R.E. Purvis & Associates
Family names: Hiepler, Koppen
What the company does: Supplier of industrial components, including O-rings, gaskets, seals, and bearings
Type of ownership: S corp.
Principal owners: Melinda Hiepler, Alesa Koppen, Angela Burns, Kirsten Hiepler, Lindsey Hiepler, Sara Koppen
Family members in the business: 5
Family members on the board: 2
“One thing that’s helped us is that we are a privately held family business, which allows us to plan beyond the next quarter’s results.”
-Alesa Koppen, president
A no-spouse rule isn’t the norm at most family businesses. But if someone works full time for Bloomington-based industrial components supplier R.E. Purvis & Associates, her spouse can’t work there—and “her” is the operative pronoun. All the children and grandchildren of company founder Robert Purvis who work for the company full time are women.
“We were very careful not to take everybody down with the ship if things didn’t go well,” says Melinda Hiepler, CEO and a daughter of the founder. Turns out that was a good precaution. In 2007, Hiepler and her sister, Alesa Koppen, now the company president, purchased the company from their parents; just as they took over, the Great Recession slammed into the economy. Had the business sunk, the sisters and their husbands would all have been out of work.
“One thing that’s helped us is that we are a privately held family business, which allows us to plan beyond the next quarter’s results,” Koppen says. “Our shareholders are all family members. They understand that you sometimes have to make decisions that are more long-term.”
One such decision was not laying off employees in the early days of the Great Recession. “Obviously, we do need to protect the overall health of our company for the long-term,” Hiepler notes. “But that isn’t going to drive short-term decisions.” The sisters avoided layoffs for as long as they could.
The business recovered along with the economy, and it was able to rehire one of their laid-off people. R.E. Purvis now serves a broad range of industries, including off-highway equipment, fluid power, off-road vehicles, lawn and garden equipment, semiconductors, and life sciences. It carries approximately 6,000 SKUs, including O-rings, gaskets, plugs, extrusions, and customized components. Originally a regional supplier, it now has global reach as its customers’ markets have expanded. In 2014, it moved to its current 72,000-square-foot location, but with each expansion, the company has remained in Bloomington.
West Fargo, N.D.-headquartered Bobcat North America has been a customer ever since the company opened for business. Indeed, it was one of Purvis’ first. “We had a leak situation with an O-ring” on some of the equipment hydraulic cylinders, recalls Mike Wood, Bobcat’s vice president of procurement. Bob Purvis brought by some other types of O-rings, one of which was able to solve the problem. “That was a start of a great collaborative partnership,” Wood says.
R.E. Purvis continues to find and add new products to its inventory as Bobcat’s equipment lines change and grow. “We challenge them, and they bring a lot of innovative ideas,” Wood says. “Their technical sales reps and engineers work very well with our engineering department.”
Even though the company is now flourishing, R.E. Purvis remains committed to the no-spouse rule—though “more from the vantage point of relationship preservation,” Hiepler says. As Koppen puts it, “I didn’t want to lose my family. If we work together, and we are family together, at what point do you lose the family aspect and it’s all just the company?”
Starting in 2018 with Koppen’s daughter Angela (now the company’s supply chain and data analyst), members of the family’s third generation began working full time for the company. Hiepler’s daughters, Kirsten (marketing specialist) and Lindsey (pricing and data analyst), came on board over the course of the following two years. They, along with Koppen’s daughter Sara, joined their mothers as principal owners in October 2021.
“All four of us in the third generation had opportunities to work at R.E. Purvis in different capacities part time,” says Lindsey, noting that “some of us had the intention of coming to work here full time down the road.” A few years back, the family established rules for members before they could become full-time employees, including a two-year postsecondary degree (at a minimum) and full-time employment outside the company.
The members of Lindsey Hiepler’s generation weren’t pressured to become full-timers. “The opportunity was there, but the expectation was not,” Melinda Hiepler says. She adds that if her generation had known their children wanted to join the company, “maybe we would have done things differently to prepare them from a younger age. But I still think it was the right thing to do—to give them the awareness, but also the choice.”
Whatever changes the third generation may make when it assumes company leadership, the no-spouse rule is likely to remain. “We also have a rule that we don’t discuss business at the dinner table,” Alesa Koppen says. “Come Thanksgiving, we’re a family. We don’t discuss how we paid for the turkey.”