Aug. 15 2017 06:27 PM

In the early 1900s, when Constance Manthei decided to go into business, she probably didn't think her family-owned company would weather its fourth generation and still be growing. But the Manthei Group, which owns and operates Redi-Rock and Rosetta Hardscaping, among other construction-based companies, is going strong, with that fourth generation now stepping in. It's a story that's a testament to the longevity of a good family business, and it starts with strong family relationships.

It began with a flower shop. Constance, who lived with her husband and sons in northern Michigan, knew she wanted to help support her growing family, but she wasn’t sure how. Then she read an article about how to grow and sell flowers. She grew flowers and shipped them by train to Chicago. It was a modest business, but it helped bring in additional income.

Success followed; she paid off the family’s home and bought a car. When it was time for her two sons, Ernie and Ted Manthei, to go to work, she helped them get a loan from the bank, so they could start their own business as well: a strawberry growing operation.

For a woman to apply for a business loan, in those days, was tricky.

“As a woman, her name didn’t mean anything; however, the banker she worked with knew she’d be good for it,” said Lindsey Manthei O’Connor, daughter of Redi-Rock founder and chairman Ben Manthei. “So, he signed for her.”

The brothers got the loan and started their strawberry farm. When they got an idea to make their own wooden baskets to package the strawberries for sale, they bought a lathe. The problem was, they bought the wrong type of lathe—they got a veneer lathe.

Undeterred, the Manthei brothers flipped their mistake into an opportunity. They got into the wood veneer business, and from there, expanded into construction.

In 1999, Ernie’s sons—brothers Ben, Jim and Mark Manthei—were running the family construction business, MDC Contracting, when they were asked to build a large retaining wall for a residential community along Lake Michigan.

There were lots of small-block options on the market at the time, but Jim Manthei had a different vision. They were already making concrete, so why not use that concrete for a new application? “My Uncle Jim has a brilliant inventor-type mind,” O’Connor said. “So he went to work thinking about how they could make giant concrete blocks that kind of work like Legos.”

The result was Redi-Rock: large, heavy interlocking concrete blocks that are textured to look like natural stone. The brothers began selling Redi-Rock around northern Michigan, and while it was gaining popularity, the sheer weight of the product made scalability from their base of operations untenable.

The brothers opted to create a manufacturing license model for the business, allowing blocks to be constructed by independent concrete producers around the United States. That has snowballed, and the company now has more than 130 manufacturers worldwide, including in areas as far-flung as Norway, Russia and South Korea.

Meanwhile, the family has grown the number of companies it owns. In 2007, they noticed a need in the landscape-product category for smaller walls, pavers and other hardscaping materials. Jim Manthei went to work again, and came up with Rosetta Hardscapes, which provides pavers, wall rock and slabs that are made of concrete, but are textured to look like natural stone, similar to Redi-Rock.

In 2012, the Manthei family launched Pole Base, a pole foundation provider for streetscape lighting and flagpole foundations. In 2013, the family acquired Techniply, a hardwood processing company, owned by the third generation of the Manthei family. And in 2014, Arizona Oasis, an RV resort on the Colorado River in Ehrenberg, Arizona, was added to the Manthei empire.

Ben Manthei’s son (O’Connor’s older brother) Jake, is now the president of both Redi-Rock and Rosetta Hardscapes, and has the same industrious attitude as his business-savvy great-grandmother. “We don’t want to solve new problems with old solutions,” he said. “We don’t want to meet the needs of 2012. We’re looking ten years ahead.”

It’s probably safe to say that ten years down the road, the company will continue to thrive, and that even more of the Manthei family will be welcomed into the fold. The business currently employs 16 Manthei family members; in the fall, some of the younger (fifth) generation will be coming on as interns.

But the family didn’t do it all on its own. O’Connor points out that the family business wouldn’t have come as far as it has without the help of some good hiring practices. “We have such a phenomenal team. We wouldn’t have been able to grow the way we have without the great people who helped us. It’s a huge part of our success as a business; we’ve taken hiring super seriously. We try to raise the talent bar with every new hire.”

Having your family with you at work helps a lot, too, O’Connor said. “My generation has taken over the day-to-day operations over the last five years, but it’s really a blessing to still have my parents’ generation involved, because they have so much wisdom and advice to offer. Having access to those decades of experience that my dad and uncle spent in the business has been really powerful for us as we’ve taken the reins.”

So what does the future hold for the family? It looks like the sky’s the limit. “The wind is at our back right now,” said Jake. Redi-Rock is up substantially over 2016, its record year; still, opportunity abounds. The family has come a long way, growing from its humble roots to building a thriving global business.

We think Constance Manthei would be proud.