats, mud flaps, and tool boxes.
Thirty-two years after Dick Kruckeberg started selling semi-truck fenders out of his truck, Minimizer is now a mid-sized force in Blooming Prairie, making a sizable impact on the community there.
Minimizer continues to innovate as the company expands and regularly rolls out new products.
“If you only have one product or service and never add you will be surpassed by the competition. That is the reason that Minimizer is adding to our product line on almost a monthly basis,” explained Craig Kruckeberg.
Minimizer even has a full-time videographer creating visual demos for most of their product line, including a clip of a tank running over a Minimizer fender. The company also maintains a weekly video blog to engage their consumer base.
“I think we all probably lean towards videos now if you’re going to do […] anything from a recipe to changing the blades in a lawnmower. And so, we’re just making it easier for customers to find us and learn about us,” explained Steve.
Minimizer is not afraid to come up with creative ways to engage customers, which helps them gain the attention of 120,000 visitors per month on their webpage. They have amassed a Facebook following of over 22,000 people. This strong focus on customer engagement has been one key to their success over the past thirty years.
“It basically comes down to day to day grind and continuously believing that you need market yourself and your company. Advertising and marketing are the last budgets you cut,” explained Craig.
Minimizer is innovating well outside of their product line. Last year, the company participated in a semi-truck racing series. Next summer, they’ll send drivers to the Bandit Big Rig Series to continue the tradition.
But why stop there? In 2013, Minimizer owner Craig Kruckeberg founded Kruckeberg Industries to expand business growth in the after-market truck product industry. Kruckeberg Industries holdings include KIK Graphics, a digital printer located in Blooming Prairie, and Lee’s Liquor Lounge, a corner bar in Minneapolis. The company also owns a mobile wash unit for semi-truck trailers. This device looks like a small box truck with one gigantic brush that drives around the outside of a truck trailer and can clean a fifty-three-foot trailer in under eight minutes. The alternative involves driving the trailer through a truck wash or washing it all by hand.
Minimizer is growing, but there have been pains along the way. Hiring remains a challenge, especially for certain positions like engineers, sales people, and web developers. But even with this issue, the company will innovate to find a solution.