As seen in the Tried & True Fall 2022 issue
The town of Birmingham, Iowa doesn’t have the notoriety of the famous Alabama city that shares its name. Of course, that’s to be expected for a town that only boasts a few hundred residents—367, to be exact, according to the 2020 Census. But despite the size and population differences, Iowa’s Birmingham does have one thing that Alabama doesn’t: Lick Creek Enterprises, LLC.
Owned by husband-and-wife duo Jim and Donna Lee Mathias, Lick Creek Enterprises was the first business in Iowa to carry Fratco pipe, even predating Fratco’s plant in Mt. Pleasant by several years.
Naturally, Jim is happy to now have a Fratco location just thirty miles away from his shop. “As you’d expect, product availability and supply has increased since they opened in Mt. Pleasant,” notes Jim. “The freight bill is also much cheaper since you don’t have to haul it as far.”
OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
The idea of long-distance hauling has a special significance for the Mathias family because their relationship with Fratco began with a delivery that truly went the extra mile.
“We had secured a big contract, and we planned to use another pipe company in the area. However, that company decided they’d rather take the project over for themselves than sell us the pipe. I called up Steve Overmyer, who was still Fratco’s president at the time, and he said he could supply me with the shipment of dual-wall I needed instead.”
Then, Steve asked Jim when he needed the pipe.
“I told him I needed it as soon as possible,” recalls Jim with a chuckle. “I assumed it would take a few days to arrange the delivery.” Steve Overmyer and his team in Francesville had different plans.
“Steve showed up with the semi load of pipe we needed the next morning,” says Jim. “He had driven it to me himself—overnight—all the way from Indiana to Iowa.”
Ever since then, the relationship between Lick Creek Enterprises and Fratco has grown stronger with every passing year as Jim and Donna Lee’s customers continue to be thrilled with the quality and reliability of Fratco products.
“Fratco pipe is steadily a good product,” Jim explains. “It never fluctuates in quality—it’s always reliable that way.”
Jim goes on to explain that, even through the resin shortage, his company always had everything they needed from Fratco, both in terms of product supplied as well as the company’s service and support.
“You can’t help but form relationships when you’re dealing with the same people over and over again with positive results,” Jim explains. “I’ve gotten to know my rep at Fratco, Alan Kruszka, pretty well over the years.”
“Fratco supports us in everything we do,” Jim says. “We both aim for quality in every endeavor.”
These days, the supply-and-demand relationship between Jim and Fratco goes both ways. Since Lick Creek Enterprises also specializes in fabrication, they currently make many of the specialized pipe fittings that Fratco carries. Overall, this relationship demonstrates how businesses can grow together with each side benefiting from the other’s specialized expertise.
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS TO PROMISING FUTURES
Lick Creek Enterprises and Fratco have more in common than their constant strive for quality. As it turns out, both businesses began small, with each company built up from the same cornerstone: family.
“We started out very small, working out of my dad’s garage,” says Jim. “Donna Lee helped me with everything in the beginning. From paperwork to welding, she was always right there by my side. She had to be, or we wouldn’t have made it.”
Now, having long since expanded their business to its own building on the outskirts of Birmingham, Jim laughs as he looks back on those humble beginnings. “Some days we didn’t know whether we were half-crazy, and some days we wondered whether or not we were fully crazy.”
It wasn’t all struggle, though. “It was nice to have your own company, especially when your kids are growing up and they can work there with you,” says Jim, who has two children with Donna Lee. “It’s something where, when your kids are older, you can offer them opportunities if they want them.”
Presently, the youngest Mathias son, Tyler, works among several people employed by Lick Creek Enterprises. When asked whether his son will inherit the company after he retires, Jim simply smiles and says, “If he wants it.”
As a multi-generational company, Fratco wishes the best to Jim, Donna Lee and Lick Creek Enterprises’ potential second generation of leadership. Their business has been invaluable to Fratco’s mission of unbeatable customer service and unparalleled quality products, and the company looks forward to sharing more mutual success alongside the Mathias family for years to come. With Fratco’s 100-year anniversary coming in 2023, now is the time to celebrate valuable partnerships such as these.