Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Robbins family expands business concerns

March 21, 2001

In Tonganoxie, when you say Midwest, you say a lot.

There's Midwest Carpet, Midwest Insulation, Midwest Athletic Club and Midwest Chiropractic Center, all owned and operated by members of the Robbins family.

Finney Robbins, 49, who with his wife, Marilyn, owns Midwest Carpet, said the business began long before he came along.

In 1915, Robbins' grandfather, Frank Robbins Sr., established Robbins and Sons Floor Sanding Co. in Kansas City, Kan. The elder Robbins and his seven sons gained expertise in refinishing wood floors.

A couple of these sons, Ralph and Herb, are familiar names in Tonganoxie, as in the early 1960s, Ralph and Ruth Robbins moved their family to Tonganoxie and opened Midwest Carpet.

The business was initially housed on East Fourth Street where a Farm Bureau office now operates. Later the Robbins constructed a building on U.S. Highway 24-40, where the school superintendent's office is now. Then, in the mid-1970s, the family purchased a vacant lot at the corner of Fourth and Main streets, their business' current home.

Finney Robbins, a 1969 graduate of Tonganoxie High School, started working for his parents in 1973, after getting out of the service.

Not too long after, Rick Chapman, who is married to Ralph and Ruth's daughter, Melanie, also finished his military service and began working for the company.

The Robbins family soon added an insulation business to their company.

"Dad and Rick and I went to Arkansas and bought an insulation franchise," Finney Robbins said. "It took three or four years for that to get up and going."

Today, Rick Chapman is owner and operator of Midwest Insulation.

And even now, as the family grows, Midwest continues to grow with them. Children of Marilyn and Finney Robbins are a part of that.

The most recent spurt of growth began in 1999 when the former Tonganoxie bowling alley was for sale.

Finney Robbins' son, Jeremy, had graduated from the University of Kansas, trained as a sports medicine athletic trainer.

The Robbins' daughter, Meghan Schuck, had completed training as a massage therapist, and her husband, Rob Schuck, had just graduated from Cleveland Chiropractic College.

"Meghan and Rob had been looking at different places to move to," Robbins said. "They got with Jeremy and we were talking one day, saying Tonganoxie needs something."

They looked at the bowling alley.

"We put bids on it and got it," Robbins said.

The result?

Finney and Marilyn Robbins now own the building that houses Midwest Athletic Club and Midwest Chiropractic Center.

The athletic club, owned and operated by Jeremy Robbins, opened last April. It takes up the west two-thirds of the building and includes about $200,000 worth of new exercise equipment.

So far, about 600 area residents have joined the club. Along with the exercise equipment, the facility includes a tanning bed and his and her saunas. Members can participate in aerobics classes and yoga lessons. On the east side of the building, Rob Schuck owns and operates a chiropractic clinic and Meghan Schuck provides massage therapy.

Last November, Lydia Neu, a physical therapist in Lawrence, opened a satellite office at Midwest Health Center and began seeing patients there.

Next on the family lineup may be Amy, who will graduate from nurses training this year, and Ben, who is seeking a degree in business at KU.

One possible area of expansion, Robbins said, might be to open a health center in another town.

The family conglomerate provides jobs in the area, with Midwest Carpet having about 10 hourly employees and four or five subcontractors, Midwest Insulation with about 10 employees, and a total of nine employees at the athletic club and health center.

Even though Ralph Robbins has retired, he still comes in almost every day and helps with picking up materials. Herb Robbins, who still works part time for the company, does much of the work on refinishing floors.

Finney Robbins said he's grateful for the family start in the business.

He's also grateful, he said, that loyal customers have stuck with the company, resulting in a business in which sales volume has quadrupled during the last 15 years.

"Most of our business comes from word-of-mouth," Robbins said. "We'd done something for somebody's cousin or uncle or aunt and they recommended us to them of course that's the best kind."

The biggest competitive challenges, Robbins said, are the new stores, such as Home Depot and Lowe's, that sell carpet and show people how to install it themselves. But that doesn't take much from his business.

"We do the whole package," Robbins said. "We'll go into a house and do the carpet, the hardwood, the tiles and vinyl and when we leave there, it's all done."

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