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Brothers Battles & Bounty: Gfesser Brothers Discuss Family Business with their Mom

The sixth installment of the Brothers Battles & Bounty podcast is a very special episode as the Gfesser brothers invite their mother and co-founder of Trendler Inc., Kate Gfesser, on to the podcast to talk about founding and running a family-owned business. Kate is the wife of Trendler founder Anton (Tony) Gfesser, Sr. and has been involved with Trendler since its founding.

The episode begins with Kate thanking her four sons and expressing her pride and gratitude for how they have carried on the family business since the passing of their father.  With the heart and passion with which she speaks, it is hard to believe she is 92 years old!

How the Gfessers Came to Own Trendler

The story of how the Gfesser family came to acquire Trendler starts in 1962 with Tony seeing something about the Trendler factory in the newspaper on a Friday.  He expressed to Kate that he would like to visit this factory because he is considering purchasing the business, to which Kate responded, “You can’t go on a Friday, you have to take me grocery shopping!”

Over laughs from her sons, Kate said she was mad at her husband for a whole week for visiting the factory instead of taking her grocery shopping.

By the time the Gfessers inquired about buying Trendler, they had already established a life for themselves in Chicago.  They came to Chicago from Europe as they were forced to move from Yugoslavia to Austria before relocating to the United States.  When they came to the U.S., Kate was 19 or 20 years old, and Anton was just a baby.

Tony Gfesser was very interested in buying the business from the original owner, Tony Trendler, but he was not sure if he would have enough money to make the purchase.  Tony was interested in buying the factory, believing it would be the perfect business for him to operate.  When he expressed his interest to Tony Trendler about buying the business, Mr. Trendler assured Mr. Gfesser that he would work with him to ensure that he could acquire it.

Even though Tony Gfesser did not have enough money to make the purchase, Mr. Trendler offered him a deal.  He would sell the business to Tony at a good price, and he would not have to pay Mr. Trendler until he made enough money from the business to pay him back.  In exchange for this generous offer, Tony Gfesser agreed to keep the Trendler name for the business at Mr. Trendler’s request. 

Tony Trendler recognized Tony Gfesser as an ambitious young businessman which is why he was willing to help out by offering this deal to sell the business.  The Gfesser family has always been grateful for the help of Mr. Trendler and the business still bears his name to recognize his legacy.  Under the Gfesser family’s ownership, Trendler became one of the world’s largest privately owned chair, barstool, and swivel manufacturers in North America.

The Beginnings of Trendler Under Gfesser Ownership

Before the Gfessers acquired Trendler, Kate and Tony worked at a factory that produced cabinets for about 10 years.  Tony worked as a foreman for the company and Kate worked as a spot welder.  When Tony acquired Trendler, Kate continued to work at this factory to raise the money needed to pay off Mr. Trendler, but she was laid off because her employer was concerned that she would tell her husband about their processes and use them in their newly acquired factory.

When she started working at Trendler, her main job was making swivels with a press punch. To do this, she put her oldest son Anton in daycare and had her youngest son Martin near her in the factory in a play pen.  Tony worked in the factory six days a week, with Labor Day weekend being the only time of year the Gfesser family would go on vacation.

Kate spent years working machines at Trendler and her previous company, and she enjoyed her job.  When Tony tried putting her in the office to take customer phone calls, she asked to be put back on the machines after her first call.  It did not matter to her that she was the owner’s wife, she was happy to contribute as a machine worker.

Stories from Kate

During this episode, Kate tells several entertaining stories about her experiences with the business over the years, including a dinner with a client in which she had too many drinks trying to keep up with a client who loved martinis.  Another great story is when she was mistaken for Dr. Ruth, a famous sex therapist, while at a tradeshow in 1989 and Stefan told people she was Dr. Ruth, resulting in long lines at the Trendler booth through the entire tradeshow.

It is well worth watching this episode of the podcast to listen to Kate tell these stories with humor and enthusiasm.  The laughter from her sons shows how these memories are still cherished by the family many years later. 

In her closing statements, Kate reiterates her love and pride for her children and the success they have had running Trendler.  The Gfesser brothers then show their gratitude to Kate and their late father Tony for their support and remind her that everything they have currently with Trendler is because of the hard work and sacrifices that her and her husband made over the years.

To watch this complete episode and other episodes of the Brothers Battles & Bounty podcast, check out Trendler’s YouTube channel. If you want to hear more stories from Kate, you can watch the complete episode here: