Kay Park Recreation—A New Generation Rebuilds the Family Business

Chris Borglum, left, and his brother, Larry Borglum

Kay Park Recreation was born in 1954 because its founder, Keith Borglum, was in the right place at the right time.

“His older brother happened to know some guys on a county conservation board,” said Keith’s son, Larry Borglum. “In the 1950s, when they started making parks everywhere, his older brother said, ‘I know some guys who could do that…’ ”

Years passed, word spread, and Kay Park Recreation’s business as a supplier of quality outdoor recreation equipment grew steadily.

Until things just stopped. Keith Borglum, a smart man who survived the Great Depression and never really trusted anything he didn’t understand, had reached his limits.

In 2016, when the then-90-year-old Borglum retired, his sons called CIRAS looking for help modernizing their plant. It was time, they decided, to change.

“Our operations were getting pretty antiquated,” said current company president Chris Borglum. “My dad was the founder, and as quite often happens with an entrepreneur like that, he let it grow to the point where it was as big as he felt he could handle, and then he started choking it…. It basically stagnated things, because everything had to funnel through my dad.”

Kay Park makes outdoor recreational eqiupment, such as picnic tables, in addition to agricultural tanks and towable bleachers.

Chris and Larry Borglum have now been working with CIRAS for more than a year on efforts to update how Kay Park both makes and sells its equipment. CIRAS experts have helped the company declutter its factory space and improve efficiency by empowering managers to make more decisions. CIRAS also is

helping the company expand its internet marketing apparatus and shift away from the nearly 200,000 paper catalogs that Kay Park used to print and distribute roughly every 12 months.

“I would say the biggest thing we got out of the first CIRAS project was just a new way of looking at things,” Chris Borglum said. “We still had some silos in terms of managers and departments and stuff. What the project did was bring all management levels to an understanding of the whole picture. So, when we started talking about where we need to start spending our time and our money on improvements, it was clear to the entire group why we were choosing what we were choosing.”

CIRAS account manager Sean Galleger believes the Borglums are a typical family business in that “there’s going to be a lot of companies that recognize themselves in this picture.”

“Certainly, a lot of old-line family companies like this would be inclined to say, ‘Well, let’s just stick with what got us here,’ ” Galleger said. “These guys could do that, but I think they see that things really need to be shaken up for the long-term benefit of the company.”

The Borglums say their goal is to improve efficiency and grow the company by roughly 10 percent a year while maintaining approximately the same number of employees.

That will require a new approach to many aspects of the business. But the Borglums believe it’s time.

“There are still some people around here who probably question the value of all of it,” Larry Borglum said. “It was so long developing the situation and the culture that we had, it probably will take more than two or three years to change it.”

Like many privately held Iowa manufacturers, the company is averse to debt. So upcoming production changes will be financed by new customers recruited from a newly modernized website launching this spring. If all goes as planned, the company thinks it’s reasonable to believe they could see revenues double within seven or eight years.

“They’re trying to take their business model, their operations, and everything else into the 21st century,”

Galleger said. “They’re attacking it from multiple points. Typically, we see companies start on their production floor and then expand from there. These guys are doing all that, but they’re taking on completely different facets of the business at the same time.”

So far, so good.


> For more information, contact Sean Galleger at galleger@iastate.edu or 515-290-0181.

A version of this article was published in the Spring 2018 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.