Chris Garden - November 2021 Entrepreneur of the Month
The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and North Iowa Area SBDC are proud to recognize Chris Garden of L&J Industries in Charles City, IA as the November 2021 Entrepreneur of the Month.
L&J Industries was founded in 1965 by James B. Garden as a small welding and repair shop in Charles City. Now, L&J Industries operates as a full-service metal manufacturing facility specializing in grain bin floor systems. Chris Garden, current President and Owner/Operator, took over L&J Industries from his father in 2003 after spending 17 years working his way up and through the business. He now runs the company with Lisa Garden, his wife of 34 years. Two of their three children, Jacie and Brady, also work for the family business, while daughter Kristen resides in Waterloo. Continuing James Garden’s legacy and growing the business with the help of family has always been the plan. “It was a gradual process,” Chris says. “I gradually gained more responsibility as dad gradually took more time off.” Chris earned a Business degree from North Iowa Area Community College, then went to work for James in 1986.
After becoming Assistant Manager in 1991, Chris decided to make sure he was planning for the business’s future. He enrolled in FastTrac, the predecessor to the NIACC Pappajohn Center’s current Venture School program. The eight-week entrepreneurial training program provides business owners and entrepreneurs with the ability to deep dive into their own business, with a focus on the business plan, cash flow, and customer discovery. “[This training] helps you take a step back from the business and look at the big picture,” Chris says. “You can get too tied up in the day-to-day stuff. This helps you set goals and keep working towards them.”
L&J Industries prides itself on building grain bin floor systems to the specifications of each client. “We have a lot of good quality products and dedicated customers,” Chris says. They still provide custom welding and fabrication services as well.
Brook Boehmler, Regional Director of the North Iowa Area Small Business Development Center, highlights how L&J Industries focuses on its relationship with both customers and its employees – and their commitment to giving back. “Chris and L&J Industries constantly come up when we talk about supporting the community and supporting other entrepreneurs,” says Brook.
Chris grew up with a culture of service, participating in the Jaycees and other organizations. As a Charles City native, Chris says, “I think it’s important to do my part. I’m lucky enough with my business to have the resources to do it. When I can help in any way to help bring business to town, I do it. When we create jobs here, we build something for our kids so they don’t have to move away to find jobs.”
L&J Industries takes advantages of the many services provided by NIACC, including 260E training for their employees in robotics as well as welding courses. “It’s important to build a good team around you,” Chris says. “You can’t take employees for granted.” Chris knows the importance of creating local jobs, and says that as a business they try to pay as well as they can, offer benefits, and create a workplace culture that values everyone’s opinions. When weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, Brook Boehmler was impressed at how L&J Industries knew their numbers and were able to let the data guide their course. But Chris quickly demurred, “It’s all due to my staff. They do their work accurately which makes it easy for me to know my numbers.” It’s truly a team effort to build a successful business. Chris is currently working with Jacie and Brady on a succession plan to pass the business on to the third generation.
Chris’s advice for new entrepreneurs is simple. “Remain flexible,” he says. “Be willing to make a decision today but don’t be afraid to change your mind tomorrow if it’s not the right decision.”