100 Years Of Changes

Reinvention and diversification are the secrets to the 100 years of success at family-owned and -operated Ottenweller Company, Inc.
Sep 1, 2016
Jennifer Blomquist
Steve Vorderman

“You have to be willing to embrace change,” says Nancy Dwire, Secretary/Treasurer of Ottenweller Company, Inc. “That’s the only way your business can survive from generation to generation.”

Dwire, along with brothers Michael Ottenweller (President) and Gary Ottenweller (Vice President), are the third generation of their family to run Ottenweller Company, a contract metal fabrication supplier to the heavy construction equipment, mining, defense and aerospace industries.

“Our grandfather, Ed Ottenweller, started this business in 1916 as a blacksmith shop in a building on East Superior Street in downtown Fort Wayne. There were six people working out of the 40 by 100 foot space and it was originally called, ‘Ed Ottenweller Company.’ It wasn’t long, though, before the blacksmithing industry started to die out and Grandpa Ed had to reinvent the business to keep it alive.”

“They had to learn new skills to adapt to changes in customers and technology,” says Michael. “They started making things for International Harvester and General Electric. My dad, Nelson Ottenweller, had originally gone to work for G.E. When G.E went on strike in 1947, my dad went to work for my grandfather. My grandfather stayed active at the business until three months before he passed away at the age of 86.”

It seemed change was constantly beckoning the family and by the 1950s, Ottenweller responded by focusing on the fabrication and installation of customized trailer hitches on vehicles to accommodate the immensely popular trend of hauling travel trailers. That was a large part of the business for about 30 years.  

Michael spent his teenage years working in the shop, but after going to college and coming back to the business as an adult, it was time for more reinvention.

“We had to do a complete makeover,” says Michael. “We had old equipment which was woefully inadequate. We moved out of the Superior Street location in the 1970s and for ten years we rented a building on Wells Street. Then, in 1985, we built a 15,000 square foot facility on Congressional Parkway where we are still located. But as we began to attract larger customers that required more capacity, we realized more growth was imminent. So, we acquired some nearby properties, which now totals 200,000 square feet. We never imagined our business would grow that much.”

While the business has been buffeted by the challenges facing manufacturing, including the recession in 2009, the one constant has been the engagement of the owners in the business.

“We take our responsibility as a member of the Fort Wayne business community very seriously and know that our employees and their families rely upon us to provide them with good paying jobs and the opportunity for advancement. That is a motivator for us each and every day,” says Gary.

“For me, it’s always been a plus to work with people I love,” says Dwire. “But it hasn’t always been easy.  The recession in 2009 taught us some tough business lessons. We lost 50 to 60 percent of business from some of our customers because of cutbacks they were forced to make. It was very unsettling, but it showed us that we needed to diversify our business.”

They did so by purchasing Garrity Tool Company in Indianapolis.

“They make small, high precision parts for the defense, aerospace and medical markets,” says Nancy.  “They have a highly skilled workforce and state-of-the-art equipment to meet their customers’ demands.”

Prior to that, the Ottenwellers established a facility similar to the one in Fort Wayne in Mount Airy, North Carolina, that serves southeastern markets. 

Another change is on the horizon, as fourth generation family members David Ottenweller, Michael’s son, and Kevin Dwire, Nancy’s son, prepare to assume leadership of the business. 

“The challenges will only increase, and having new perspectives and ideas will be critical to our future success,” says Michael. “Changing it up over the years has definitely kept our business thriving, but we also have to credit our parents, Janet and Nelson Ottenweller. We are proud to carry on our family’s legacy.”

Ottenweller Company, Inc.

Owner(s): Michael Ottenweller, President; Gary Ottenweller, Vice President; Nancy Dwire, Secretary/Treasurer; David Ottenweller, Director of Operations; Kevin Dwire, Quality Manager

Address: 3011 Congressional Parkway Fort Wayne, Indiana 46808

Phone: (260) 484-3166

Website: ottenweller.com

Email: info@ottenweller.com

Years in Business: 100

Number of Employees: 240

Products & Services: Contract metal fabrication supplier to heavy construction equipment, mining and defense and aerospace industries

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