Wayne Hanson made two promises to Earl Lewis 30 years ago when he bought R.E Lewis Refrigeration from him: to keep the name and keep the business in Creston where it has been since 1957. At 58, Hanson has begun to plan for his retirement in 10 years and is asking the same of his children.
Four of Hanson’s children, Seth Hanson, Holly De Hamer, David Marroquin and John Gravlin, will be buying the business over the next 10 years with Wayne staying on to teach them everything they need to know and gradually handing the reins over to them.
R.E. Lewis Refrigeration works in food manufacturing and distributing nationwide, constructing ammonia refrigerators. Keeping the business in Creston is just as important to Wayne as it was to Lewis.
“We could be located anywhere,” he said. “Creston’s a nice town, that’s why we stayed.”
As he grew the company from a local business with a few employees to a national one with more than 80 employees, Wayne continued to make Creston his base, even as he completed projects across the country. He has had offers to sell the company, but that would have taken it out of Creston.
The commitment to Creston shows in more than the location. R.E. Lewis Refrigeration has sponsored a balloon during balloon days for many years and helping out with 4-H clubs and other community projects.
“It’s a quiet business,” Hanson said. “But we want to have a positive impact on the community.”
The new owners
Wayne’s son Seth Hanson, at 32, has worked with him the longest. Starting at 16, he worked part-time in the summers as labor, helper and welder’s helper then moving on to sales after a three-year break for college. He is now in project management and estimation.
“The idea is to learn from Dad and then relieve him from day-to-day responsibilities ... in the first five years,” Seth Hanson said. “Then taking a more central role.”
David Marroquin, 38, married into the family in 2014 after meeting Liz Gravlin while she was on a mission trip to his native Guatemala. He joined the company four years ago when they moved back to Creston from Arkansas. He works full time for R.E. Lewis as a design manager while doing freelance and volunteer work for Common Ground, his architectural company.
Marroquin said he was a little nervous about working for his father-in-law but it has been a great experience.
“He treats everyone like family,” Marroquin said. “The same relaxed way he is out and about, he is at work.”
De Hamer, 37, was working as an accountant in Des Moines when her father called her three years ago to offer a job as a controller - working in the day-to-day financial matters - for R.E. Lewis. She mainly works from her home in Cumming, traveling to Creston at least one day a week. De Hamer said the change to owning part of the company feels natural.
“It felt like the right timing for him to come and talk to us ... should we start trying to formalize a transition,” she said. “‘I’d like to teach you everything I know,’ he said.”
John Gravlin, at 24, is the youngest of the siblings who will be buying into the business. In May, he will have been working for the company for four years and is a project manager. He said he appreciates that the four siblings work together well.
“All of us have a passion for what we do, and Wayne doesn’t want to work forever,” he said. I’d like to continue to build off of what Wayne has built.”
When asked about the business, all four of the new owners emphasized how important family is. And not just the blended family Wayne and Michelle Hanson created when they married, they look at all of their employees as family.
“(It) can be difficult to navigate personal and business dealings but communication is key,” Seth Hanson said.
“That’s the spirit of R.E. Lewis,” De Hamer said. “Everybody is working to help everybody succeed. ... That’s our main value is that everybody is family. It doesn’t matter whether you are related to Wayne in some way, you’re part of the family.”