Son brings growth plans as he joins parents’ shop
By Mark Sherry
Mark Sherry photo
Tom Schmitzer and his son Thomas III stand in the newly refurbished office of AutoSource in Chilton.

Tom and Kathy Schmitzer of Auto-Source in Chilton have taken on a new business partner, one in whom they have the utmost trust and confidence.

And as Tom said with a smile on his face, if their new business partner does do something wrong, they can always ground him.

Tom and Kathy’s son Thomas Schmitzer III is now a partner with his parents in a new corporation called Schmitzer Industries, a corporation which he said he hopes to grow not just at Chilton’s AutoSource but perhaps with the acquisition of like businesses elsewhere in Wisconsin or surrounding states.

“We’re trying to grow this business,” Tom III said recently from the newly refurbished office at AutoSource, 61 E. Chestnut St.

The 1995 graduate of Chilton High School brings experience in this and other businesses with him to this new partnership. Like many children of business owners, his parents put him to work early sweeping floors and later working as a delivery driver. After college he came back to work in inside sales for AutoSource for about five years, but then left to work in the corporate world where he became general manager of a $40 million division of Emerson Electric. He later started commodities trading advising after leaving Emerson in 2015.

Tom III also got married and he and wife Rachel reside in Lake Geneva. Rachel works in biotech sales and works in part with universities throughout the Midwest and beyond, so it helps for her to live closer to Chicago’s airports. Tom III said he will spend two or three nights per week in Chilton but in this technological era he can also continue to help manage Schmitzer Industries and stay in touch with AutoSource from his home.

Having worked a couple different stints at AutoSource in the past—and maturing in the business world—allows Tom III an interesting perspective on the business he now co-owns. “The challenges I thought were insurmountable before are now very surmountable,” he said.

Tom III said he is looking to apply the knowledge and skills he has learned in business to help grow Schmitzer Industries. They have already been looking to acquire other independent automotive parts and/or service businesses. In addition, AutoSource has already been active in selling transportation parts to local industries and Tom III said they are looking to expand that aspect of the business as well.

In addition to Tom III becoming part owner in the business, the Schmitzers said they soon will be introducing Eric Heidke as a minority owner. “We believe he’s a highly talented person and we want to be part of his growth,” Tom III said.

AutoSource has also recently entered the world of e-commerce and is now selling automotive parts on Amazon and eBay. It also sells Chilton Trailers produced right next door to AutoSource.

At least for now, the automotive parts and service of AutoSource is this small corporation’s primary business and that will see some changes as well in the coming months. The Schmitzers said they have embarked on a major remodeling project which will include the installation of three overhead doors facing the south as well as recoating all the walls and floors in an effort to modernize the facility. The addition of the overhead doors also will allow for adding a fourth service technician. The retail area of the business also will get new flooring, and a merchandising representative of Bumper to Bumper—one of AutoSource’s parts suppliers—will be coming in to help reset the store layout. In addition, AutoSource will be getting back into the automotive paint business and will have the ability to mix any colors for professional and “backyard” automotive projects. Bringing Tom III into the business is

not just part of a growth plan but also part of an ownership succession plan. Tom and Kathy are nearing retirement but plan to be around AutoSource a couple more years, long enough to implement the new business model which their son is bringing with him. The Chilton AutoSource location and any other properties AutoSource acquires will have local managers. “We’re got a pretty good crew,” Tom III said of the dozen people working at AutoSource. “We’re very proud to be employers of people in this area.” His father added, “We have key people who can take over here.”

Having one of those key people be their own son is certainly an advantage moving forward, Tom and Kathy said.