If not for Jim Krupicka, Midwest Unlimited might not have made it far enough to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
The company got its start in 1947 as a small equipment supply shop at 22nd and Y streets founded by Dorothy Boyle. Over the years, what was then called Midwest Machinery grew and was sold twice, once in the 1960s and again in 1990.
By the time Krupicka got a job there as a fresh-faced 19-year-old mechanic in 1992, however, the business had stagnated.
In fact, less than a year after he started work, the owners were ready to either sell the company or close it.
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But Krupicka had other plans. After returning from a two-month leave for a work-related injury to his hand, he approached the owners with an idea: put him in charge.
“I made a pitch to the owners, that, you know, give me a shot, I can make this thing work,” he said. “And they did.”
So Krupicka became the general manager and he said he was able to improve business right away.
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Things were good for a few years, but by the late 1990s, Krupicka said he was looking for ways to grow and expand the business, while the owners were happy just raking in the profits he was generating.
“It kind of got to a point where what I wanted and what they wanted were two different things,” he said.
So he gave them an ultimatum: Either give him an ownership stake in the company or he was going to go start his own business.
The owners at the time had other businesses, so they decided to sell him all of Midwest Machinery. Krupicka rolled it into another business he owned, Performance Unlimited, and changed the name to Midwest Unlimited.
That was in 1999. The next year, he moved the company from its longtime home at 22nd and Y streets to a larger location near 11th Street and Cornhusker Highway. A decade later, the business had outgrown the space and moved to its current location at 1750 W. O St.
Krupicka has continued to run the business, recently celebrating his 30th year at the company, which was just a few days after the company marked 75 years in business.
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Midwest Unlimited specializes in fall-protection and rigging equipment, including harnesses, cables, rope, hooks and pulleys. It’s the kind of equipment that’s vital for people who work in dangerous environments, such as construction, emergency services and cell tower maintenance.
It also sells other items such as bright-colored safety vests and coats, as well as some tools.
“We sell that higher-end specialized equipment that you’re not gonna find at a Lowe’s or Home Depot,” Krupicka said.
Though there are plenty of local competitors out there, many of Midwest Unlimited’s customers are loyal and have stuck with the business for decades.
“We’ve got lots of customers that have been around since before I was here,” he said.
One of those is Ray Lipsey, who owns a company that installs water and sewer pipes, many of them for the City of Lincoln. He said he’s been getting equipment such as straps used to hoist the pipes and lower them into the ground from Midwest Unlimited for more than 30 years.
“They have the premium safety equipment and they stand behind their stuff,” said Lipsey, who noted that Krupicka is “pretty easy to work with.”
He also said that the company carries a large amount of inventory and will move mountains to get whatever its customers need.
That’s gotten a little more difficult over the past couple of years, Krupicka admitted.
Like many other businesses, he’s faced supply chain shortages because of COVID-19.
That’s part of business and something he’s experienced at times before, but with the pandemic, “it’s 10 times worse than it ever was.”
“Your vendors can’t tell you when you’re gonna see it, and they won’t tell you what it’s gonna cost,” he said.
With some items, Krupicka said he’s seen his cost more than double.
Another issue that he’s faced because of COVID-19 is difficulty finding workers.
Krupicka said he currently has 15 employees and would hire more if he could find them.
“Business is fine, good,” he said. “But business could be exponentially better if we could find help.”
After 30 years at the company, you might think Krupicka would start thinking about hanging it up, but he just turned 50 on Friday and has no plans to think about retirement anytime soon.
And who knows, there could be another Krupicka waiting in the wings to shepherd the business to its 100th anniversary and beyond.
“My daughter’s 9,” he said. “She’s already got it figured out how she can run this place.”
Highest-paying construction jobs in Lincoln
Highest-paying construction jobs in Lincoln
#20. Helpers–brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters
#19. Construction laborers
#18. Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators, surface mining
#17. Tile and stone setters
#16. Hazardous materials removal workers
#13. Highway maintenance workers
#12. Cement masons and concrete finishers
#11. Drywall and ceiling tile installers
#10. Sheet metal workers
#9. Painters, construction and maintenance
#8. Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators
#7. Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators
#6. Brickmasons and blockmasons
#4. Structural iron and steel workers
#3. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
#2. Construction and building inspectors
#1. First-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers