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Rural Perham sign business goes international

When Jim Kratzke decided to pursue making signs and potentially selling them, he did so with three goals in mind. First, the product needed to withstand weather conditions year-round. Second, the sign needed to be reasonably priced and lastly, it needed to be animated.

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Cathy Kratzke (right) chats with potential customers at a fair in Detroit Lakes about animated signs she and her family make. Cathy's husband Jim had the idea for the signs and now Metalcraft by K is a family business that includes their adult children: J.J., Pete, Jeanna (Honer) and Jordan.
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PERHAM – What was once a hobby for Jim Kratzke transformed into an international business that employs his children full-time. Metalcraft by K all began when the rural Perham resident reminisced with his wife about a sign that went click-clack at his grandpa’s house.

“My husband is very creative,” his wife Cathy said, noting that when her husband recalled the wind-powered sign, a discussion followed about making his own.

When Jim decided to pursue making signs and potentially selling them, he did so with three goals in mind. First, the product needed to withstand weather conditions year-round. Second, the sign needed to be reasonably priced and lastly, it needed to be animated. At the time, Jim looked at the current market of animated signs and figured out how the moving parts operated. He then found a way to improve the quality.

After years of testing and trial and error, Jim created what would be his first marketable sign — a fisherman made out of solid steel and given a powder-coat paint finish. The drive system for the animated parts allowed the wind to spin the sign 360 degrees. It was built from stainless steel and sealed bearings.

While creating signs was a hobby, both Jim and Cathy had full-time jobs.

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“He started making them when our kids were young,” Cathy said, adding their children often joined the fun by offering suggestions for new designs. “He’s been building signs now for more than 27 years.”

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Jim Kratzke started a sign business that has blossomed into a family business that sells their products to an international customer base.
Contributed / Kratzke family

As their children grew older, they were given more opportunities in the family business. Eventually, the business boomed and afforded Jim and Cathy an opportunity to be self-employed full-time. While the door to join the family business was open, they encouraged their children to get a degree before deciding. Cathy noted their children’s careers included auto body work, architecture, education and mechanical engineering. As they finished their studies and entered the workforce, Jim and Cathy continued a steady pace of growth in the sign business, while making due in their 576-square-foot shop.

Eventually, they hit a growth spurt that required more space and machines. Cathy said they built a 3,200-square-foot shop in 2005. New equipment was added, from coater ovens to tumblers, laser cutters and more. State-of-the-art equipment didn’t change the original three-rule mission Jim set in place when he began building signs. It simply added to the creative options customers can pick from, with about 60 designs available.

“We have a notebook beside the bed and he’ll get up in the middle of the night to write down an idea,” Cathy said.

Eventually, their children returned to the Perham area and expressed an interest in focusing their careers on the family business.

“Each of them, we could see, had a gift that God gave them,” Cathy said. “They were natural at different aspects of the business.”

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The Kratzke family of rural Perham makes animated signs, which can be customized. The signs are sold nationally and internationally.
Contributed / Kratzke family

In addition to strengthening the ties of family through daily connections, Cathy said they have also been gifted with friendships because of the business. She noted people may buy a sign at a craft show or order one on their website, www.metalcraftbyk.com , and then stop for a visit when they see them out and about or at an event.

Their signs are also shipped nationally and internationally, with some landing as far away as Australia (and many countries in-between).

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“Needless to say, the good lord blessed us,” she said. “It makes our hearts feel so blessed and honored to be able to make daily memories together.”

Related Topics: OTTER TAIL COUNTYPERHAM
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