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Surveying Company Celebrates 100 Years

April 30, 2010
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No one knows or remembers the exact date Italian immigrant Oswald Griner opened Griner and Schmitz, Inc., originally Oswald Griner Co., in 1910 on E. 10th Street in downtown Kansas City. 

Kansas City, MO. - No one knows or remembers the exact date Italian immigrant Oswald Griner opened Griner and Schmitz, Inc., originally Oswald Griner Co., in 1910 on E. 10th Street in downtown Kansas City. But when a company survives the Great Depression, weathers the changes inconstruction and surveying technology, and helps supply the country with instruments throughout a few wars, a year long celebration is more appropriate anyway. This is exactly what Griner and Schmitz isdoing in 2010- an era that will be considered economically lean in hindsight, if not a crisis, by future generations.

At a time when many companies are reeling from the downturn’s effects, Griner and Schmitz’s centennial anniversary serves as a beacon of hope for what is possible when advanced technology is balanced with old-fashioned customer service. Griner and Schmitz has long been recognized as an innovator in instrument repair and surveying equipment sales, rentals, and repair.

From its humble beginnings as a one-room ground floor instrument repair shop, the company has kept pace with the needs of their customers. Griner and Schmitz supplied surveying equipment to construction crews during the 1920’s Kansas City building boom when Mr. Griner rubbed elbows with J.C. Nichols and Henry Massman, became a primary provider of instruments during WW II, refurbished surveying equipment for the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict, and rented all new surveying equipment to the contractors laying the Kansas Turnpike.

Selling, renting, and servicing surveying equipment is still a major focus of the business, but today Griner and Schmitz has expanded to GPS through RTK Freedom Network, a subsidiary of Griner and Schmitz, the only provider of GEO++ GNSMART in the region. It’s a unique network that allows surveying professionals to choose their hardware or use existing hardware since the network is not tied a specific brand. The company also developed its own in-house training program, GSU, hosting regularly scheduled or customized basic and advanced training courses in Kansas City and Springfield on new equipment and technologies.

Jim Martin, General Manager, shares his perspective on the company’s formula for longevity and success, “We try to keep our business very personal. Everything we do and sell is taken personally. The sales team works the same way. It’s never someone else’s fault if something doesn’t work right; it’s ours.There is no finger pointing here. If it it’s not right, we make it right.”

This applies not only to the company’s surveying and GPS equipment, but to their customer service style as well. “Someone always answers our phones. It may be a technician, a sales person, or even a customer if he’s the closest one to it. I didn’t inherit my father’s preference for doing spreadsheets or projections by hand, but answering the phones is a different story. It may sound old-fashioned, but were fuse to go automated,” explains Martin who joined the company in 1996 and took over in 2003 when his father, an owner since 1973, retired from the business.

He has been in management for 14 years now, but Martin’s history with Griner and Schmitz goes back to his childhood when his father brought him to the shop to help with inventory over the holidays or count “shiners” into 1 pound bags from a 55 gallon drum. He has his own stories of finding his giggling child in a drum of packing peanuts with feet sticking straight up. His management style reflects his Naval training; lead by example and know more than the opponent (or competition in this case). Despite his military background, Martin resists rigidity and leans toward flexibility with his staff. “You work to live and to support your family, not the other way around. There’s an understanding that if you need to take time for your family, you take it. And with our dedicated team, being flexible with schedules doesn’t mean the customer isn’t taken care of. It means our people will work until whatever hour and do whatever is needed on their own time. Our customers know and appreciate that about us,” says Martin.

Taking a personal stake in customer service, leading by example, and answering your own phones may sound too simplistic to be the key factors of success for a hundred year old business. However when combined with a knack for weeding out the technology that won’t advance the surveying and GPS fields from those that will, it is a unique formula- one with a century old track record of milestones and innovations.

There are several milestones in Griner and Schmitz’s recent history, each of which impacted the company’s foundation and growth. “Though we’ve always remained steady in business, our location has changed a few times. Our last major move was in 1952 to the address we have today. The previous building at the location was razed and our current one built especially for us. It represented stability and pride of ownership as we no longer leased space; we owned it. Then in the late 1990s, we worked hard to establish a relationship with the Missouri Department of Transportation resulting in huge sales for us.

Another that comes to mind is when my father retired and we experienced a changing of the guards so to speak,” recalls Martin.

Having achieved a prosperous niche business by adopting new technology and supporting it with good old-fashioned customer service, Griner and Schmitz has also stepped outside of their comfort zone with their move into the GPS market. As co-owner of their subsidiary, RTK Freedom Network, the companyhas branched out offering a larger coverage area and more accurate readings for GPS users including surveying professionals and agricultural producers. The RTK Freedom Network means subscribers have the freedom to use their hardware of choice regardless of the software application.

Since everyone appreciates a good deal these days, the company launched GrinersGarage.com. It is an online garage sale where quality, used equipment and supplies from top manufacturers at reasonable prices are listed. Keeping with their reputation for superior workmanship and service, even the garage sale items are tested and calibrated by their service department.

In honor of their centennial anniversary, Griner and Schmitz, Inc. isn’t resting on its heels. “Now doesn’t seem like the time to brag. Sure, we’re a century old this year, but our short-term goals are similar to a lot of other businesses right now. Make it through this economy. Federal stimulus money is beginning to trickle down and it’s been a lifeline for some. Not enough to claim being out of the woods yet, but enough to survive for the moment. We know our industry. We know our products. More importantly, we know how to support our customers. Fortunately, we’ve been around a long time and aren’t going anywhere.

Sometimes we feel like we’re older than the dirt our equipment is used to survey,” Martin states.Aside from the collective goals of all businesses to weather tough economic times, Griner and Schmitzhas long-term goals in the works including building out their GPS network to cover 3 to 4 states, adopting surveying technology as shifts in their customers’ occur, and of course taking the time to enjoy a slice or two of birthday cake should a customer walk through the door with one. “We have a hundred year historyto protect and use as a solid foundation for the next ten decades. There’s a responsibility to our legacy. Living up to that is our focus now.”

For more information regarding Griner and Schmitz, Inc., visit their web site at www.grinerschmitz.com or contact Jim Martin directly.

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