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Lawrence NationaLease sold to Rihm Family Companies

Steve Lawrence, left, and son Eric Lawrence represent the third and fourth generations of Lawrence family ownership between Lawrence Transportation Company and Lawrence NationaLease. Eric remains CEO of Lawrence Transportation Company, while NationaLease was recently sold to Rihm Family Companies. Samantha Bengs / RiverTown Multimedia

Like any pair of siblings, Lawrence Transportation Co. and Lawrence NationaLease share a long history together. The two Red Wing transportation businesses are products of the Lawrence family, beginning under the hand of Albert "A. V." Lawrence in the early 1930s.

Earlier this summer, Steve Lawrence, a third-generation owner, announced the sale of Lawrence NationaLease to the Minnesota-based Rihm Family Companies.

Lawrence Transportation Co. remains in the family, with Steve's son Eric as CEO and owner.

Discussions of selling NationaLease began two years ago, Lawrence said.

"We were looking at how to transition myself out and our shareholders," he said. "We developed our criteria for a sale."

One criteria, Lawrence said, was not selling to a large national brand.

"They would move out of here and split it up," he said. "We did not want to decimate this company."

A second criteria for shareholders was to ensure the continuity of local management.

"Those things were accomplished with Rihm," Lawrence said.

Both Bill Schultz and Jason Krell are continuing in their leadership roles, as well as all other Lawrence employees retaining their positions.

Rihm Family Companies and Lawrence NationaLease share several similarities — both multi-generational family companies and both Minnesota companies.

"It was a good match culturally and business ethics-wise," Lawrence said. "It fits right in the geographic area that Rihm wants to develop."

All in the family

Steve 's father, Alton "Tony" Lawrence, began selling full-service truck leasing in 1957 when he formed Red Wing Truck Rental.

"As long as it had something to do with rubber wheels, he was game," Lawrence said of his father.

Steve took over leadership when Tony retired in 1975.

"We provided a good alternative to (truck) ownership," Lawrence said. "It's positive economics — being able to forecast your costs of transportation at a relatively fixed level. You're not taking a risk of maintenance and breaking down on the road."

Approaching retirement, Tony sold the family companies to United Truck Leasing while the Lawrence family remained in leadership.

In 1981, Steve decided with brother Jay and their father to buy the company back.

As both the transportation and leasing businesses grew, Lawrence added NationaLease to the name in 1991.

"We've been running it and growing ever since," Lawrence said.

Two of Red Wing Truck Rental's orginal customers — Smead Manufacturing in Hastings and S.B. Foot Tanning in Red Wing — are intact today, Lawrence said.

"We don't lose customers and that's why we've been able to continue to grow," he said.

NationaLease has 15 locations in the upper Midwest.

The logistics side of the company, Lawrence Transportation, was sold to Eric Lawrence, who has been CEO for several years.

"The generations go on," Lawrence said.

Lawrence Transportation trucks run coast to coast, with 10 terminal and warehouse locations.

"It's not bound to a geographical area like the leasing company is," Lawrence said. "It's purely the movement of things, how to best utilize equipment and balance freight."

The road ahead

Very few people are starting new truck leasing companies, Lawrence said, on the contrary, they're consolidating.

"It's a highly leveraged business with a low margin," he said. "It's unusual that we made it this far."

The secret to the company's success?

"It's because of the people, customer and vendors all working together," Lawrence said. "We have played with our books wide open. You just play straight, and you keep your customers that way."

With Rihm now at the helm, Lawrence said that same mentality will continue.

"It's not going to change," he said.

Over the family's four generations of transportation businesses, Lawrence estimates they have provided thousands of jobs, many of those in the Red Wing area.

"Across the whole business, we've had many employees. Especially being that our corporate headquarters are here and will stay here," Lawrence said.

Lawrence and his wife, Marilyn, also plan on staying in Red Wing.

"Red Wing is our home," Lawrence said," and we'll still be plenty busy."

Marilyn serves on several area boards and manages real estate. Lawrence will continue involvement with the Rihm transition on a consulting basis.

"I love this business, I really do. Maybe that's why I have stayed in it so long," he said. "We've survived seven recessions. It's the work ethic I saw and learned from my dad and uncles. They worked hard and played hard, but always worked harder."