When Dan Nyhof was a very young man, he watched his dad earn a solid living as a salesman selling siding to contractors. When it was time for him to decide what direction to take his own life, his dad gave him a nudge.
“What he saw was there were other contractors getting into seamless gutters,” Dan said. “He said it looked like a good business, so I started saving up my coins.”
With a $6,000 bank loan, 18-year-old Dan opened Nyhof Custom Gutter with just his mom, Irene Nyhof, to help him. That staffing plan didn’t last long, though. One day, the publisher of The Sheboygan Press came home and saw Irene up on a ladder helping to install gutters on his house. He gave young Dan a piece of his mind and it was clear Irene wasn’t going to be able to help out much longer.
So Dan hired his very good friend Dean and for several years, the two of them ran the business with an extruding machine and a secondhand bakery van. Dean died at a young age in a tragic accident, and Dan handled the business alone for some time until he finally decided to add more employees. Then he added even more people, then another machine, then he took on siding and after that windows.
In 1987, Dan says, he had a brainstorm.
By then his father, Fred Nyhof, was working for a business called Modern Materials Corporation in Detroit, which was bought out by Reynolds Aluminum. Through all that turnover, the builders who had been doing business with Fred over the years stayed with him and he spotted a need the business wasn’t filling: Keeping a supply of materials in stock in Gibbsville, where he was based, for fill-in orders. At the time, the Reynolds headquarters was in Ohio.
Fred explained to the Reynolds people that when builders needed a small amount of siding or other material to fill in a job, there wasn’t anywhere for them to go. He convinced Reynolds to supply him with materials on consignment: 20-square of every color, coil stock, trim, etc., which he sold out of a warehouse in Gibbsville.
And that’s when Dan’s brainstorm struck. “Everybody else is selling material out of here, why don’t I?” Dan said. “That’s how we started United Building Supply. We were selling his products – we were one of his customers.”
After that, Dan let nature take its course.
“All I did was just go forward and let it grow as it wanted to,” he said. “I didn’t force the issue, I let it just grow. I hit some of the best years, through the ’70s and ’80s.”
Now, Nyhof Custom Gutter has 15 employees and United Building Supply is run by three of them, who concentrate on that end of the business a little more. Over the years, Dan and his company have taken a few risks, and all but one has paid off. The one that didn’t? Pellet stoves.
Though interest in them was high and it might have taken off, installation season for pellet stoves was in the summer – the company’s busiest season. There just wasn’t time to master it, so Dan let it go.
During the Great Recession, Dan closed down the Nyhof Custom Gutter & Aluminum showroom in downtown Oostburg, which employed four people, and rented it out to My Best Friend’s Closet consignment shop.
“We moved everybody over here and rented out the building,” he said. “We trimmed and kept moving forward.”
For the last several years, Dan’s sons Shannon and Joel have been intimately involved in the business, and now Dan is working on a retirement plan for himself. In the meantime, he’s doing what he does best – responding to the ebb and flow of the market and providing homeowners and builders with a contractor and supplier they can trust.
“Almost everything that I wanted to do and went forth and did it, worked,” Dan said.