Everybody remembers his or her high school locker. The sound of hundreds of metal doors closing over the blare of the class bell. The metallic vessel that held your algebra books, unfinished assignments, and teenage hopes and dreams. A sweater hanging off the center metal hook or, if you were lucky and talented, a letterman’s jacket.
Everybody remembers his or her high school locker.
There’s a very good chance that that locker was made by DeBourgh Manufacturing, a U.S. Chamber member since 1991.
The Berg brothers established DeBourgh Manufacturing, a small sheet metal shop specializing in poultry supplies, roofing, gutters, steel ceilings, and light metal works, in 1909 in Minneapolis. “If it’s made out of steel, we’ve probably made it,” says Janet Berg, chief administrative officer and granddaughter of one of the original founders. Janet, along with her brothers Rob and Steve, still owns the company.
DeBourgh got into lockers after being contacted by the University of Minnesota in 1931. This was the beginning of the “All American Locker” product, which continues to be manufactured today. “We’ve actually tracked down those original lockers,” says Rob Berg, chief visionary officer. “They’re at the YMCA at White Bear Lake, Minnesota.”
The locker division helped drive the company’s growth, reaching $16 million in sales by the early 1980s. Two other divisions—heavy steel fabrication and a town and country bridge division—helped employ 343 people until the steel industry collapsed in the 1980s. “It was a six-year downward slide for us,” says Rob.
By 1990, after liquidating the fabricating and pedestrian bridge divisions, the Bergs looked for a more cost-friendly location for their remaining locker business.
After investigating business sites in 7 states and 13 locations, the Bergs found everything they needed in the desert town of La Junta, Colorado, including a 100,000-square-foot plant. The move took six weeks and 80 flatbed trucks.
Then the unthinkable happened. As part of the move, La Junta had agreed to redo the plant roof during the normally dry summer months. But that year there were torrential rains, resulting in eight inches of water overnight. The entire plant was flooded, and the steel that was already in there began rusting.
“We went to La Junta and said, ‘This is going to put us out of business,’” Rob explains. “But with the city’s help, we got a loan, and they helped us out with manpower,” he adds. Within a month and a half, DeBourgh was back in business.
After the move, DeBourgh went from a seven-year losing stretch to a net profit almost overnight. In 1990, DeBourgh posted an 11.3% profit loss. By 1991, it had net profits of 9%; by 1992, 12%.
Two years ago, the company named Jorgen Salo as president. Salo, a native of Finland, has been with DeBourgh for 14 years, moving up from engineer to president.
DeBourgh continues to create customized lockers for everything from K–12 to the military and first responders. Also, Salo and the Bergs are moving into new high-tech territory, partnering with Bridgepoint Systems and Cisco Systems Inc. to create a variety of lockers with cloud-based, electronic access. These lockers could be used for controlled delivery and retrieval of items, anything from packages to sensitive materials, even laundry. “We’re seeing a resurgence in demand for lockers from that side,” says Salo.
Editors Note: Featured Image shows Rob and Janet Berg the third-generation owners of DeBourgh Manufacturing, a locker manufacturing company that’s going high tech. Photo by Ian Wagreich/U.S. Chamber of Commerce
by Sheryll Poe