Voth downsizes Ratzlaff Draperies

Staff writer

James and Gayle Voth, owners of Ratzlaff Draperies in Goessel since 1979, recently decided to downsize their quilting and sewing business to take advantage of an opportunity to sell their main building.

“This wasn’t in my plan,” James Voth said. “My goal was always to build the business up, then sell the whole thing, not just the building, but with things slowing down the way they are, it was too good an opportunity not to pay attention to.”

Though details of a sale are not complete, Voth said an agreement with Duane and Sharon Adrian of Butterfield, Minn., was in the works for the purchase of the main building located on the west edge of Goessel.

“I am still trying to figure out how to make this all smaller,” Voth said. “I am moving a few machines to our Ratzlaff Building downtown in Goessel and our two part-time employees will continue to work there.”

Voth said his parents-in-law, the late John and Hilda Ratzlaff, began the Ratzlaff Draperies business in the small downtown building in the 1960s, sewing curtains, cushions, and pillows for mobile home manufacturing companies.

“In cleaning up for this move we have come across very interesting records of what all they did,” Voth said. “They were very creative in finding work and gaining contracts. We found that they even made airplane silhouettes out of bent wire for Beechcraft and Boeing in the early years.”

The larger Ratzlaff Draperies building on the west side of Goessel was built in 1970 to accommodate the growing business.

James began to work for the company in 1978, then purchased the business with his wife, Gayle in 1979.

“Shortly after I took over in 1979 we opened an additional plant in Tennessee to better accommodate our contracts with the sport yacht industry,” he said. “Things were booming until congress enacted the luxury tax a year later. That just about killed us.”

Voth added a third building to the Goessel-based enterprise, located on the east side of the small town, after picking up contracts to sew Pizza Hut curtains in the late 1980s, when sport yacht buyers dwindled.

“We surged curtains for Pizza Huts worldwide,” Voth said. “That was a mainstay of our business for quite some time.”

Voth also picked up a lucrative contract with Century Inc., making the inserts for child safety seats. But once again, a government program interfered with American small business vitality.

“When NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was enacted in the early 90s, I immediately lost the Century contract to Mexico,” Voth said. “It became impossible for us to produce goods cheaper than they could and outsourcing almost shut us completely down.”

This time Voth survived economic disaster by closing his Tennessee plant and selling off the east-side Goessel building. He had to cut his work force to less than half, and machine quilting, custom embroidery, and making bedspreads became the mainstay of the business.

“We’ve done pretty well until the last three years,” Voth said. “But things have gotten harder and harder. When the opportunity came to sell the building to another entrepreneur, I just had to consider it.”

In addition to the downtown Ratzlaff Building, which houses The Kinder Haus preschool and an office for Linda Peters, Financial Consulting, Voth and his wife also own the metal building behind the Goessel Post Office. Supplies and equipment not sold out of the west side building before the final move takes place will be stored in this facility.

“It’s hard to compact 40 years of business into a space less than 1/10th the size of what we had,” he said. “At one time we had 63 employees at our building here in Goessel and at our plant in Tennessee. It is hard to see it all come to this, but at least sale of this building might bring more enterprise to Goessel.”

The Adrians, buyers of the west side Ratzlaff Draperies building, said it was too premature to release their exact plans for the building. They currently own patents for manufacturing several types of grain handling equipment. Adrian Manufacturing makes and sells grain vacs, portable grain dump pits, grain cleanup nozzles, and several other items.

“I am going to sell part of that,” Duane Adrian said on Monday. “I want to slow down, but I also need to have something to do so we are going through a lot of meetings to decide what might work best in that area.”

Most of all, Adrian said they were excited to be moving to Goessel to be near his wife’s extended Funk family, and especially look forward to living near their grandchildren.

“We have purchased Anton Epp’s house, right next door to our daughter and family,” Duane Adrian said. “There is a lot of paperwork to compete yet, but we have always been industrious people. We just hope to bring with us a part of our small mom and pop agriculture business.”

For James and Gayle Voth, there are still rolls of fabric and huge machines that need to go to make room for new ownership.

“I am looking for someone to just come buy it all,” Voth said. “The fabric sales have been successful, but it is time to move the whole lot. We just don’t need all this anymore. From here on out we will just buy what we need to make sold goods. I sell through a distributor now and so we work only on paid orders.”

Voth said Ratzlaff Draperies would still do commercial work for retirement centers and office buildings, as well as curtains, bedspreads, sheets and pillowcases for east coast buyers.

“This is a big change, but we won’t disappear entirely,” he said. “We are also still here for local cutting, sewing, and quilting needs, just on a much smaller scale.”

 

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