Made in Milwaukee: Quality Tank Solutions
Made in Milwaukee is new series about the businesses that sell to the world but call Milwaukee home. Presented by House of Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee's locally owned Harley dealer, we're shining a spotlight on these iconic companies – their histories and their futures.
Year founded: 2012
CEO and Owner: Jimmi-Jean Sukys
Number of employees: 52
Location: 652 Armour Rd., Oconomowoc
When it comes to brew kettles, fermentation tanks, lauter tuns, wort receivers and whirlpool tanks, there are few better suppliers than Quality Tank Solutions (QTS) in Oconomowoc.
Just ask brewers at any number of Milwaukee breweries, including the Bavarian Bierhaus, Black Husky, Broken Bat Brewing, City Lights Brewing, Good City Brewing, Explorium Brew Pub, Mob Craft, Third Space Brewing and 1840 Brewing Co. (due to open this summer) all of whom have relied on the company's expertise to get their breweries up and running.
"We are extremely happy with both the quality of the product and the quality of service we have received from QTS," notes Kevin Wright, head brewer at Third Space Brewing. "Just last week, we had an issue pop up on a Friday evening where we had the potential to lose thousands of dollars worth of beer. The QTS team dropped their evening plans to rush to Third Space to fix the problem that night. We wouldn't have received that level of service if we hadn't chosen such a great local partner. We chose QTS in part because they are a local company that is creating jobs in our state and that decision has paid off immensely."
Third Space Brewing flight with Quality tanks in the background
And it's not just the convenience of working with a local stainless tank provider that propels brewers' decisions to work with QTS. It's also the confidence they gain working with a company that's built a reputation creating superior tanks built for sanitary applications like food and beverage. In short, their tanks are sturdy, the welds are clean and the product quality is high.
"Part of the reason our manufacturing plant is in Marshfield is that there's a great pool of sanitary welders in the area. They do very specialized work that's specific to food and beverage," explains owner and CEO, Jimmi-Jean Sukys. "And we're known for being one of the most sanitary manufacturers of tanks on the market. We're also known for building tanks with exceptional cleanability. Brewers spend 80% of their time cleaning, so if we can cut down on their time cleaning, that's huge."
QTS is also known for being a one-stop shop. Breweries can not only purchase their tanks, but also equipment like boilers, glycol chillers and walk-in coolers. Even better, they can have it all installed and serviced.
"It's a real differentiator for us," notes Chad Sprinkman, vice president of sales and marketing. "Most other companies just provide the equipment. But we saw the need for full installation on both the sanitary and industrial sides. We even have a professional brewer on staff. It's about giving them peace of mind and a comfort level that really allows them to focus on what they do."
Tanks at City Lights Brewing
All about relationships
"There's also an emphasis on creating long-term relationships with customers," notes Sukys. "We don't want to just sell equipment today. We want to grow with them. It's a partnership with the brewery. When they are successful, we're successful. So, we really work with them, including offering them the option to trade out tanks when they've outgrown them. It's another feature you don't see very often in the industry."
Their unique approach earned the company a feature last March on "World's Greatest!…," an Ion Network show that offers behind-the-scenes footage and interviews featuring some of the most unique companies products and people around the world.
Although the bulk of their business is currently with breweries, QTS also services a variety of other accounts including dairy industry staples like Organic Valley and local companies including Fromm Pet Food, Denali and Carmex. And it doesn't stop there. QTS is currently one of the largest tank purveyors in North America.
"The Germans really kick our *ss when it comes to really huge equipment," notes Sprinkman.
"But our business is growing in the U.S. And we're seeing explosions in a number of areas including the Carolinas, Pennsylvania and Ohio. And so much is due to word of mouth."
Locally, Sprinkman estimates they installed at least 10 systems in the Milwaukee area last year and up to 25 in the state of Wisconsin. And those numbers are expected to grow, largely thanks to their reputation among current clients who regularly share their experiences with friends and colleagues.
"The Milwaukee scene has been really fun because so many of our accounts have been so successful," says Sukys. "There's such a collaborative attitude. They work together and help one another. Every week, we fly clients into Milwaukee because there are so many systems we can show people."
Brewing tanks at Broken Bat in the Third Ward
Sukys says they've also been successful at building QTS in a way that supports numerous other businesses.
"The other thing we've done very well is to partner up with everyone we can," she explains. "The majority of our parts are sourced right here in Wisconsin; we have so many great companies here. And that's great from so many angles. We're really able to reduce unemployment and really keep things local."
Young company, rapid growth
QTS didn't begin as a multi-million dollar company. In fact, in the beginning it was a simple collaboration between Sprinkman and Sukys, both of whom sport 20-plus years in the stainless steel industry. It's a partnership to which they refer as "ying and yang," a reference to their combined talents in sales and operations and design and engineering.
The two met years ago at a food show, where they found synergy between their respective companies. Over time, the two found themselves working more and more closely. Their relationship grew, and they began to recognize the potential in a successful business partnership. So, after getting engaged in 2012, the couple channeled their energy into a collective vision for Quality Tank Solutions.
QTS began small. They built the business with the help of local partners including WaterStone Bank, Wisconsin Business Development Finance Corp., and the Small Business Administration's loan programs. Their first accounts were Founder's Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Surly Brewing in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana.
From there, Sukys says, they focused on really understanding the industry. So, she spent time with the brewers at Milwaukee Ale House and soaked in the brewing process, from the ground up.
"I learned. I listened. And I made beer on their little system," she says. "For me, that was the eye opener for understanding. If you're going to get really good at something, you have to know it in and out."
In its first year, QTS partnered with another local manufacturer, contracting them to make their products. But within the first year, business had grown so quickly that they needed to build their own plant.
In fact, growth was so steady that, within their first five years, QTS saw quadruple the growth they'd projected starting out. Sukys says she attributes that, in part, to listening to clients and being willing to grow organically based on customers' needs.
"Did we know then that we'd have a private installation group?" Sukys remarks. "Or that we'd install chillers? No. But, as we moved along, things pieced together. And the growth came with it."
Brew kettles at Good City Brewing
Currently, QTS operates out of a 20,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Marshfield. However, they are in the process of building a brand new 50,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility right across the street from their current plant. And, if all goes well, they'll be in the new facility by September.
"The new facility was designed around the idea of bigger tanks," notes Sukys. "So many breweries, rather than growing their brewery or moving, are going to outdoor fermenters. So the facility was built partially with that in mind."
Sprinkman says that despite their rapid growth, QTS has remained true to its original vision: "to provide great equipment at an affordable rate ... and service the hell out of our customers."
And that vision has been a boon, not only for breweries and food companies, but also for the QTS sales team, who note that their job is easier thanks to both Sprinkman and Sukys.
"I'm relatively new, so I've been out on the road and learning the whole process," notes Paul Arnold, a sales representative who started with QTS in January. "The company was really built on their values and the way they treat people. So many people remark on the fact that they're just good people. It makes everything so much easier."
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