Not long after barbed-wire was invented in 1867, Texas ranchers began replacing their fences, leaving miles of smooth wire behind. Three decades later, Shiner resident August Kaspar saw a use for abandoned smooth wire fencing. Using only rudimentary tools, he patiently hand-made a basket for toting corn husks and hay. Soon, a neighboring rancher saw the basket and liked it. He offered to buy it for $1, and August–surprised to have stumbled onto a market for his craftsmanship–agreed. It was 1898—about a hundred years before manufacturing with repurposed materials became fashionable.
August began to make more baskets and, over time, he identified needs and made baskets to address them.Meanwhile, he invested in tools and machinery more sophisticated than pliers. August’s company, Kaspar WireWorks, became versatile, creating a shopping cart that was used in a grocery store in Shiner. It is believed to be the first shopping cart ever used in America. Kaspar WireWorks also invented and manufactured newspaper racks that, during the heyday of newspapers, were used at nine out of ten newspaper stands in North America.
“If it had anything to do with wire, we could make it, and it’s still the same today”
Today, fourth- and fifth-generation Kaspar family members are at the helm of KasparCompanies and its seven diverse subsidiaries. Kaspar Wire Works, the original company, is still a manufacturing stronghold. “If it had anything to do with wire, we could make it, and it’s still the same today,” says Gerald Tempton, Kaspar Companies’ chief administration officer. Other subsidiaries include Texas Precious Metals (a gold and silver bullion dealer), Ranch Hand (which makes heavy-duty truck accessories), Bedrock (which manufactures heavy-duty truck beds), Horizon Firearms (a manufacturer of custom long-range, bolt-action rifles), Iota Outdoors(which uses modern technology to make innovative products for outdoors enthusiasts) and Silverback Homes (a builder of affordable, single-family homes for people who work in the EagleFord Shale region of south Texas). With 382 employees, most based in Shiner, it is the largest employer in Lavaca County. Well over a century after its inception, the company still adheres to its three core values first practiced by August Kaspar: versatility, family, and stewardship.
Kaspar Companies is proud to note that it has been in business for more than 120 years, spanning 21 presidential administrations.During that time, the business has survived two world wars, the GreatDepression and 20 recessions, as well as other threats, such as oil embargoes and steel shortages. One reason cited for the company’s longevity is its versatility: as needs have changed, the company has adapted to meet them.
“During the Great Depression, many companies didn’t survive,” Gerald says. But as August Kaspar traveled from farm to farm, selling baskets, he began to diversify, creating baskets for cotton, vegetables and other goods. He also began to sell his products in general stores and hardware stores. During the Great Depression, August developed and manufactured other products—mostly tools—such as tongs for moving coal, post hole diggers, wire garment hangers and even heavy-duty metal fly swatters. He also improved his baskets, offering painted baskets, as well as cadmium-coated gym baskets, to discourage rust.
Throughout the many decades of its existence, Kaspar Companies has added product lines to fulfill needs; likewise, it has discontinued products when they were no longer needed.It has also created—or acquired—subsidiaries with diverse products and services. “Our agility in adapting has always been something we have encouraged and we have benefited from,” Gerald says.“We are quite agile and quite adaptive.”
“Everything we make is custom-made,”
says Laura Gautreau, president of Kaspar Wire Works. “It’s made to solve a problem for somebody.” So, when the spread of the coronavirus began making news, Laura thought about what the pandemic might mean for Kaspar Wire Works and its employees. She noted that supply chains of products manufactured in China were disrupted; she wondered if the company could manufacture something that would be of use to medical providers, even though it might be something that they’d never made before.
Opting to be proactive rather than reactive, Laura assembled a task force that contacted medical suppliers to see if there were shortages of any products. Taskforce members soon learned that hospital beds were needed. With help from a customer, Kaspar employees came up with a design that could be manufactured quickly and affordably. “We are not schooled up to make the ones for the more sophisticated hospitals,” Laura says,“but we can make hospital beds for overflow patients—those not in such critical condition.” Kaspar Wire Works can be in production in less than a week from the time a customer first places an order, she says.
August Kaspar’s son Arthur began working in his father’s business when he was 10 years old, and his expertise in operating and maintaining churlish equipment was soon apparent. As he continued to work in the family business, his mechanical aptitude increased, and he created machines specifically for the family business. Arthur is also credited with designing that first grocery shopping cart. His son Don created the newspaper rack dispenser that became so widely used across the continent.
Today, five family members work at Kaspar Companies, but other employees are treated like family, too. One of the many ways Kaspar strives to be a family-friendly employer is through its counseling services. Recognizing employees may have problems stemming from such stressors as financial concerns, marriage issues, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and substance abuse, Kaspar Companies offers confidential, professional counseling to its employees, both on-site and off. This counseling is offered to employees at no cost, and there is no limit to the number of sessions available. The program also includes the family members of employees. Apparently, there were needs that these services addressed, because employees are taking advantage of the program. “We are very proud to do that because our employees have utilized that service extensively,” Gerald says, “far more than we expected.”
From the start, Kaspar Wire Works was dedicated to faithful stewardship of God-given resources. “We are a faith-based based company,” Gerald says. “That is not something we hide under a bushel.It is something that is definitely the core of Kaspar Companies. It is not unusual to start our board meetings or other meetings with prayer.We believe that when you do well, like Kaspar Companies has done, we have to do good–that means to be faithful with what God has given us.”
Not surprisingly, one of Gerald’s favorite Bible verses is Luke 12:48:
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
One of the ways Kaspar Companies exemplifies good stewardship is through lean management, which originates from the ToyotaProduction System, often referred to as Just in Time (JIT) Production.It is a system focused on removing waste from processes, problem-solving, and customer service, which enhances the company’s ability to operate more efficiently. “We focus on changing for the better,” Gerald says. “We identify a problem and immediately work to solve it. What can we do to address this problem and make things better right then and there? It’s helping us streamline many things.”
“ It means continuous improvement,” Laura agrees. “We fully support
lean manufacturing and a lean way of things, eliminating waste. How can you do more with the people you have, the streamlining process, and making it easier for people?”
All of this streamlining is done with an eye to future success. “We have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit at Kaspar Companies,” Gerald says, hinting that the company may soon be diversifying yet again. “If we can fulfill a need…and we believe we can do that business and do it well and really serve the customer well…that is something we will move forward on. We are not very shy or reserved in that regard.”
For more information about Kaspar Companies and its subsidiaries, visit kasparcompanies.com.