Faces of the Industry: Blake Schwieters
Faces of the Industry: Blake Schwieters
Production Manager • JL Schwieters Building Supply Const. Inc. • Hugo, Minnesota
How did you get into the industry?
JL Schwieters was started in 1980 by my dad, John Schwieters, and his brother, Leo, as a framing labor business. Growing up on a farm in central Minnesota, they knew the value of hard work and what it took to be successful in a labor business. As the company grew, my dad focused on ways to make onsite framing safer, easier, and faster. In 1998, we started with prebuilding stairs to present day where we build wall panels, floor cassettes, and roof trusses. Like many family businesses, it was part of my daily life from a young age. At 10 years old, I visited projects and walked through rough framed houses in all stages of completion. In my early teens, I mowed the lawns at the office. When I was old enough to run a nail gun, I worked in the shop assembling wall panels. After college, I joined the company full time and kick-started a night shift in our wall panel shop. My most recent project was planning and implementing our expansion into the truss business.
What is your favorite part about being in this industry? What could you do without?
One of my favorite parts of the industry is the collaboration. To tackle JL Schwieters’ toughest problems, we are collaborating across all our divisions to come to the best possible solution. It is very fulfilling to work with incredibly skilled and passionate people who share a common goal of “doing it right.” Externally, collaboration with industry peers and our suppliers has been a high point as well. The shared goal of building a better home is a great uniting force across the industry. Every company responds to that goal differently, and many are willing to share their perspectives for the greater good of the industry.
We could do without bowed studs, rain days, and negative 20 degree wind chill! In all seriousness, my dad’s mantra is to focus on the positive. Many of the negative parts of the industry can be reframed as challenges to overcome. Framing is tough work, and there is no time to complain about the obvious!
What is your company, market, or SBCA chapter focused on right now?
We opened our first truss plant in March of 2019. Growing the truss business from the ground up, while integrating the new product line with the existing company has been the main focus of the business. We are doing our best to tap the best practices of the industry, without losing the focus of our turnkey-framing business model that makes our company unique. Bigger picture, our daily focus is to make the onsite building process easier and faster for the framers. Floor panels have become a routine part of the business, and now we are starting to focus on roof elements we can prebuild in our shops.
What challenges do you see for the industry in the future, what solutions do you have for those challenges, and what should SBCA be working on now to meet those challenges?
By the nature of my position, I have always viewed the industry through the lens of manufacturing. I believe the offsite building trend is not only here to stay but also the “right” way to frame. Concurrently, we have seen a stubbornly persistent shortage of onsite labor. The only way forward is the continued flow of work from onsite to a manufacturing environment. That means continuing to improve the machinery, software, and building design standards that allow us to build a labor-efficient and high quality product offsite. Part of that improvement is taking risks and collaborating with industry peers, suppliers, and customers to try out new processes, machinery, and ways of thinking to break the cycle of “what we’ve always done.”
When you are not thinking about trusses, what keeps you busy?
Outside of work, you can find me in one of three places: the gym, the garage, or the kitchen. Wrenching on my car, weightlifting, or honing my cooking skills do a good job of keeping me busy.