By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
It was announced last week that Mills Manufacturing in Earlville, Iowa, purchased Franklin Industries here in Monticello. The sale was official as of Nov. 1.
Mills is owned by Brad Mills. It opened in January of 2012 after Mills bought the former S&R Manufacturing from a local bank. Mills continues to sell and make the same products, focusing on the livestock and farming industries: livestock gating, feeders, cattle handling equipment as well as various custom work. They employ over 40 people with more than 20 years of experience. According to Mills’ website (
Mills also has a large Powder Coat system in house to offer durable, uniform and attractive finishes on its products.
“As we continue to grow, so will our customer base,” a statement on Mills’ website. “We are always trying to meet and exceed the need of our customers. We are always looking for new ways to expand our operations and look forward to the future.”
That statement proves quite true with the purchase of Franklin. Connie Michel, VP controller and human resources at Mills, and Mark Giovannetti, project manager of Mills, both said this purchase would allow both Mills Manufacturing and Franklin Industries to expand their product lines.
Franklin has been in business since 1916. Bernie Barker, Sr. was a long time owner of the company. He bought and operated Franklin in 1965 and retired and sold the company in 1991. Then in 1997, Barker once again bought Franklin, which was Franklin Equipment Co. at the time, to save it from bankruptcy. About six years ago, Gary Loney from Intertrade Steel in Cedar Rapids bought Franklin from the Barker family estate. Now, Mills has acquired the Franklin business and name, which will be changed to Franklin Equipment once again.
“It’ll still be a recognizable business under the Mills’ name,” explained Michel.
Over the past several years, Franklin was mainly focusing on assembling parts, with production being outsourced. They’ve been in the livestock equipment business, much like Mills. According to Franklin’s website, they make “parts available and accessible, engineering new products for an ever-changing market place.”
Some of the products include waterers, bale feeders, corral panels, feeding equipment and more.
With several employees still working at Franklin, Michel said all of them were offered transfer jobs in Earlville at Mills Manufacturing. She said only Ginger Eilers and Ruhl Barker, daughter and son of Bernie Barker, Sr., decided to stay with the business.
“Some of them were with Franklin for over 30 years,” remarked Michel. Eilers and Barker will work in the sales and marketing department.
Eilers said she has been with her family’s business for 43 years, working in sales. Her brother has worked there since 1974, almost 40 years.
“We know this company best,” commented Eilers. “We know how to best serve our customers with the products we sell. People have known our family for years and have a lot of faith in us.”
Eilers said they would retain their customer base at Mills, which spans all over the Midwest.
“People trust us and our customers are like family,” she said.
“They are dedicated to the Franklin name and its products,” Michel said.
Michel said Franklin would remain open through the end of the year to allow the employees to complete sales requests. She said it is a busy time right now for them.
Franklin did not own their building in Monticello; Eilers said they sold the building to Welter Storage Equipment seven years ago. All business will now take place in Earlville, leaving the building vacant.
“This purchase was a good fit for us,” commented Giovannetti. “Franklin’s products can meet some of our customers’ needs and vice versa. We can both expand out product lines.”
Michel added, “We hope to retain the Franklin customers. It’s a benefit for everyone. We hope to get Franklin back to where it was in its prime.”
Eilers said, “We have a lot of faith in Mills and what they do. The companies complement each other well.”
Mills sells products all over the United States, with most of its sales in the Midwest and northern U.S. Customers go through dealers and distributors to purchase Mills’ products. Some of Franklin’s main customers included Theisen’s and Wheatbelt, Inc.
Brad Mills, owner, has been a very successful business owner for years. Both Michel and Giovannetti attested to Mills’ way of turning manufacturing companies around.
“He has 20-plus years of experience,” said Michel, “both in manufacturing and engineering. He has a great business sense.”
Giovannetti said, “Brad has turned many businesses around and helped them to grow. That is our intent with Franklin, to maintain and grow the business.”