Owensboro Living is all about supporting local businesses, so when we came across this story of a 5th generation family business that is still going strong, we wanted to pay tribute to Dahl and Groezinger, Inc.
Founded in 1885, Dahl and Groezinger has the distinction of being Kentucky’s oldest family-owned scrap iron and metal processor. Today, John and Drew Kirkland, along with cousin Will Helwig, run the day-to-day operations. All three are great-great grandsons of founder George Groezinger, who started the business in 1885.
The story goes that George Groezinger met Phillip Dahl on the boat ride over from Stuttgart, Germany, in 1867. Once in New York City, the two met a man named Mr. Lacer, who brought them to Owensboro to buy hides, wool, and pelts for his American company. When Mr. Lacer retired, they bought his business, established it as Dahl and Groezinger, and set up shop at 114 Frederica Street at what is now the empty lot where the Bluegrass Center will be built.
When George’s son Walter joined the firm in 1910, he believed scrap metal was the future of the business and began to develop the metal processing operations. With that new direction, the company continued to grow and expand, survived the Great Depression, and moved to the current location at 940 W 9th Street in 1954.
Today, D&G averages 100-120 customers a day from the surrounding region, bringing in everything from aluminum cans to junk cars. They accept both ferrous (scrap iron and steel) and non-ferrous (copper, aluminum, brass, and stainless steel). Basically, anything metal. They then ship it by the truckload, by barge, railroad cars, and overseas containers. A CSX railroad runs right through their property and they recently bought a facility across from the Owensboro Riverport at 1600 River Road so they can load barges. With all those avenues, the scrap metal from your garage could literally be shipped anywhere in the country or around the world to be melted down and made into something new. Just last week a shipment container went to China. Next week they’re loading a barge.
Driving through the scrap yard, there are giant piles of car parts, appliances, lots of random metal, and even junk automobiles. Five cranes (one with a giant magnet, one with a mobile cutting shear, and three grapples) swing about, moving material and loading railcars for shipping. Another building collects and weighs aluminum and copper.
Recycling metal at D&G is pretty simple. First, you drive up on the scale so they can record your full load weight. Then you follow the path around to the giant “claw” that empties the load for you. Once you’re empty, you circle back around to the scale so they can record your empty weight. After they signal you, park and walk up to the window to collect your money.
Being one of the oldest family run businesses in Kentucky caught the attention of KET. Kentucky Life filmed a “Dave Does It” segment where Dave Shuffett got to drive a Bobcat, run a crane, and crush a car. After all that, Dave commented that the work was hard and dirty but everybody who works at D&G loves their job and enjoys the family atmosphere.
Understandably, remaining a family run business is something they take great pride in at Dahl & Groezinger. “It’s unheard of in our industry to stay a family run business as long as we have,” says Vice President Bill Helwig. “A lot have started out that way, but most people end up selling to larger corporations.” Oh, they’ve had offers, for sure. But Helwig explained that each time they had an offer, the family had to come together and make a decision. “Ultimately, we decided that we don’t want our kids to be trust fund babies. We wanted them to work,” Helwig explained.
Which worked out great because the sons did want to work. John and Drew Kirkland and Will Helwig each started working as soon as they could – at age 16. Will joined the firm after he graduated Georgetown in 2002. John and Drew joined when they graduated from Alabama with MBAs in 2003. “We just always knew we wanted to do this, so every business class we took we had this in our minds,” said Drew.
“I always say that being born into a family business can be a blessing and a curse,” says President Drew Kirkland, Sr. “It’s a blessing if you love it. But it you don’t love working for the family business, it can feel like a curse. It’s not for everybody. It has to be something you enjoy.”
5th generation member Lee Hall decided not to join the firm and is pursuing her own interests as a successful interior designer. The other 5th generation member is Bill Conley III, who did join the firm for a while but then decided to enter the banking business. The Conley line of the family was very instrumental in the success of D&G. Bill Conley Jr. was 4th generation, and his father, Bill Conley Sr., was a connecting link for over 40 years from his time in the service during the war years until 1987.
Helwig admits that it’s not always easy to make a family business work. It takes good communication, a little “giving in,” and agreeing to work together. “Our predecessors really taught us that, and thankfully this generation has been able to work together like we have and keep this thing going.”
Looking forward, the 5th generation members now have growing families of their own, which leaves plenty of opportunity for the legacy to continue.
The last paragraph on the “history” page of their website puts it this way:
Though another century has passed, Dahl & Groezinger will continue to use our family ownership and management to give each customer and consumer the personal attention they deserve. Regardless of the ever-changing business climate, our customers and consumers will remain our top priority. Thank you for allowing us to serve you for over 125 years.