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Just dropping by: Insulation & Supply Company

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June 14, 2023

Ux5pHROIejEMANITOWOC – Seventy-five years ago, Insulation & Supply Company got its start in Manitowoc.

Nearly eight decades later, the company is stronger than ever.

In my third installment of Just dropping by, I met with Steve Oswald, president of Insulation & Supply Company – a business specializing in tile/stone located at 1129 S. 41st St. on the city’s west side.

“It’s a family business,” he said. “My daughter (Kelsey Waack) came to work for me two years ago and does operations. I still run sales and do the purchasing – she and I work together, and we have a couple of other employees we rely on.”

Oswald said the company got its start in 1948, but his family didn’t get involved until his dad bought it in 1957.

“I started in 1976,” he said. “I’ve got five siblings, but none of them are involved in the business. My dad worked with the company (until he passed away in 2013). He was 88 and still loving what he did.”

Oswald said he, too, loves what he does.

“When working becomes a job, and I don’t enjoy it anymore, then I’ll retire,” he said.

Despite the name, Oswald said the business doesn’t deal in insulation anymore – it’s strictly a tile/stone importer and wholesaler.

“We used to supply insulation to Manitowoc Company’s cranes for sound-deadening,” he said. “We stopped doing that in the mid-1970s. We started doing tile in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it grew from there. Our showrooms are open to the public, but we don’t sell to the general public – it’s strictly for viewing. We don’t manufacture any tile at Insulation & Supply Company.”

Why Manitowoc?
Oswald said he’s often been asked, “Why not Appleton or Green Bay?”

“My mom said, “I was born and raised in Manitowoc, and I’m not leaving,’” he said. “I wanted to open another location in southern Wisconsin – maybe Madison or Milwaukee – but that didn’t happen because the Great Recession took hold in 2007-08.”

In addition to the Manitowoc location, Oswald said the company also has locations in Appleton and Green Bay.

Why keep the name?
Because the company doesn’t deal with insulation, I asked Oswald if he ever considered rebranding/renaming the business.
After a short pause, he showed me a wry smile.

“My mom asked me about changing the name,” he laughed. “Because we’re in three different locations, she suggested Tri-City Tile, or something like that. When we were thinking of opening the southern location, I said, ‘Would we have to change it to Quad-City Tile then?’ I got that mother-son look – she wasn’t happy with my response and never brought it up again.”

Oswald said he has thought about changing the name since.

“But from my perspective, I get a lot of calls from vendors all over the world – they know me by Insulation & Supply Company,” he said. “It would be an extra expense to change the name and rebrand us. My customers know us, and we know them.”

Daily operations
Oswald said between all three locations, 24 employees work at Insulation & Supply Company.

“We have several employees who’ve been here for a long time,” he said. “I put a lot of responsibility on my employees, but I don’t like to micromanage. I tell them, ‘This is your responsibility, so make sure you get the job done.’”
Oswald said he doesn’t expect perfection.

“I know everyone makes mistakes, but we communicate about not making the same mistakes repeatedly – if you’re going to make a mistake, at least make a different one,” he laughed.

// Oswald, president of Insulation & Supply Company in Manitowoc, started working for the company in 1976. Rich Palzewic Photo

Oswald said when he started in 1976, the company had four employees.

“It was my dad running it, me, a lady who ran the office and a guy who ran the warehouse,” he said. “We had 35 employees at one point, but we’ve become a little more efficient over the years. I’m not opposed to hiring more people if there is a need.”
Giving back
The 71-year-old Oswald said he grew up in Manitowoc and graduated from Roncalli High School.

“My three boys went to Lincoln High School, and my daughter went to Roncalli,” he said. “We’re a firm believer in supporting the schools.”

Oswald said when his parents passed away, they started a scholarship at Roncalli.

“I recently got a note saying our $1,300 scholarship this year went toward a student’s tuition,” he said. “As the schools come to us, we try to support them. At times, the preschool asks for tile so the kids can work on crafts.”

Oswald said they also support “Gumby’s Club Fore a Cure,” a cancer group in Manitowoc County.

“It was started about 12 years ago by Rob Roseff, who himself was diagnosed with cancer,” he said. “He wanted to raise more for Relay for Life, so he had a golf outing with a couple of his buddies – we’ve been doing it ever since. We’ve given away almost $500,000 to cancer patients in Manitowoc County since its inception.”

Oswald said it took his own family getting hit with cancer to learn about Gumby’s Club Fore a Cure.

“Seven years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer,” he said. “We got a check in the mail and didn’t know who it was from. The next year, I got cancer, and we got another check. We looked into it and became friends with Rob and his wife. The group has grown. We have about 100 volunteers who help run the golf outing. We bring in live music, and we’ve had Bill Jartz emcee the auction.”

To learn more about Gumby’s Club Fore a Cure, find the nonprofit organization on Facebook.
Exit plan
Oswald said his daughter has shown interest in eventually taking over the company, but his three sons “have really good jobs” in other sectors of life.

“My daughter used to be a teacher, but eventually got out of that and asked me about working in the summer until she figured out her next move,” he said. “She has helped make us a more efficient company. My youngest son travels the world for Merck – a pharmaceutical company. My oldest son is a chiropractor by trade but now works in the supplements industry – he gives talks to doctors and chiropractors. My second oldest son works in the corporate office at Best Buy.”

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